2006

Dr Gabriel Oon was a member of the team from the Order of Malta who went to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage recently. They were also there to witness the consecration of the mosaic iconography of Our Lady at the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth and to bring cheer and donations to the orphans at the Holy Family Hospital and Orphanage in Bethlehem. This is his story.

OUR 14-DAY pilgrimage was truly a spirit-filled time for us as we walked in the land where Jesus lived, performed his miracles, taught us to love one another (Jn 13:34) and suffered his passion.

Our team consisted of Knights J. Y. Pillay, Dr Andrew Kwok, my wife Susie, and our two friends Maria and Tony Ho.

On Dec 16, we visited the most likely site of Jesus' baptism at Wadi Cherasar, by the Jordan River, which was about an hour's drive from Amman (Lk 3:21). This was where Joshua had probably crossed with the twelve tribes of Israel to take Jericho and the Promised Land of Canaan (Jos 3:1-18).

After security clearance, we entered the grounds of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. John. There was an ancient baptismal font by the side of the River Jordan, with engravings dating back to the Byzantine period of 380 A.D. (Mt 2:13-17).

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Later that afternoon, in cold and windy conditions, we climbed Mount Mecharius in Jordan, to visit what is left of the Palace of Herod Antipas, where our patron saint, John the Baptist, lost his head at Salome's request (Mk 6:14-29). The palace, on a ground area of about 100 x 300 meters was a one- torey building with mosaic tiles, Corinthian columns, stone water jars (which brought water up from artisan wells below), a wine cellar but no underground prison.

After reading the gospel of John's beheading (Mt 14:1-12), we reckoned that John the Baptist was probably incarcerated in one of these caves at the slope of the mountain, beheaded in his cave  and his head was brought to the Palace on a platter (Mt 14:1-12).

At the Qumran bookshelf next to the hills where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, we found the complete works of the Jewish Antiquities written by the authoritative Roman Jew, Flavius Josephus (born 37 A.D.). It recorded the destruction of  Herod's Palace during the Jewish Revolt in 75 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Titus, son of Vespasian, who had adopted Josephus as his son. Josephus recorded the persons of John the Baptist, and Jesus the Christ, whom he regarded as the Messiah, who was crucified in 30 A.D., reappeared on the third day, to the joy of local Christian followers then.

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We crossed the Sheik Hussein Bridge and entered into the fertile valleys and hills of Tiberius and the beautiful tranquil Sea of Galilee. As we sat on the multitudes on Mount Beatitude (Mk 3:7-13) we read Jesus' teachings on true happiness (Mt 5:1-12). At the newly excavated site of Bethsaida, which is several  miles inland now, we saw the ruins of the probable fishermen's homes of Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, Judas, John and James, the sons of Zebedee.

Here Jesus called Levi (Lk 5:27-33) and taught the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13). Here, Jesus also condemned the unbelieving towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida (Lk 10:13-20). At the Israelian Archaeological Museum, we later found the carved golden bull worshipped by the pagan people of Bethsaida.

On Dec 19, we left for Nazareth, which is an hour's drive from Mount Beatitude, for our special private Mass in the Grotto of the Annunciation. This Grotto marked the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary (Lk 1:26-38). The iconography of Our Lady was consecrated after the Mass. Later in the day, we visited a new excavation site near Nazareth and a mile away at Zippori.

Here, it is believed that Joseph and Jesus found work by building the Roman buildings and the aqueducts. There are ancient Roman roads dating back to the first century. Nearby was an ancient synagogue and we wondered if Jesus preached there. (Lk 4:42-46).

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At the Wedding Church of Cana (Jn 2:1-12), we renewed our marriage vows presided over by a parish priest. We visited the palace, stables and synagogue of King Solomon (1 Kgs 4:1-33) at Megiddo (Hebrew term for Armageddon in Rv 16:16) and down by the shores of the Dead Sea, saw some acacia trees from which the Ark of the Covenant was made.

Further down at the copper mines of Timna, we saw how the Egyptian Pharaohs, Rameses I and II and later King Solomon, obtained copper for the bronze metals (1 Kgs 7:40-45). Along the shores of the Dead Sea and at Lot (Gn 19:23-29), we found large salt crystals, some the size of boulders. There we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and how Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt, when she disobeyed and turned back.

The visit to the Holy Family Maternity and Children's Hospital and the Orphanage in Bethlehem (run by the Order of Malta) was an hour's journey through high security. Bethlehem is now a walled city. A very high wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem meandered through homes and around the whole town of Bethlehem. Even Rachel's tomb (Gn 35:16-21) is walled off completely in a circle.This made us reflect on what Our Lord Jesus had said 2000 years ago, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if only you knew the day that God had come to save you: (Lk 13:34-35). "Peace is what I give you!"

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In the Crusader Basilica of the Nativity (where Jesus was born) we studied and treasured the experience of seeing the ancient tapestry depicting three wise men from the East paying homage to the newborn Jesus. One of the three wise men was dressed as an Assyrian King and another was a dark skinned person. When the invading  Persians in the Middle Ages saw this painting and recognised their own king, they spared the church from destruction.

Sadly at the bottom of another cave, was the cave of the Holy Innocents (Mt 2:1-11) where Herod the Great, on hearing the birth of a new king, killed children under two years old in Bethlehem (Mt 2:16-18)

We stayed for four nights at the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame where Christmas Mass was celebrated for pilgrims and the Jerusalem Catholics. Holy Hour was spent at Gethsemane, the night before our departure. As I bent over the rock where Jesus prayed, I poured out my sorrows to Jesus and like Jesus wept… "If this cup of sorrow can pass me  by….. yet not my will, but yours". (Mt 26:39-45).

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The next morning, we did the Stations of the Cross and spent time for reflection at the Church of Flagellation and at the place where Jesus was stripped of his garments and whipped, and we saw the carvings of the Roman soldiers as they played dice for his clothes (Jn 19:23-24). At the 7.15am private English Mass inside the Tomb of Jesus in the Holy Sepulcher church, Father Angelo said, "Your lives will be transformed during this pilgrimage. It will not be the same again."

Like Mary, his mother, we stood at the spot below the Crucified Christ at Calvary and looked at Our Lord on the Cross, and at the spot where Mary Magdalene saw the Risen Christ (Jn 20:11-18).

As our plane left the Holy Land, I reflected on these treasured memories of our pilgrimage. "If only you knew the day when God came to save you… Peace is what I give you!"

The Singapore team from the Order of Malta poses for a photo with the custodian of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Directly above them is the iconography of Our Lady with her Singapore children.

The greatest obstacle to good spousal relationship is a spouse who is preoccupied with self, says Father Henry Siew in this article, the second part of a series on spousal relationship.

WHEN SOMEONE IS married, he is supposed to "live happily ever after" with his spouse. But this is often not the case.

Take May, for example. May was single when she hastily agreed to be match-made by her friend when she (May) suddenly realised that time had caught up with her. May was married within three months of meeting her match. Consciously she judged her partner to be handsome, well-educated, and had a stable job and a good income. Subconsciously she just wanted to leave spinsterhood to join her circle of friends who seemed to be happily married.

Then there was Ben. Ben was infatuated with his eye-catching girlfriend Joan, and boasted to every one of his friends about his good luck at being able to win the heart of such a beauty. Ben's infatuation made him overlook all of Joan's personal shortcomings, and he gleefully married her (in spite of his mother's objection).

The consequence for May and Ben for the decisions that they made was that soon after marriage they realised that they could not live pleasantly with their spouses, bickering with them over the smallest matters. May is now contemplating divorce. Ben has turned to alcohol to distract himself from his disillusion with his marriage and dull the emotional pain  although he is still proud that his wife is one of the most beautiful women in the world.

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Stumbling blocks

What is the greatest stumbling block towards marital bliss for May, Ben, Joan and people like them? They themselves are the stumbling blocks! Yet often they are totally unaware of it and because this ignorance acts as a barrier to genuine inter-personal interaction, they are not able to establish meaningful relationships.

The reason is simple: When people are preoccupied with self-centred desires - be it security, financial stability or something else - they treat human relationships as a means to attain them; other people are treated as something to be used. They do so consciously or subconsciously, during courtship and after marriage.

The only difference in the before marriage and after marriage scenario is that before marriage their selfishness is often camouflaged by some superficial acts of considerateness which are part of their scheme to "conquer" the pursued.

Self-centred people look for comfort, protection, support, care, money, happiness, sex, pride, honour, riches, solutions, agreement, consolation from their partners. Ironically, the more one wants to gain satisfaction from a partner, the less likely one will be truly satisfied. Once a need is satisfied, another need soon surfaces; once a problem is solved, another arises. As such the needs never get fully satisfied, the hunger is never satiated, the wounds never heal, the problems never end.

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People whose goals are the fulfilment of personal needs will endlessly seek for someone who can satisfy these needs, but end up not finding a single person who can fully satisfy him. Someone who places the focus in a relationship on his own needs fulfilment is egoistic but he is often unaware of it.

He behaves pathetically, giving the impression that he is weak, helpless, hurt, exploited or poor, so that other people should pity him, take care of him, be concerned about him, and love him. If others do not cater to his expectations, he laments that he is "a nobody" or accuses others of being "unsympathetic".

If this happens in a marriage, where the blame is directed against his spouse, it will result in frequent skirmishes, and he will putting his marriage at risk. If one starts out with self-centred interests in human relationships, one would not be able to give oneself to another unconditionally, nor to live for others, nor to partake fully in a shared life.

His motive in establishing a relationship is self-gratification. But because there is no end to the satisfaction he seeks, he will never gain genuine fulfilment. If both parties enter into marriage with such dysfunctional attitudes, the outcome will be quite disastrous.

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Only when a person learns to go beyond himself to love another like the way he loves his own body (Eph 5:28), then he is able to truly love and begin to build authentic relationship with his spouse. He can only find true fulfilment in giving and sharing of oneself, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25).

Of course his wife must reciprocate that love if the relationship is to advance healthily. But at least if one party starts to go beyond himself, he stands a good chance in making a difference to his family life.

Let anyone who wants to change his attitude for the better towards his spouse say the following prayer: "Lord God, I trust that your love is everlasting. I want to open my heart to receive and experience your love. Please embrace me, and let me know that your love is unconditional. Fulfill and satisfy me with the abundance of this love. Let me realise that I am precious, lovable, and loved in your sight. Release my bondage of self-preoccupation and free my heart, so that I may love genuinely and give of myself joyously, and not to look for something in return. Grant me wisdom and strength to meet my partner's needs rather than mine. Remove the fear and mistrust in my heart, so that I may trust in your grace and strength, and live to enjoy the goodness and love which you desire for my spousal relationship. Amen."

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is a trained professional social worker. He is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend, and to Morning Star Community Services.

By Joyce Gan 

The Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ is synonymous with beautiful church music. Their singing adds to the sublimity of Sunday Mass at the cathedral. 

EVERY SUNDAY MORNING the choir processes in stately fashion into the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd for the 10am Mass. They bear the standard, which was blessed in Rome by Pope John Paul II. They are the Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ. Many Singaporeans would call them the Peter Low Choir after the man who has been associated with them as choir master since 1971.

The choir was at the Risen Christ parish - hence its name - from 1970 until its installation at the cathedral in April 2002 at the request of former Cathedral Rector, Msgr Eugene Vaz. "After 32 years at one place it's time to move on especially since Risen Christ had other choirs in place," Mr Low remarked.

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Almost all the choir members moved with the choir. They are a dedicated group and Mr Low holds them in high esteem while setting high standards for them. "In any thing that you do, you have got to be dedicated," he shared. "That's the one thing that makes the difference." For example, choir members do not go on holiday during Christmas and Easter as their singing is "a gift to the worshipping community and to the Christ child."  

Every Sunday, members show up unfailingly and punctually at 9am to practise before Mass. They also practise at Mr Low's house once a month for three hours. Group cohesion may be another reason for the choir's excellent quality. There are whole families who sing together in the choir. Recently, two members, Rebecca Ang and Karen Mong, chose to come back to sing after one month of maternity leave although they were allowed to go on a two-year maternity leave from the choir.

New members are accepted into the choir on a trial basis and they will only be confirmed if they have the right attitude, an attribute which Mr Low considers very important. "I believe a choir should be able to sing competently… not just to sing hymns but to lead the congregation. Our job is to sing parts of the Liturgy that will bring beauty to the liturgy and to enhance the sense of worship," Mr Low said.

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As the mother church in Singapore, the cathedral deserves a proper choir to provide a musical standard which would be expected of a cathedral, Mr Low explained. Among the contribution of the choir to making the liturgy beautiful and reverential is the use of Gregorian chants and Latin.  

Mr Low learnt Gregorian chant and Latin in his younger days. He was Bishop Michael Olcomendy's personal altar boy at daily Mass from the age of 10 to 18. Back then, Masses were celebrated in Latin. "We were singing in a language we did not speak but that doesn't mean we didn't understand it (the worship)," he said and likened the practice to that of Buddhists who chant in Sanskrit and Muslims in Arabic.

"I'm in favour of selective use of Latin as it's strongly endorsed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as the language of the Roman Catholic Church. It's a connection not only between nations but with our  past." He feels that singing the "Our Father" and the "Creed" in Latin adds a sense of the sublime.  Singing in Latin will link us across frontiers as it is "international practice in cathedrals all over the world," he added.

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A lifetime's contribution

Peter Low has spent much of his life making beautiful music for the church. He conducted his first youth choir in 1965 at the Church of St. Michael before conducting his full choir in 1971 at the Church of the Risen Christ. What keeps him going?

"The word is grace," he asserted. He believes that everyone is given gifts and must use these gifts to serve the Lord. "Some people are born to do social work, some to teach, some to visit the sick. Music is a gift of God to me and I must give it back".  

And he has, not just to the church but to Singapore as well, which is in keeping with the Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ's motto Pro-Pontifice et Patria which means "For Pope and Country". The choir has often performed to raise funds for worthy causes such as schools, homes for the aged, hospitals and international relief.

 At home, the choir performed at significant occasions such as the opening of Changi Prison War Memorial and Singapore's 25th National Day celebrations. The choir has also made its mark internationally. It sang in Bethlehem at the invitation of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in 1995, and again in Israel at the "Concert for Peace" in 1999. It has played its part to promote Singapore tourism by performing in international events held by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and Singapore Airlines.

These contributions to promote international relations and to the church earned Mr Low a knighthood from the Vatican in March 2003.

Right, Chinese Silk Dance - Choir and dancers performing the Chinese Carol at "The Promised One", the choir's first ever Christmas concert that was held on Dec 18, 2005.

By Joyce Gan

Every Wednesday evening about 200 parishioners of Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and other nearby parishes attend Father Gregory van Giang's Bible class. Why?

"PEOPLE NOW ARE hungry for the Word of God." This was the thought that led Father Gregory van Giang to start a Bible class at the beginning of 2005 at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS), where he is parish priest.

Father Gregory's Bible class started with 18 "students" but has since grown to almost 200, some of whom come from the neighbouring East District parishes.

Father Gregory taught the original group of 18 the Letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles which led to their being inspired to make a pilgrimage to Turkey to experience the routes the apostles had taken. This experience convinced them that the Bible lessons should continue after their return. Father Gregory agreed and he  "officially" started the Bible classthat the students attend every Wednesday evening.

There is no fancy name to it - it's simply known as Bible Study. Starting with the Book of Genesis, Father Gregory goes through every verse in the Bible with the students. Where they used to be able to complete only one chapter each week, the class is now able to study up to three chapters a week.

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This is Father Gregory's fourth year at OLPS and he intends to cover as much of the Bible as possible. "As long as I'm here, I'll continue [with it]", he said. When more people started to turn up for the weekly sessions, Father Gregory decided that it was a better idea to open the class up for everyone who is interested. After all, it takes the same amount of work and it benefits more. He shifted the class to the main church hall where more people can be accommodated.

THE SESSIONS BEGIN at 8pm sharp on Wednesdays. During a session attended by the writer of this article, Father Gregory greets those present warmly in his jovial manner. He addresses those present by their names. In return, many respond enthusiastically to the questions he poses.

The sessions are interjected with anecdotes, jokes and personal sharings and reflections. It seems that people respond so positively to Father Gregory's Bible Study because they see his dedication, and like him for his personality and ability to relate to them even as he sometimes struggles with the English language. Because of this, those attending the class make the effort to prepare for each Wednesday session.

"I'm beginning to reflect deeper in the Word," commented Ms Brenda, a parishioner at OLPS who has been going to the class. "Normally we just read [the Bible] literally but not spiritually."

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THOSE HUNGRY FOR the Word of God but find the OLPS class inconvenient or unsuitable may also go to the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI) which organises 30 or more Bible courses a year by Bible scholars Msgr Eugene Vaz and Father Ambrose Vaz, and other priests and religious sisters. Each of these courses is attended by 20 to 100 people.

Some of these courses are held at parishes while most are conducted at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre at 2, Highland Road. For more information on the SPI courses visit www.catholic.org.sg/spi

Right, Father Gregory in an animated discussion during one of his Bible Study sessions.

 

By Joyce Gan 

SINGAPORE - James Wong, 58, has resigned as Executive Director of Family Life Society (FLS) to dedicate himself full-time to his final year of the Masters in Social Science (Counselling) offered by Edith Cowan University of Western Australia in Singapore. The course will train him "to relate and to empathise with people".

Mr Wong has been with the FLS for the last four and a half years during which he raised its profile and led the different ministries managed by the society to collaborate better, and thus led to the group being able to render better assistance to those it serves. Aside from getting his Masters, he hopes to "write an autobiography for his grandchildren" and improve on his fitness level in the coming year.

Although some of his friends are baffled by his decision to leave his job, Mr Wong's family, is not. He believes that God has given him many spiritual gifts and that his qualifications, skills and experience should be used to help others. After completing the Masters "I'll like to go back to the Help profession," he said.

SINGAPORE - Father Alex Chua will be leaving in late January for Melbourne to study Christian Spirituality at the Heart of Life Spirituality Centre there. The  quiet and soft-spoken priest will spend the rest of 2006 in Melbourne, returning to Singapore at the end of the year.

Father Alex was ordained in 2000 and was formerly in the parishes of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and Queen of Peace before serving as an assistant priest at the Church of the Holy Trinity where he was involved in the liturgical ministries.

By Joyce Gan 

SINGAPORE - Father Joachim Joachim (right) left on Jan 6 for the U.S. to pursue a Master of Science in Pastoral Counselling at Loyola College in Maryland. He will be there for two and a half years.

Father Joachim was assistant priest at the Church of St. Bernadette during the last five and a half years. This Pastoral Counselling programme helps to develop counselling skills.

This is a skill that Father Joachim is glad to master. As a priest, he already has experience in pastoral care. "There is a need for this course," asserts Father Joachim.

He sees this as a solution to the many problems that parishioners encounter with their marriages and children. He is hopeful that his training will equip him to set up a centre in the archdiocese to train others in counselling.

"Pray for all your priests who are studying," he encouraged.

A Thanksgiving Mass and buffet lunch was held on Jan 6 to wish Father Joachim all the best in his studies. When asked what touched him the most, Father Joachim replied, "The people giving me their support and love."

 By Joyce Gan

SINGAPORE - Father J.J Fenelon (left) departs from the Church of the Holy Cross to go to the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea (OLSS) on Feb 8 where he will assume the duties of Father Annalsamy Amalraj who has returned to India (CN, Jan 08). Father J.J. thinks that he will most likely be tending to the Indian community and celebrate Masses in Tamil, aside from taking care of the general parish needs at OLSS.

He has been at Holy Cross for just about two years and although he says that he had not yet fully "planted his feet on the ground", he acknowledges that God has a reason for sending him elsewhere now. "I am going to serve the needs of the people so wherever I'm needed - I'll be sent," he said.

At Holy Cross, Father J.J. was the spiritual director of several ministries including the Bible Ministry, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Legion of Mary, the RCIA, and the choirs. He also serves in the Liturgical Music Committee, a sub-committee of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission.

The last half year of 2005 was a busy one for Father J.J. who, with Father Rene Nicolas, educated Catholics on liturgy matters at several parishes. He has also worked together with the RCIA team at the Singapore Pastoral Institute and shared his vision of Ongoing Initiation with other parishes in two seminars.

Ongoing Initiation is a process where adults are welcomed to join the RCIA journey all year round rather than being able to join only when it begins. Father J.J. is unsure if he will start this new process at OLSS. "I will just be open to whatever is already happening [at OLSS]," he said.

By Joyce Gan

SINGAPORE - After serving for more than 10 years at the Church of the Holy Family, Father John Baptist Tou, 76, will be taking up his new post at the Church of St. Bernadette from Feb 8, 2006.

He will replace Father Joachim Chang who has left for the U.S. to study for a Master of Science in Pastoral Counselling. Father Tou will minister specially to the Mandarin community at St. Bernadette.

SINGAPORE - Father John Bosco Pereira (right) will be assigned to the Church of the Holy Trinity from Feb 8. He is presently serving at the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Father Bosco was ordained in 1996 and served in the Church of the Holy Family until April 1998, and the Church of the Holy Cross until June 2002. He then went for further studies in Rome and returned to Singapore two years later when he was posted to his current parish.

The 44-year-old priest, who teaches Sacraments in the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary, has been a hit with the youth at his current parish and regrets leaving them, especially since he has just "started a few things" with the youth.

By Daphne Koh

SINGAPORE - Thirteen students from the Young Christian Students' Movement (YCS) aged 14 to 17 participated in a mission exposure to the Catholic Mission Centre of Wiang Kaen in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand, from Dec 11 to 16, 2005. The students aged 14 to 17 were led by two adult facilitators.

This centre is home and school to 60 Hmong children, aged from 6 to 16. While there, the YCS students organised games and crafts for the children and ploughed soil and, with help from the facilitators, analysed and reflected on their experiences.

This mission exposure programme emphasised on service and community so that itwould continue to impact the daily lives of the students. "Mission and service is more than just a trip; it's a daily commitment," explains Daphne Koh, coordinator and facilitator of the mission exposure.

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Of his experience, Camillus Kang, aged 17, President of YCS Singapore, shared, "It was extremely eye- pening and enriching. I have learnt to appreciate and see God in all the small things in life. What I'd do differently now after this exposure is to be more appreciative and try to love more, not just my friends, but the people I usually avoid."

Fellow participant Oliver Ong, aged 15, added, "I have learnt to be grateful and not waste food, nor spend on my wants, but on my needs."

Prior to the trip, YCS members had raised more than $7,000 for the children at the centre by selling cards and bookmarks at Novena Church and contributing their pocket money.

YCS is an international Catholic student movement currently present locally in five secondary schools - Catholic High School, Holy Innocents' High School, Montfort Secondary School, St. Joseph's Institution and St. Nicholas Girls' School.

(For information, email Daphne at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Left, YCS youths enjoying some leisure time with the Thai students at the Catholic Mission Centre where they visited.

By Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp 

SINGAPORE - This year there will be two opportunities for Catholics and Christians of different denominations to come together to pray for Christian unity. The first prayer service will take place on Thursday Jan 19, 2006 at the Church of St. Ignatius, while the second prayer service will be on Monday Jan 23, 2006 at the Toa Payoh Methodist Church (480 Lorong 2 Toa Payoh).

Both services begin at 8pm and are open to all. Catholics are encouraged to bring their Christian friends. Father Albert Renckens, SS.CC, one of the organisers, hopes that two venues this year will encourage more Catholics to participate.

"We should organise other opportunities for people to pray for Christian Unity," he commented. "Ideally we should do it five times, over five nights in the different districts in Singapore. This year we succeeded with two places. Next year, maybe more."

A worldwide observance, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated annually from Jan 18 to 25. The theme this year is: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Mt 18:20)

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"That they may be one as we are one." (John 17:11)

IN JOHN 17, Jesus prays to the Father for the unity of believers. The phrase "that they may be one" is repeated or rephrased four times (John 17:11, 21, 22, 23), indicating the importance of this petition to Jesus. Perhaps when he prayed this prayer, Jesus had in mind what was to become of his body of believers.

Since the Great Schism of 1054 which divided the once united Christian Church into the East (Orthodox) and the West (Catholic), the Catholic Church has seen further divisions in its history: the Protestant Reformation of 1517 initiated by Martin Luther, and the split of the Church of England from Rome in 1534 during the reign of King Henry VIII.

The separated Christian Churches experienced further sub-divisions. From the Lutheran branch grew the Anabaptists (1525), Presbyterians or Calvinists (1536), Congregationalists (1607) and Baptists (1607), with the latter branching further to the Adventists and Churches of Christ.

Within the Church of England or the Anglican (meaning "of England") Church, branched out the Methodists (1738) and from the Methodists branched out the Pentecostals (1901) which includes the Assemblies of God. After the American Revolution in 1789, the Anglican Church in the USA became known as the Episcopal Church.

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With so many divisions and sub-divisions, Christianity may appear to be in a sad, disunited, scandalous state. However, there is hope as more and more churches are involved in ecumenical activities. One significant worldwide ecumenicalevent is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. When Catholics and Christians around the world observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, they continue and, in a sense, realise the prayer of Jesus in John 17.

The observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to 1908. It was initiated as Church Unity Week by Rev. Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian priest in Graymoor, New York. Jan 18, the original feast of the Chair of St. Peter, was chosen to begin the Week which would conclude on Jan 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Over the years, while the dates remain unchanged, the observance of the Christian Unity Week has evolved. More Catholics have been participating in it after Vatican Council II (1962-65). The latter's Decree on Ecumenism (1964) calls prayer "the soul of the ecumenical movement," and encourages Catholics to observe what has developed to be the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

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The Decree says, "Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren."

Since 1968, the theme and text for each year's observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are chosen and prepared by representatives of the Pontifical (Vatican) Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches.

The theme for this year, prepared by the churches in Ireland, is Mt 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them". The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an important ecumenical event that Catholics are encouraged to observe at various levels.

Apart from participating in the organised prayer services with other Christian churches, prayers for Christian unity could also be initiated in parishes, church groups, neighbourhood groups, and religious communities. This would go toward fulfilling Jesus' own desire "that (we) may all be one." (Jn 17:21)

FOR PRAYER FOR Christian Unity resources, including an introduction and explanation of this year's theme, visit:

- http://www.geii.org/

- www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20050603_weekprayer-2006_en.html

- www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/faith/wop-index.html

FOR A BIRD'S eye view of the similarities and differences between the different Christian denominations and the Catholic Church, visit:

www.religionfacts.com/christianity/charts/denominations_beliefs.htm

FMMchapel01.jpgSINGAPORE - After two years of fundraising and renovation, the Maris Stella Chapel owned by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) at 49-D Holland Road, is finally completed.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia blessed the new chapel at a Eucharistic celebration on Jan 6, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, which is also the anniversary of the founding of the FMM in 1877.

During the liturgy, a number of the Sisters dressed in different national costumes representing some of the FMM international communities around the world. It also signified that Jesus manifested himself to the different nations and that his mission is universal.

In his homily, Archbishop Chia said that the blessing of the chapel "is a chance for us to think more profoundly of the divine presence among us." He reminded the congregation in the fully-packed chapel that the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought to the baby Jesus by the wise men are signs of sacrifice of something precious, prayer, and suffering that must be part of our daily offering to God.

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The funds raised by the FMM sisters since October 2003 have been used not only to renovate the chapel, but also the Shalom House and the roof of the House of Prayer and Formation, all of which have been in existence for over 45 years.

Sister Maria Ng, FMM, was one of the two sisters overseeing the renovation. She told CatholicNews that whenever it rained, the roof of the old chapel would leak and it would be "like a pond" inside. After many unsuccessful repairs had been carried out, the sisters decided that it was better to renovate the whole chapel.

In her thank-you speech, FMM Provincial Sister Assunta Leong thanked their many benefactors and the parishes who allowed them to raise funds over the past two years. "It was very difficult to raise funds," said Sister Maria, "but many generous people are very kind and helpful."

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She also thanked the architect, Mr. Anthony Lim, for hiscontribution in the design of the chapel and its surroundings. The chapel's quiet and green surrounding is very conducive to encounter God in prayers.

The chapel is open to the public. Daily Mass is celebrated at 7am everyday at the chapel, with the exception of Sundays. About 15-20 lay people join the sisters daily at the Eucharistic celebration. On some Sundays, foreign communities such as the German, the Spanish and Italian communities celebrate Mass here.

Top, multicoloured lamps light up the chapel at night. Right, Archbishop Nicholas Chia anoints the altar in the new Maris Stella Chapel.

JosephChao01.jpgSINGAPORE - Father Joseph Chao, who was assistant parish priest at the Church of the Sacred Heart for many years, passed away peacefully on Jan 7, 2006, at 9.25am. He died of liver cancer and tuberculosis.

Father Chao learnt of his condition after a visit to the hospital about one and a half months ago. In his last few days, he was well taken care of by fellow priests Fathers Paul Tay and Paul Tong, and by his parishioners who cared deeply for him.

Born on Mar 15, 1928 in Zhejian, China, he joined the seminary at the age of 12, after primary school in 1940. His family, which consisted of Catholics from several generations, played a role in his early call to priesthood. When the communists came to power in 1948, he left China for Genova, Italy, to complete his degree in Philosophy.

He was ordained a priest on Apr 17, 1954 in Genova. He then pursued his MA in Sociology with the University of Louvain, in Belgium, where he met and studied together with Father Paul Tong. They completed their Masters at the same time in 1957.

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Unable to return to China at that time as the Communist regime did not allow people from foreign countries into China, Father Chao was sent to Singapore instead. His mission was to serve the Chinesespeaking people here.

Father Chao arrived in Singapore with bosom friend Father Paul Tong in 1958. He started as assistant parish priest at the Church of St. Teresa and later at the Church of St. Joseph (Bukit Timah) before being posted to the Church of St. Teresa in Malacca from 1963 to 1971.

On his return to Singapore, he joined Father Tong at the Church of St. Bernadette as his assistant. As he held a special place in his heart for youth, Father Chao became chaplain of the Chinese Young Christian Students' Movement and the Legion of Mary.

Father Chao had been with the Church of the Sacred Heart since 1985 and was active with the Legion of Mary until his death. He had also been a religious correspondent for the Chinese Catholic newspaper, Hai Sing Pao, providing catechetical instruction by correspondence.

(continued on page 3)

Bernadette Chia, chairperson of commentators in the parish of the Sacred Heart, described Father Chao as "a very compassionate priest" and "so lovable". "Many of us learned the meaning of love from him," she added. "Despite helping out in the parish for so many years, I never once heard him raise his voice."

Doris Koh, chairperson of the wardens' ministry in the same parish, said she "will remember his face, which is so serene" even in sickness and death. "We all love him," she added tearfully.

Perlita Tiro, former parish council chairperson for several years, described Father Chao as a quiet and generous worker in the article she wrote on him in the commemorative book of his sacerdotal golden jubilee. "The one who will remember him most is Father Paul Tong," she added with tears in her eyes.

"He was a simple and humble man," said Father Paul Tong of his old friend. "I will always remember his smile."

Left, Father Paul Tong leads Mandarin-speaking parishioners in prayers for the soul of Father Joseph Chao after the Requiem Mass held at the Church of the Sacred Heart on Jan 8.

SINGAPORE - Archbishop Nicholas Chia celebrated this year's Red Mass for the members of the Catholic Lawyers Guild and the Order of Malta at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Jan 5.

The Red Mass is a Mass that is celebrated annually specially for those involved in the administration of the law or who intend to do so - judges, prosecutors, attorneys, law school professors and students, and government officials. At the Mass the celebrants request guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice, and it offers an opportunity to reflect on the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession.

In his homily, Archbishop Chia reminded the faithful about the need for law and authority to maintain order and to help a society to develop. However, he stressed that the law must always be seen in its  correct perspective. "Jesus is the end of the law and only he and he alone can dispense God's justice," Archbishop Chia said.

He reminded the congregation that "no one can give what he or she does not have", hence in order for them to have integrity and to show compassion, they must first have it within themselves. Archbishop Chia warned those present to always be on theirguard against relativism. "Not for anything must you compromise truth and justice," he emphasized.

The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in Paris in 1245, and the practice spread to most European countries. The Red Mass takes its name from the red vestments traditionally worn by the celebrant and people at the Mass when the tradition  spread to England, as Judges of the High Court of England and all doctors of law wore red robes or academic hoods. In the Roman Catholic liturgy, red vestments symbolise the Holy Spirit. 

SINGAPORE - In celebration of the 500th birth anniversary of its patron saint, the St. Francis Xavier Youth Choir staged its first public choral concert at the Victoria Concert Hall on Dec 22 last year. The Youth Choir also staged a colourful musical on the life of St. Francis Xavier titled "Hidden, I Will Show Him".

The Edward Becheras Choir of Catholic High School and the Edward Becheras Vocale also lent their voices to the evening of spiritually-inspired music, which was attended by Archbishop Nicholas Chia and Archbishop Emeritus Gregory Yong. The Youth Choir's mission is to bear witness to Christ through music and song.

Each year, it celebrates the anniversary of its patron saint with a concert in the hall of their parish of St. Francis Xavier. This year, however, as it is a milestone anniversary, parish priest Father Anthony Ho suggested having a public concert which also serves evangelisation purposes. The 880 tickets were snapped up just two weeks after they were put on sale.

The $16,500 raised  from the ticket sales went to the Assisi Home and Hospice, as the Youth Choir's aim for the concert was purely to use song to share the Word of God using the life of St. Francis Xavier as a role model.

The Youth Choir won its first Gold Award (Senior Youth Category) at the 21st Century International Choral Festival at Genting Highlands, Malaysia, in December 2003. It was set up 18 years ago under the director of Denis Leong, who is also the  choirmaster of the Edward Becheras Choir.

SINGAPORE - While the rest of Singapore was preparing to welcome the New Year with family and friends at home or at foam parties and discos, about 900 Catholics chose to celebrate the eve differently.

The Revive Ministry and the Arise! Youth Ministry began the Dec 31 evening with a carnival, followed by a candlelight Luminous Mystery Rosary at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, and a Mass celebrated by Carmelite Father Anselm Phang in thanksgiving for 2005.

Parish priest Father Thomas Lim led the Eucharistic procession from the church hall to the carpark where the countdown party later took place. On a table in front of the stage prepared for the night, Father Thomas placed the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament for the Eucharistic adoration, highlighting the focus of the celebration that evening.

The party saw a mixture of youth from across the diocese as well as those looking to bring in the New Year among fellow Catholics in a vibrant yet Christ-centred way.

 Top, Eucharistic adoration was the focus of the celebration of the eve of 2006 by the crowd of about 900.

Left, Carmelites join the youth in the celebration of the new year.

Photos by Tony Png

Letter from Dudley Au (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05) 

I feel something has to be said on Editor's Note: "Depending on the sources one chooses and the assumptions made, statistics can often be used to support one's viewpoint or rebut someone else's..." (CN, Jan 22). It is conceded that what was said is true and selective sifting can appear to bolster the point one makes or invalidate the point rebutted. However, to deal in perspective selection one has to take a point out of context, so that the fact is evaluated in isolation to the context, and then its semantics inserted into one's particular intention - a form of genetic engineering, in this sense, semantics engineering.

There is no doubt this is often done, as the editor noted, but in science a theory has to meet stringent criteria before it is accepted. The Big Bang is one where the nativity of the universe gave way from symmetry to an asymmetrical concept, from infinite heat to infinite cold. Consider the expanding universe. If as theoretical physicists say the universe is in constant flux and expanding then there must be a time when it was densely packed together; otherwise, how could it expand? The time of density is not of relevance because the logic of expansion determines the objectivity of density. The theory is the universe is expanding by 5% to 10% every thousand million years.

Are we to presume selective perception makes the point or scientific observation? Immanuel Kant felt there were equally compelling arguments for a beginning of the universe and the antithesis it had existed forever. St. Augustine was asked what God did before he created the universe. The answer St. Augustine gave was that time was a property of the universe, created by God, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe. The point is an expanding universe does not, as Stephen Hawking said, preclude a creator but it placed limits on when he carried out the job.

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A good theory, as outlined by Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking, must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations. This in no way conforms to selective sources or non certified assumptions. Any physical theory is provisional by way of hypothesis. Philosopher of science Karl Popper said a good theory made a number of predictions which could in principle be disproved by observation. In other words, in the words of English philosopher John Stuart Mill, there is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true because with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation (as it happened with Copernicus).

In practice, a new theory is really an extension of a previous one. For example, Newton's theory of gravity was based on a simpler model where bodies attracted each other with a force that is proportional to their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Einstein's general theory of relativity had a slightly different variation from that of Newton's theory of motion but to all general purposes Newton's theory is used because it has the advantage of being simpler to work with.

While selective perception must be frowned upon, where choice of source is taken out of context and inserted in isolation to buttress a point, in general, the advance of science must be acknowledged by its adherence to criteria which is the sine qua non of the fraternity. We owe a lot to Nicholas Copernicus, a Polish Catholic priest, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Heinrich Oblers, Alexander Friedmann, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, to name a few. Theirs was a quest in search of truth - not to make a point - and they accepted where the chips fell, as long as it was the apparent truth. If it was not, then later knowledge would rectify the deviation, which they would be thankful for, in exchanging error for truth.

    Dudley Au

 

Letter from Nelson Quah

I beg to differ from Benjamin Wan Xianwei's views about the Latinization of our Masses, which, according to him, is unnecessary as it takes away the meaning of the hymns ("Keep Masses in English", CN, Jan 22).

There are those Catholics among us, myself included, who find the Latin Mass awe-inspiring and spiritually uplifting. This need to recover Latin and Gregorian chant has also been recognised by Monsignor Valenti Miserachs Grau, the President of Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music as reported in Catholic News, "On Gregorian Chant" (Jan 22).

The Tridentine Mass has been the main pillar of the Catholic Church until Vatican II when the Council introduced the Novus Ordo Mass. Even the Council did not explicitly do away with the Tridentine Mass.

Let us therefore not frivolously cast our Catholic tradition to the winds just for the sake of those Catholics who do not cherish our rich Latin heritage. If we have to agree to disagree then let mutual respect be our guiding principle and not the insistence of the use of only English in Masses.

The music produced by pipe organs is very different from that produced by the electronic organ. Likewise the richness of traditional Latin cannot be totally replaced by English.

    Nelson Quah

 

Letter from Longinus Dismas

As a Roman Catholic, I have never doubted about the Catholic teachings and doctrines when she speaks about any of her teachings which is handed down to us through the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But it puzzles me when I see fellow Catholics start to deny the authority of the pope, the sinlessness of Virgin Mary, the need to confess one's sin to the priest, etc. I wonder, are they still in union with the church? If not, how could they possibly receive Holy Communion as there is no union between them and the church if they do not accept these teachings as truths.

What made me sad was when I was asked to attend a certain Christian unity service, was that a fellow Catholic told me not to talk too much about differences between we Catholics and Protestants, because that is not important. What is important is that, we all believe in Jesus. If that is the spirit of Christian unity, then I think we really need to reflect we mean by "unity". Does unity mean that since you do not like to listen to the truth, then let's avoid the issue? If telling my son not to play with fire is to prevent him from being burnt, do I stop telling him just because that will make him unhappy? I think a person with a right mindset will certainly not say that "oh since my son likes to play with fire let him continue because I do not want my son to feel sad or unhappy". Did not our Lord tell us he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If he is the truth, how can I compromise the truth, if I compromise the truth, then I am compromising Jesus, how could we who say that we love him compromise the truth that he revealed to us? That is certainly an injustice to our Lord.

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Isn't it our duty to uphold the truth (the so called differences such as: Mary assumed into heaven, the real presence of Christ, the importance of infant baptism, the infallibility of the pope, etc.) that our Lord had revealed to us through the ministry of the church? How can I engage in ecumenical dialogue without knowing my own faith deeper and better? What if any of my separated brethren were to ask me why I believe that the Eucharist is the real presence and I could not even explain to them why it is important and the basis that I believe such teachings? Is that a right spirit of ecumenism? Does ecumenism mean "ok lets avoid talking about such controversial issues since what I believe is something which will upset you"?

When Jesus prayed to the Father, "Father I pray that they may be one just as you and I are one," do you think Jesus means that because of unity we can disregard or ignore or avoid the truth? If that is the case he does not need to die because he came to the world to die to the truth, the truth that the Jews could not accept. Do we, as Catholics, want our ecumenism to be "cheap" by avoiding talking about the truth?

Recall the life of our Saviour, how he taught the truth that he is the Son of God, and because of this truth the Jews wanted to kill him, but he did not compromise, even on the cross he did not give in. It would have been so easy for him to say "since you don't like the truth then I shall avoid talking about it, or tell you later". No, he boldly proclaimed and taught his disciples about his true identity even though this was to cost him his life.

How can I as a Catholic who claim that I love him be afraid or avoid speaking about the truth?

    Longinus Dismas

Letter from Peter Andrew (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05) 

I am wondering if the churches are contemplating upgrading their  present methods of teaching  Catechism.

I see that we are still using textbooks that are cumbersome and expensive. Further, these books are frequently being revised after which they cannot be recycled. We have to do away with this concept as it also frightens children and make than less enthusiastic in attending Sunday classes, as it reminds them of school.

I am sad to note that in terms of using the multimedia and high technology to the benefit of teaching, some churches are rather backwards. By now we should be equipping all Catechism classrooms with audiovisual equipment. It is about time that we do away with textbooks and teach using sights and sounds.

There seems to be a lack of effort in pushing for this change. Although these equipments could be costly can the churches canvas together and make purchases in bulk order thus reducing the cost. It would be a worthwhile investment. However, the catechists must be trained and are willing to learn. Hope that this could be implemented and the children can come to Sunday classes "hands-free". By the way I am very impressed with the Catholic News website. Keep it up, Father Johnson and team.

    Peter Andrew

Letter from Sebastian Tong (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05)

 

I refer to the letter by Benjamin Wang Xianwei bemoaning the use of Latin at Masses. (Jan 22)

 

Mr Wang seems to ignore the fact that so many popes have called for the wider use of Latin in liturgy and a return to traditional Catholic music. Pope John Paul II told an international group of pilgrims in Rome in 1999: "We strongly encourage you all that, by diligent study and effective teaching, you may pass on like a torch the understanding, love and use of this immortal language in your own countries."

 

Does he think that our tiny Catholic community in Singapore is somehow excluded from this?

 

His argument that Singaporeans' pronunciation of Latin would be "surely inaccurate" is also weak. We are capable of learning. Our ancestors didn't speak English and many of us grew up in households where we didn't speak the language. Yet there are many among us who pronounce and speak English well enough.

 

Mr Wang also misunderstands the notion of having people "participate fully" in the Mass. Singing loudly or praying loudly does not necessarily mean ‘participating fully' in a Mass. Silent and sincere prayer is also full participation in the Mass.

 

Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church and using it in liturgy is powerful as it links us to her very beginnings — it was the language of the Roman Empire that dominated the world when the Church began her life and the language of many of her early martyrs.

 

The local Singapore Catholic community is part of the larger body of the universal Church. Catholics from different parts of the world can worship together in a common tongue when they are gathered together - especially important given that so many Singapore Catholics these days travel abroad. Within our own shores, we also have many in our community who are non-native English speakers — Mr Wang should not assume that English would be a more familiar language for them to worship in.

 

Perhaps the return of Latin to our parishes in recent months was sparked off by the globally televised funeral of Pope John Paul II. It could be that Catholics here caught on TV and were edified when they saw and heard the Creed and Our Father sung in unity by the congregation gathered at St Peter's Square in a common tongue.

 

That Mass showed us that Latin eloquently demonstrates the unity that we possess when we partake of the Eucharist.

 

    Sebastian Tong

 

 

(continued on page 2)

 

Letter from Aloysius Ting (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05)

 

In his letter ‘Keep Masses in English' (CN, Jan 22, 2006), Benjamin Wang speaks on the "Latinization of our Masses" and its deleterious effects. This view seems to have only considered one side of the issue. While my own stand is that the usage of vernacular languages should be continued and supported as per the decision of Vatican II, we should not shun or put down what is necessarily the heritage of the church. In fact, we should be willing to do some personal research into its usage and the reasons behind it.

 

As far as the church is concerned, "particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites" (Sacrosanctum Concilium III 36.1). The idea of Latinizing Masses is a fallacy as Latin was the original language and if anything Masses have been "vernacularized". Translations to other languages such as English have resulted in some losses in original meanings of many of our traditional hymns such as the "Our Father". It is in Latin that these meanings and their proper contexts are to be found and appreciated. For instance, would we expect to hear "Salva Regina" in anything but Latin? Likewise if an English hymn were to be translated into another language it would lose something.

 

To understand things we need to remember the motivation of Vatican II, which was to define the role of the church in the modern world and to increase the role of the laity. One of the initiatives designed to address the latter issue was permission to use vernacular languages in Eucharistic celebrations. In Singapore we see this as Masses in every major language and dialect. Has it encouraged participation and understanding? The answer is a definite yes.

 

Does it mean, though, that this is all we have to learn? It is true that the majority of Singaporeans do not know Latin but we do have the resources to learn at least the traditional Latin hymns. We can definitely do better than simply continuing to go along with what we're already comfortable with. What better way, too, to further increase our level of participation than to learn something new (or in this case, learn about something old) together? Especially something tied to that which we profess as our faith.

 

With the focus on effective participation by the congregation, the use of a Latin hymn or two would not mean that all hymns would ultimately be Latin ones, neither is there any "danger" of Masses reverting to being conducted completely in Latin. There really isn't any reason to shun the language. Perhaps things might be better if choirs explain their choice of hymns and teach the congregation the lyrics and their proper pronunciation and if the congregation is willing to give the occasional Latin hymn a shot. In no way would we be surrendering any of what we've come to identify with the church in Singapore. What we would discover is more about the church as a whole.    Aloysius Ting

 

 

 

 

(continued on page 3)

 

Letter from Bernard Yee Weng Wai (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05)

 

I have read the various letters from your readers, the latest from Benjamin Wang (22.1.06 issue), about the "Latinization" of the English Masses here.

 

As far as I understand, and I stand corrected, the introduction of Latin for certain prayers/portions in the Mass stems from the pope's wish/vision that all Catholics may one day, regardless of their race or language, pray with one voice during the Mass, irrespective of the language in which the Mass is celebrated. Personally, I would be very happy to join fellow Catholics in praying the Our Father with one voice in one common language at a Mass celebrated in say the Swahili language. That, for me, would be a sure sign of the universality of our church.

Given that this is a vision which the church is working towards, perhaps our response to the introduction of Latin to the Masses could be like that of Samuel in today's first reading (15.1.06) and say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening", rather than "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking".

    Bernard Yee Weng Wai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Benjamin Wang Xianwei (Published in an edited form in CN02/06, Jan 22) 

I went for Mass on Christmas Eve at the Church of the Risen Christ, and to my surprise, the 'Our Father' hymn was sung totally in Latin! I feel that this "Latinization" of our Masses is unnecessary, and that it takes away the meaning of the hymns, the reasons for which are given below:

Firstly, most Singaporeans do not understand the Latin language. Even for parts of the Mass like the 'Lord Have Mercy', the Latin version of "Kyrie, Kyrie eleison" does not strike a chord with me, as the words do not mean anything to a non-Latin speaking person. Yes, it might be more traditional or sound more sophisticated, but at what expense? Of course, it is possible for us to learn simple Latin to keep up with the Mass, but surely, this is an unnecessary and tedious step to take, compared to the alternative of leaving the Mass in English which everyone understands!

Secondly, as with speaking any other language that one is not familiar with, our pronunciation and articulation of the Latin words are surely inaccurate. I believe the way most of us attempt to speak Latin is just like how many non-Chinese speakers attempt to prounounce Mandarin words: wrong and humorous at best, and having a totally different meaning at worst.

During the Christmas Mass I attended, although the Latin text of "Our Father" was flashed on the screens, I found myself mumbling nonsensical noises when trying my best to sing it in Latin. With all due respect to the Latin language, I find it meaningless to go through the Mass, or something as significant as the 'Our Father', in a language that is as foreign as Arabic to most Singaporean Catholics.

Why go through all the trouble to revert our Masses back to Latin, after correctly switching from Latin to English earlier on? Let's face the facts; we are in Asian Singapore, predominantly English-speaking with only a minority who understand Latin. Having Masses as much as possible in English allows people to participate fully and reflect on the words we recite and the lyrics we sing. Let's keep it this way.

 

    Benjamin Wang Xianwei

 

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The message girls absorb about sexuality (CN, Apr 1, 2007)

The Internet trap (CN, Apr 1, 2007)

Desire to hit jackpot does not make a man love God less (CN, Apr 1, 2007)

Catholic teaching on morality of human organ trading and definition of brain death (CN, Apr 1, 2007)

What is the official stand of the Catholic Church on organ trading? (CN, Mar 18, 2007)

Give hope in addition to money this Lent (CN, Mar 18, 2007)

Moral aspects of pain (CN, Mar 18, 2007)

Book that can help Catholics make a difference this Lent (CN, Mar 16, 2007)

Church must help mentally ill (CN, Mar 5, 2007)

Keep a plant-based diet to save the earth (CN, Mar 4, 2007)

How low is commitment ranked among young adults (CN, Mar 4, 2007)

Clarification of "Are people with homosexual orientation welcome in the Catholic Church?" (CN, Feb 4, 2007)

It's a plea for understanding (CN, Feb 4, 2007)

There is a lack of understanding (CN, Feb 4, 2007)

Don't accuse; help them (CN, Feb 4, 2007)

Free or low-cost Bibles for evangelization (CN, Jan 22, 2007)

More confident now in serving church (CN, Jan 21, 2007)

Not in line with church teaching (CN, Jan 21, 2007)

Shocked (CN, Jan 21, 2007)

Mixed feelings (CN, Jan 21, 2007)

Priest's view is disturbing (CN, Jan 21, 2007)

Are we really ignorant? (CN, Jan 21, 2007)

On obedience to church teaching (CN, Jan 7, 2007)

Are homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church (CN, Jan 7, 2007)

"Reverence to the Most Holy Eucharist" article an eye-opener (CN, Jan 7, 2007)

Have shuttle bus service for elderly (CN, Jan 7, 2007)

Impressed by Father Aloysius Ong's homily (CN, Jan 7, 2007)

Reach out in Hokkien dialect (CN, Jan 7, 2007)

Proper placement of furniture in sanctuary to honour the Eucharistic Lord (CN, Jan 5, 2007)


2006

On silence and reverence at Mass (CN, Dec 10, 2006)

Use money for things of spiritual worth (CN, Dec 10, 2006)

Why not receive the real Body of Jesus while kneeling? (Nov 28, 2006)

Use church money to buy spiritual worth (Nov 28, 2006)

Living wills: What about the disabled and mentally ill? (CN, Nov 26, 2006)

"Decorum at Mass" article timely (CN, Nov 26, 2006)

Consider older candidates too for the seminary (CN, Nov 26, 2006)

Exposure to world necessary to be good priest (CN, Nov 26, 2006)

Unqualified headline causes concern? (CN, Nov 26, 2006)

Ensure church leaders set good example (CN, Nov 26, 2006)

Mistaken identity (CN, Nov 21, 2006)

How to ensure a favourable judgement? (Nov 19, 2006)

Silence and reverence at Mass (Nov 15, 2006)

Are children welcome at Mass? : the last words (CN, Nov 12, 2006)

Do Christians and Muslim worship the same God? (CN, Nov 12, 2006)

On Holy Communion (CN, Nov 12, 2006)

Thanks, Carmelite Fathers, for the beautiful and inspiring Infant Jesus devotion (CN, Nov 10, 2006)

Instances of gross irreverence shown towards the Holy Eucharist (Nov 8, 2006)

"Are children welcome at Mass" debate should be viewed as "Are children catered to during Mass?" (Nov 1, 2006)

Open seminary doors early (CN, Oct 29, 2006)

Some ways to combat liturgical abuses (Oct 25, 2006)

Church needs priests and religious of quality, not only quantity (CN, Oct 25, 2006)

Should there be one or two collections taken up on Mission Sunday? (CN, Oct 25, 2006)

"Are children welcome at Mass?" debate continues (CN, Oct 21, 2006)

Carparking etiquette (CN, Oct 15, 2006)

Are small children welcome at Mass (CN, Oct 15, 2006)

On our young men going overseas to become priests (CN, Oct 15, 2006)

Are toddlers welcome in church? (CN, Oct 1, 2006)

Nothing wrong if our young men go overseas to become priests (CN, Oct 1, 2006)

Singapore visit inspired Filipino nuns to love Philippines church more (CN, Oct 1, 2006)

Empower Liturgical Commission to act against liturgical abuses (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Praying in peace (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Are changes to Mass prayers allowed? (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Reservation of places in the pews should be prohibited (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Dress code for Mass (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Make kids feel they are part of the congregation (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Importance of joining seminary for those discerning vocation to priesthood (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

What Catholics should know about Mass etiquette (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

The Angelus (CN, Sep 17, 2006)

Lay participation in multi-roles during the same Mass should be discouraged (Sep 11, 2006)

Parking woes (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

Like Pavarotti, we too look to God for help (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

Are toddlers welcome in church? (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

Raising children Catholic (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

What marriage is (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

On contract between foreign domestic worker and her Singapore employer (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

Denise Miranda's story inspires others (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

Reflections on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day speech (CN, Sep 3, 2006)

Reproduce excellent cover story on gambling from Catholic Asian News for the benefit of Catholics (Sep 1, 2006)

Reservation of places in the pews for those who are not in church should be prohibited (CN, Aug 30, 2006)

Daughters of St. Paul (CN, Aug 20, 2006)

Going forth... The Catholic Church 1819-2004 (CN, Aug 20, 2006)

Touched by Denise Miranda's story (CN, Aug 20, 2006)

Why do our young men today choose to go overseas to become priests? (Aug 14, 2006)

Christian charity forgotten at church car parks? (CN, Aug 6, 2006)

An "international parish" that needs upgrading (CN, Aug 6, 2006)

Catholics should acquaint themselves with local history (CN, Jul 23, 2006)

Going forth... (CN, Jul 23, 2006)

Why we pray for vocations (CN, Jul 23, 2006)

"Going forth..." an excellent book (CN, Jul 9, 2006)

Cathedral organs: One important person left out (CN, Jul 9, 2006)

CN's fantastic! (CN, Jul 9, 2006)

It pays for Catholics to acquaint themselves with local church history (Jun 29, 2006)

Mistake in letter (CN, Jun 25, 2006)

Do not be afraid (CN, Jun 25, 2006)

Why is there no Catholic Bible College here? (CN, Jun 25, 2006)

Do away with any "side show" which reduces the dignity of the Mass celebration (Jun 12, 2006)

Pope Benedict in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II as beacon of hope to the troubled world (CN, Jun 12, 2006)

Disappointed that appeal for ban was rejected (CN, Jun 11, 2006)

A lack of sensitivity to Christianity (CN, Jun 11, 2006)

Round up of viewpoints concerning "The Da Vinci Code" (CN, Jun 11, 2006)

Offensive movie poster at Orchard MRT (CN, Jun 11, 2006)

The reasons why (CN, Jun 11, 2006)

Why use a non-Catholic publication to explain "The Da Vinci Code" fallacy? (CN, Jun 11, 2006)

"The Da Vinci Code" poster gone overboard (Jun 7, 2006)

Concerns with RBC booklet handout (Jun 4, 2006)

Insensitivities of "The Da Vinci Code" (Jun 1, 2006)

Both traditionalists and modernists should unite under the fold of one shepherd (May 28, 2006)

Good and bad: response to "The Da Vinci Code" so far (CN, May 28, 2006)

Wrong headline (CN, May 28, 2006)

A request to cinema operators (CN, May 28, 2006)

Issue pastoral letter to boycott "The Da Vinci Code" movie (May 19, 2006)

"Be reverent during Mass" reminder timely (CN, May 14, 2006)

Anticipating "The Da Vinci Code" - Act now (CN, May 14, 2006)

Anticipating "The Da Vinci Code" - Expect more division in families (CN, May 14, 2006)

Anticipating "The Da Vinci Code" - Use the pulpit (CN, May 14, 2006)

Anticipating "The Da Vinci Code" - Looking on the bright side (CN, May 14, 2006)

Why do Protestants believe what they believe (CN, May 10, 2006)

Flash reminder on content of "The Da Vinci Code" movie for viewers' sake (May 7, 2006)

How to anticipate "The Da Vinci Code" movie (CN, Apr 30, 2006)

Reasons for parish-hopping (CN, Apr 30, 2006)

Sacristans deserve fair renumeration too (CN, Apr 30, 2006)

"No" to secular mentality which supports the idea of a man-centred form of worship (Apr 28, 2006)

Washing of feet on Maundy Thursday (Apr 27, 2006)

Reverence during Mass (Apr 24, 2006)

Blatant display of inconsistency puzzled many (CN, Apr 24, 2006)

HFMD - Where is our faith in God's providence? (CN, Apr 17, 2006)

Baptism by total immersion: Doesn't it attract gawking? (Apr 17, 2006)

"The Da Vinci Code" - offensive and blasphemous (CN, Apr 16, 2006)

We love the Kid's Page (CN, Apr 16, 2006)

Catholics love to see their priests publicly dressed in cassock (Apr 13, 2006)

No novelties for new church at Pasir Ris (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Provide breakdown figures of general statistics for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Sacristans deserve fair renumeration too (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Questions regarding almsgiving (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Well done, SVDP (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

When "acting blur" is loving smart (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Congratulations on "Deus Caritas Est" (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Would like to share "Deus Caritas Est" with friends (CN, Apr 2, 2006)

Receiving blood of Christ (Mar 31, 2006)

Abortion, the greatest scourge today (CN, Mar 21, 2006)

Interesting homilies help listeners (CN, Mar 21, 2006)

Go back to Catholic basics when preaching homilies (CN, Mar 19, 2006)

"Yes" to good homilies (CN, Mar 19, 2006)

"Call to Faith" series puts together latest thinking on catechesis (CN, Mar 19, 2006)

A joy to see Christian unity in action (CN, Mar 19, 2006)

Reconciliation move offers hope to traditional priests and laity (CN, Mar 19, 2006)

Little Sisters of the Poor (CN, Mar 19, 2006)

Nuggets of Lenten wisdom for reflection (Mar 14, 2006)

Freedom of speech is not absolute (CN, Mar 5, 2006)

Good preaching is a must (CN, Mar 5, 2006)

Don't cast our Latin Catholic tradition to the winds (CN, Feb 5, 2006)

"It's good to have some Latin hymns, prayers at Mass" (CN, Feb 5, 2006)

Parishes should use audio visual equipment to teach Catechism (CN, Feb 5, 2006)

Does Christian unity mean compromising truths? (CN, Feb 5, 2006)

On selective selection (CN, Feb 05, 2006)

Condom or abstinence: What would we teach our daughters? (CN, Feb 05, 2006)

There is no such thing as safe sex (CN, Feb 05, 2006)

Catholic doctors shed light on faith, sex, condoms, diseases (CN, Feb 05, 2006)

On selective selection (CN, Feb 5, 2006)

"Preach Message of Abstinence with Proper Understanding" (CN, Jan 22, 2006)

Keep Masses in English (CN, Jan 22, 2006)

What is the correct posture when reciting the Lord's Prayer at Mass? (CN, Jan 8, 2006)


2005

Death penalty for drug traffickers necessary (CN, Dec 25, 2005)

Seek alternatives to death penalty (CN, Dec 25, 2005)

"Safe sex" is not really safe (CN, Dec 25, 2005)

Letter from John Ooi (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05) 

I REFER TO Christopher Yeo's letter, "Preach message of abstinence with proper understanding" (CN02, Jan 22) which was a response to my letter in CN26, Dec 25, 2005.

Our letters offer differing views on the appropriateness and effectiveness of the abstinence and safe sex messages, and the debate will doubtless continue. In addition to understanding Catholic teaching on the issue, one way for CN readers to work out their own viewpoint is to think of the time when their daughters are in the teenage years and are moving around with boys.

Would the reader, as a parent, teach her about sex and the use of condoms, or about chastity and abstinence? How would this impact on the life and well-being of the daughter, here on earth and, possibly, for all eternity?    John Ooi

Letter from Dr Ian Snodgrass (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05) 

CHRISTOPHER YEO'S LETTER, ‘Preach message of abstinence with proper understanding' (CN, Jan 22, 2006) agrees in many ways with John Ooi's view, ‘"Safe sex" is not really safe' (CN, Dec 25, 2005).

The declining status of the condom is reflected in the changing tag from "safe sex" to "safer sex" (not really safe but safer than nothing) to "abc" (abstinence, be faithful, condom) with the condom's implied inferiority to abstinence.

A parallel and more accurate message can be found in the slogan, "Stop smoking" in preference to "Use a filter" to prevent diseases caused by smoking, such as lung cancer, even though these diseases may not be so universally fatal as HIV infection. Anyone arguing that sexual urges are "natural" and therefore unlike smoking, and so should be given leeway no matter how undeserved, is not a smoker.

In any case, neither efficacy (results in laboratory conditions) nor effectiveness (results in real life conditions) is the issue. Clouding the vision with multiple studies of efficacy passed off as "true effectiveness", instead of providing clarity in teaching and even being didactic, is a disservice. It is impossible to adorn reality with results under laboratory conditions, whether or not these results are 10,000 times better, as no one lives in a laboratory. Dismissing observations of results in real life as merely due to blameworthy "errors in use" is unrealistic and dangerous. Besides, like Russian roulette, if you fail, you're dead. And who wants HPV (human papilloma virus) if he doesn't get HIV, anyway?

(continued on page 2)

Never compromise integrityInstead, it is the threatened loss of integrity that we need to focus on. We must never, ever, compromise our integrity. Sexual intercourse is a possibly fertile human act between one man and one woman, married to each other. To tamper with the act, using it in ways other than what is truly human nature, is to damage and eventually to destroy our integrity, both in mind and body.

No responsible doctor, priest or educator can ever confuse his patient, penitent or pupil that sex with a condom is a way he can eat his cake and have it. To so offer an excuse for illicit sex is to create the rationale and the demand for it.  

Behavioural drives are notoriously subliminal and subconscious, producing effects that may seem intuitively contradictory. Behavioural scientists like Freud and Eric Berne ("What do you say after you say ‘Hello'?"; "Games people play") might have a better understanding of the internal forces involved and the harmful life scripts that people live out sometimes to their own destruction.

These obscure processes have nevertheless contributed to the development of the HIV pandemic since 1981, during the era of the condom and the promiscuity it facilitated since the 1960s. If anything, the condom is the cause of the pandemic, not its cure, trapping its victims in a destructive mindset created and maintained by its promoters.

(continued on page 3)

Years ago, a Time magazine cover featured the cynical question, "What lasts forever?" The answer? "True love and herpes." The sexually transmitted Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV type 2) is three times larger than HIV yet managed to create an epidemic in the USA in the condom era.

Turning to the condom for protection is a fool's errand. Evil is its own nemesis.

Our attempts to save our lives must never be at the cost of losing our souls. To use a condom in order to "save a life" nurtures a contradictory result instead, not only in the HIV pandemic itself but also in institutionalising contraception and population destruction, threatening the sanctity of life and the lives and welfare of unborn babies and eventually nurturing the acceptability of euthanasia.

These elements of the Culture of Death, described by Pope John Paul II in 1995, are an insight into how the world has already deteriorated and how it continues to deteriorate. We need to detach ourselves from this evil process.   

   Dr Ian Snodgrass   

 

Letter from The Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore (Published in an edited form in CN03/06, Feb 05) 

WE REFER TO Christopher Yeo's letter "Preach message of abstinence with proper understanding" (CN, Jan 22).

A few points require clarification. Some others require correction.

Mr Yeo claimed that "lab studies show that using a latex condom to prevent transmission of HIV is more than 10,000 times safer than not using a condom."

This is an unfortunate misrepresentation of the data. In the study cited by Mr Yeo, it was found that under laboratory conditions, the amount of fluid that leaked through the condom was estimated to be 10,000 times less than the usual amount of ejaculate in each act of sexual intercourse. Exposure to infected fluid was certainly reduced by that factor, but it did not by any means imply that using the condom is "10,000 times safer". It is interesting to note that, in the same study cited, published in 1992, R.F.Carey et al also reported that particles the size of the HIV virus were found to have been able to leak through 29 of the 89 condoms tested.

In any case, we know that conditions in the laboratory are quite different from real life conditions in actual use. This is why studies of the effectiveness of the condom in actual use show a very different picture.

(continued on page 2)

Lab does not equal life

In a workshop summary published in July 2001, the National Institute of Health (NIH), USA, reported that the condom was not proven to be effective in preventing the transmission of a number of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) like syphilis, genital herpes, human papilloma virus (HPV) and Chlamydia. HPV is the virus that causes genital warts and is a major risk factor for the development of cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb). Chlamydia is the organism that causes some forms of genital discharge disease and pelvic inflammatory disease, a major cause of infertility in the modern world. Because it is often silent (that is, without obvious symptoms), many women do not know they have the disease until they seek treatment for other problems like infertility or pelvic pain.

In the same report, it was found that the condom was effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission by 85 percent, but that only if used consistently and correctly. For many reasons, and human nature being what it is, this "ideal" scenario is in reality hardly the case. In the British Medical Journal (Vol 328:892, 10 April 2004), Dr James Shelton was emphatic in stating that "even though prospective studies have shown that condoms reduce risk by about 80-90 percent when always used, in real life they are often used incorrectly or inconsistently." This is what is known as "user failure".

On top of that, we also have to take into account the fact that the condom may break or slip. This contributes to what is known as "method failure". Davis and Weller found that breakage of the condom could happen up to 6.7 percent of the time, and slippage could occur up to 16.6 percent of the time. (Davis and Weller, "The Effectiveness of Condoms in Reducing Heterosexual Transmission of HIV", Family Planning Perspectives. Vol 31, No. 6, November/December 1999: pages 272-279)

(continued on page 3)


Based on these findings, the medical community no longer refers to sex using the condom as "safe sex". It is now referred to as "safer sex" since it is not absolutely safe.

Does increasing condom knowledge and availability reduce HIV and STD transmission? Taking a look at some developed countries suggests otherwise. In countries like the United States and United Kingdom, where condom knowledge and availability have been promoted, these rates have gone up.

Health experts estimate there are now 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States each year, up from 15 million about ten years ago. In the United Kingdom, a report by Britain's Health Protection Agency found that nearly 700,000 new STD diagnoses were made in 2004, up 62 percent from a decade ago.

In contrast, Uganda experienced a drop in HIV prevalence from 15 percent in 1991 to 5 percent in 2001. This was achieved through a programme that stressed behavioural change, namely abstinence and faithfulness, rather than condoms. Unlike Uganda, in other African countries such as Botswana and South Africa, which have among the highest rates of condom use in that continent, HIV rates have continued to rise.

Finally, seen with the eyes of faith, to suggest that it is not realistic to expect the unmarried to abstain from sex, or the married to remain faithful to their spouses, is a denial of one of the most basic tenets of our faith: that the redemptive act of Christ is able to redeem our fallen nature.

As the late Pope John Paul II once said, "[What] are the ‘concrete possibilities of man'? And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ? This is what is at stake: the reality of Christ's redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realising the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence. And if redeemed man still sins, this is not due to an imperfection of Christ's redemptive act, but to man's will not to avail himself of the grace which flows from that act". (Veritatis Splendor, ‘The Splendor of Truth', n. 103)   The Catholic Medical Guild of Singapore

 

Letter from Christopher Yeo (Published in an edited form in CN01/06, Jan 08) 

I am writing in reply to John Ooi's letter ‘"Safe" sex is not really safe" (CN, Dec 25, 2005). In it, Mr Ooi argues that condoms are neither effective in preventing pregnancies nor sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and that abstinence is more effective than practicing "safe sex". I agree wholeheartedly that the abstinence message is not "out-of-touch with reality" and should be propagated. However, there are certain misrepresentations that need to be addressed, lest we come away with a skewed perspective regarding the "safe sex" message.

First, Mr Ooi states that "studies show that the user-effectiveness rate of the condom  against pregnancy is 86 percent". While this statistic is correct[1], it is from a study of couples that use condoms as a birth control method. It turns out that most of these condom failures are caused by errors in use, "most notably the failure of couples to use condoms during every act of sexual intercourse."[2] Its true effectiveness in preventing pregnancy is probably much closer to the estimated 97 percent if ‘used perfectly'[3]. In fact, if calculated on a per condom basis, its effectiveness is closer to 99.96 percent[4].

Next, John extrapolates from this 14 percent first-year failure rate, to a 26 percent failure rate over two years. While this is correct, it needs to be put in perspective in that an estimated 85 percent of women using no method of birth control will become pregnant in the first year[5]. Using the same reasoning, 97 percent, or 970 out of 1000 teens will become pregnant in two years if they do not use birth control. But this would not be a fair representation of the statistics. We should also not use such extrapolations and large sample sizes to make the numbers support our argument; we should present the facts as fairly as possible.

In truth, these statistics about failure rates are actually not relevant to the question of how effective the "safe sex" message is. The relevant statistics should be "how many teens get pregnant after being taught only the ‘safe sex' message" versus "how many teens get pregnant after being taught only the abstinence message". It is not at all clear in this regard that the abstinence only message is more effective.

John also refers to how condoms are not actually effective in preventing a number of common STDs. This is true. He then adds that it is logical to conclude that condoms are not any more effective in preventing the transmission of AIDS then in preventing pregnancy. There is an unfortunate impression that condoms are not at all effective in preventing AIDS. As a clarification, while latex condoms provide almost no protection against HPV (human papillomavirus), the cause of genital warts and cervical cancer[6], lab studies show that using a latex condom to prevent transmission of HIV is more than 10,000 times safer than not using a condom[7].

Here, if we are arguing about effectiveness, the relevant question is whether more teens will catch HIV if they are taught the only "safe sex" message, as opposed to if they were taught abstinence only. Again, it is questionable that the abstinence only message is more effective. If even one straying teen could be prevented from catching HIV by the proper use of a condom, it is arguable that teaching "safe sex" is justifiable just to save that one life. In my opinion, we should not be opposed to the teaching of the "safe sex" message as long as abstinence is taught correctly and as the primary message.

I thank John for educating us about the fact that condoms are not really as effective as commonly thought, but his use of statistics and talk about effectiveness is skewed and misguided. Individuals such as John should be honest and responsible in propagating the truth about Catholic teachings. Feeding us such figures while ranting against the popular perception of the "safe sex" message only invites people to blindly believe in the abstinence only message. This is actually why we are being accused of being "out-of-touch with reality", and prevents the message from being more widely accepted. 

     Christopher Yeo

[1] R. A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, 17th revised edition (New York: Irvington Publishers, Inc., 1998), p.328.

[2] CDC Update, Questions and Answers on Condom Effectiveness, January 1997.

[3] R. A. Hatcher, et al., 1998, p. 328.

[4] Ibid, p. 329.

[5] Ibid., p. 216.

[6] http://www.thebody.com/Forums/AIDS/Fatigue/Archive/Other/Q142209.html

[7] R. F. Carey, et al., "Effectiveness of Latex Condoms As a Barrier to Human Immunodeficiency Virus-sized Particles under the Conditions of Simulated Use," Sexually Transmitted Diseases, July/August 1992, vol. 19, no. 4, p. 230.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Depending on the sources one chooses and the assumptions made, statistics can often be used to support one's viewpoint or rebutt someone else's. While the letters are really a debate on the relative effectiveness of "abstinence" and "safe sex" for avoiding pregnancy and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, Catholics must remember that the church teaches that abstinence is the right way.

 

 

Letter from J. Peggy Gomez (Published in an edited form in CN01/06, Jan 08) 

RECENTLY, I HAVE been reading some interesting articles about holding hands while reciting the Our Father during Mass.

I quote below, one question that I came across: "Many say we should not be holding hands in the congregation while reciting the Lord's Prayer because it is not a community prayer but a prayer to "Our Father."

Most priests say that since the Vatican has not specifically addressed it, then we are free to do as we please: either hold hands or not. What is the true Roman Catholic way in which to recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass?"

It is true that there are no hard and fast rules regarding this, but I must say that the Catholic Church should address this officially once and for all because there seems to be no consistency in our Catholic standards.

A few weeks ago, I went for Sunday Mass in a church in the Serangoon district and to my surprise none of the parishioners was holding hands while singing the "Our Father". In another instance, when I went to another church also in the Serangoon district, they too had the "no holding hands" procedure.

In both these parishes, when I asked a parishioner why it is that the parishioners have ceased holding hands, they mentioned that their parish priest told them that it is liturgically incorrect to hold hands during the recitation of the "Our Father".

The Lord's Prayer is a private communication between the worshipper and the Lord, and as such, the worshipper should only extend his or her hands outwards towards the altar. Apparently, the holding of hands during the "Our Father" was introduced by a priest who thought that it is good to hold hands and pray as a community.

The official documents on liturgy say nothing, it seems, on the matter, and the church authorities have declined to weigh in. As it stands now, some parishes encourage their parishioners to hold hands, some don't. So isn't it time for the church authority to address this matter once and for all?

        J. Peggy Gomez

By Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp 

"Someday you will be old enough to start reading (watching) fairy tales again"

— Preface to "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe"

(Warning: This article contains spoilers for those not familiar with the plot)

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA - THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE ("Narnia"), the film adaptation of C. S. Lewis' book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", will appeal to more than just Christians.

It is a fantasy adventure of four children who discover Narnia, a magical world filled with talking animals and mythical fauns and centaurs.

Unfortunately, Narnia is under the spell of the evil White Witch, who has cursed Narnia with perpetual winter "but never Christmas". The children battle the Witch to free Narnia forever from her spell with the help of Aslan, the noble and mighty lion.

Lewis' imaginary world of Narnia has taken more than half a century since the publication of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in 1950 to come to the big screen. One reason may be that only today's film technology and Computer-Generated Imagery makes possible a realistic portrayal of Narnia and her inhabitants. Another possible reason is the commercial viability of Christian-theme movies following the enormous success of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ".

(continued on page 2)

Though "Narnia" does not include everything in the book, and there are even slight changes from it, it is a faithful adaptation and fans of C. S. Lewis will not be disappointed. While cherished as a fairy tale with mythic motifs on one level, a deeper perspective reveals beautiful Christian allegories.

Aslan is a Christ figure (Aslan means lion in Turkish; the Lion of Judah in Rev 5:5 is Jesus): He willingly lays down his life to save others amidst the mocking and jeering of his foes; then he resurrects and breathes a new spirit of life into creatures cast into stone by the Witch; and he eventually destroys the Witch to save Narnia and all in it.

The paschal mystery expressed metaphorically will be obvious for anyone familiar with the Christian faith. Not only is Christmas experienced in Narnia but Lent, Easter and Pentecost as well.

One of the children, Edmund, who succumbs to the Witch's temptation and betrays his siblings, and on whose account Aslan sacrifices his life, can be viewed as representing fallen humanity.

The film shows the beauty of Edmund's transformation after being redeemed. Although we do not hear him say "I'm sorry", his repentance is shown in his facial and bodily expressions. The forgiveness of his siblings is also well illustrated in their emotive actions. Reconciled and united as a family, the children display fraternal love triumphing over past disagreements and conflicts.

In Lucy, the youngest child, we are reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:3, that we must change and become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In her innocence, purity, and great sense of wonder, Lucy is the first to enter the magical world of Narnia. Although deeply hurt by Edmund's duplicity, she nevertheless spontaneously hugs him in the scene showing their reconciliation. Through Lucy, we learn how to be child-like again.

(continued on page 3)

Other biblical parallels include the stone table which breaks into two, akin to the torn veil in Matthew 27:51; and Aslan's first appearance to the girls after his ‘resurrection,' resembles the Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection appearance to the women. Audiences may also appreciate the screenplay's references to biblical lines not found in the book: "Behold the great lion," (cf John 19:5) exclaimed by the Witch at the sacrificial scene, and "It is finished," (cf John 19:30) declared by Aslan, after his triumph over the evil Witch.

Although some Christians may object to having Father Christmas in the story, his presence heralds the arrival of Aslan (since Narnia did not experience Christmas until Aslan arrives). As we listen to the jingling bells of Santa's sleigh, bells may also be ringing in our heads to remind us that Jesus too had a precursor, John the Baptist. Father Christmas in Narnia emphasises to the children that his gifts are mere tools, in contrast to the gift of Aslan - his life.

A point of reflection that makes this movie a wonderful Christmas film is to realise that, indeed, all we receive this Christmas are mere tools (to build the Kingdom of God) compared to the true Gift of Jesus himself.

As winter melts in Narnia with the arrival of Aslan, and the beauty of spring ravish audiences' eyes, the verse from Song of Songs 2:11 could come to mind: "the winter is past….the flowers appear… ‘tis the season of songs". This is a splendid allegory of Christmas joy and hope brought forth with the arrival of Jesus into the world and into our hearts.

(continued on page 4)

Finally, the White Witch clearly symbolises the devil. She and her brood of vipers are defeated in the final battle scene. Pacifists may object to the rather long battle sequence in the film which took only two pages in the book. However being a Disney film, there are no gory scenes and all killing is implied rather than graphically depicted. Ultimately, the battle could serve as a metaphor for the ongoing battle within each of us, to overcome evil and the temptations of the devil (selfishness, greed, etc) with love, sacrifice and courage.

"Impossible!" some may say, just like Susan does when she first stumbles into Narnia and is repeated by the Witch when she sees the "resurrected" Aslan. But, "with God, all things are possible." (Luke 1:37). As it happens in Narnia with the power of Aslan, we, too, with the grace of God, can win the battle over evil.

While adults may be able to appreciate enriching faith parallels from the film, it is not necessary to impart to young children the spiritual aspects of the story yet. It may be wiser to just let them enjoy and experience the story for themselves first, and discover the richness of the allegories later, as their faith matures.

(Here's a tip: Stay in your seat after the credits roll. You will get to watch an extra scene and discover why Professor Kirke never doubted Lucy.)

"The moment he reaches home, he plays endlessly with doggie and completely ignores me. It drives me mad."

The secret to a lasting intimate relationship between husband and wife is the willingness to treat their spousal relationship as the first priority among all relationships, advises Father Henry Siew in this article, the first past of a series on spousal relationship.

THE FIRST PRIORITY is the ability to treat him and her as the number one in your life. If you do not cherish your couple relationship, there is no need for you to read on.

But if you truly wish to share a lifelong, fruitful and meaningful relationship with each other, then you have to make this priority your choice and your commitment.

When you yearn for your spouse to be the most important person in your life, and desire to make your marital love complete and perfect, you find your treasure. It is written in the Scriptures, "For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too." (Matthew 6:21)

(continued on page 2)

A certain lady is very disappointed with her husband. She complains that her husband does not treat her as the most important person in his life. "He even pays more attention to his pet dog than me," she says. "The moment he reaches home, he plays endlessly with doggie and completely ignores me. It drives me mad."

Is it true that by playing with his dog after work, the husband has actually given his wife a cold shoulder? Not necessarily so. Perhaps he sees his wife busy in the kitchen and doesn't want to bother her, so he turns his attention to the dog instead.

The problem, of course, is one of perception which leads to the feeling of neglect. Is the husband unaware of his wife's feelings? What should be done? Should the wife be more direct in expressing her needs and feelings to him? Does she want her husband to take the initiative in expressing his care and affection for her?

If the husband should come into the kitchen offering help, would she accept gladly the "clumsy" helper? Or would she coax the husband out of the kitchen with the line, "You are really of not much help here"?

(continued on page 3)

Besides misunderstandings, sometimes husbands and wives fail to take note of each other's needs and feelings. The person who is too engrossed in business, events or children, often loses the passion and attention for the spouse. As a result, the matrimonial relationship is unwittingly compromised.

Such a person would usually work passionately, would strive to understand the needs of his or her colleagues, staff and clients and win their respect and approval. He or she might earn big bucks for the company and gain respect from co-workers, but, sadly, such a person often does not know how to use his passion to build a warmer and closer relationship with his spouse.

A person who does not give time to one's spouse is often regarded by the spouse as "treating others more importantly than me". Such a person uses his or her time and energy to help friends, and for church, club or other activities and ends up neglecting the spouse.

Sometimes this happens because the offending spouse had felt neglected in the first place and had turned to other people, to work, to games or to other activities to fill in the emotional void.

When a person feels that he or she is less important than the spouse's activities, friends and businesses, it is extremely hurtful and that can threaten the spousal relationship.

(continued on page 4)

Let's take a look at Charlie. One day while having dinner, he saw his wife standing quietly by the wash basin. When he spoke to her, she paid no notice. He recalled then that she had been cold towards him the last few days. Unable to pretend that he was unconcerned any longer, he asked directly, "What is the matter with you?"

"Nothing," she replied. "I am not so blur. I know there is something wrong. Why don't you speak up? What have I done wrong?" he pressed.

"Even if I tell you, you would not understand; and if you do, what good would it do? Forget it!" she retorted. But Charlie continued to insist that his wife tell him what was wrong.

So bit-by-bit, she told him everything that had contributed to their mutual distancing over the years of marriage. "You would rather work and meet up with friends, and give attention to anyone who comes to you for help, but you just wouldn't spend time with me," summed up her grievances.

(continued on page 5)

Why was she so upset? She explained, "Many times when we scheduled to spend time together, you would change our plans at the drop of a pin. As long as someone else called, or knocked at  our door, either for work or for friendship, you would go all out to meet their needs and forgot all about me."

"I thought you wouldn't mind, we see each other everyday anyway!" he exclaimed.

"Didn't you know I long to be alone with you? You did not seem to care," she responded.

After listening to her, Charlie realised how he had neglected and offended his wife in the past. He was so careless about his appointments with her that he indeed did not treat her as the most important person in his life.

(continued on page 6)

For other couples, it could be the wife who had neglected the husband. She showers all her love and spends all her energy on her children or parents. She would spend the whole day bathing, feeding, nursing and playing with the children when they were young, and worry about their studies, activities and friends when they were older. Or she would busy herself with her parents, running errands for them, buying groceries for them and ferrying them to the clinic. Or she could be busy with her career.

In short, such a wife serves so many people well but she has no time for her husband. In time to come, the husband would feel there is no place for him in his wife's heart, and become troubled and unhappy.

If a person should get interrupted by a phone call when he or she wants to spend time with the spouse, he or she should not hesitate to tell the caller that he or she is unable to attend to the call presently. Everyone has the right to declare "Do not disturb". Most people are understanding and would not reject your request to attend to matters relating to your spouse.

No matter what, a married person must be convinced and be ready to manifest to his or her spouse that he or she is indeed the most important person in his or her life!

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is a trained professional social worker. He is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend, and to Morning Star Community Services.

Student Francesca Ooi writes about the end of year talk to prepare her and her schoolmates for the next stage of their student life.

Sister Doreen gave sound advice for the students to think about. (Photo by Shantaine Marie.) 

AT THE END of my six years in St. Anthony's Canossian Primary School, Sister Doreen, talked to us about her vocation and about serving God. Sister Doreen explained to us that a Catholic presence can be felt in Catholic schools, teaching pupils that there are a lot of purposes in life and that God is always with them.

She highlighted an article in The Straits Times, and using that, she told us about children who asked their parents why they did not spend time with them.  Parents want to make money to give their children the best they could. But in the process, they forget to communicate with their children. Their children are neglected when they go to work and problems start setting in with their relationships in the family.

(continued on page 2)

Sister Doreen reminded us that, besides all those attractions, temptations and loneliness children feel, they must always remember that God is still there with them, and that their family is still more important than their friends, as their family will always be there for them, while their friends cannot be there for them the whole time.

Near the end of her talk, she showed us a Powerpoint slide. On it was typed:

Five simple rules to be happy:

- Free your heart from hatred

- Free your mind from worries

- Live simply

- Give more

- Expect less

After the talk, I asked two of my friends how they felt about the talk.

Sara Singh said, "The talk helped me spiritually. In a sense that I know that I'm not alone. God is always with me."

Geraldyn Lim replied, "It was very inspiring and it taught me the meaning of true happiness."

I  agree with both of them although I have to add that I learn not to take things for granted in life. It was certainly sound advice from Sister Doreen for us to think about in our coming years.

(Students who have interesting stories about their school which they wish to share may send in their stories and photos to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Not all stories will be printed and those that

are will be edited.)

Daniel Tay was educated in government schools and knew very little about what makes a school Catholic. He had never heard of "school mission" and to see what it is, he recently accompanied a mission team to CHIJ Toa Payoh.

As the healing session drew to a close, the students were invited to reconcile with their schoolmates. Many of them broke down in tears, some even later shared that it was their first time crying in public.

THE MISSION STARTED out with Redemptorist Father Simon Pereira challenging the students to realise their full potential.

He offered advice to them about how to be confident ladies, especially in the presence of boys and warned them of the dangers of dabbling in the occult. Reminding them that each one was special and a child of God, Father Simon encouraged them to hold fast to their good values, and to stand up for themselves in the midst of peer pressure.

During the mission, ex-IJ girl Michelle Tan shared with about 150 Secondary Two girls a story from her own mission six years ago. She had a conflict with a friend at the beginning of her school year, which made her dread going to school. At the mission at the end of the year, she was able to reconcile with her classmate, and this made it possible for Michelle to have good memories of her school.

(continued on page 2)

I realise that we all suffer from various forms of broken relationships in our lives, whether it is with former friends or family members, and that burying the hurt does not make it go away. In these young lives, there is so much hidden pain, so much left unsaid, so much brokenness. The school missions that they have at the end of every year bring out this brokenness in the  students, allowing them to realise and confront the pain, which leads to emotional and spiritual healing.

It allows them to say that they are sorry for what they have done or not done, to close a chapter in their lives, to surrender their pain to God, and to start things anew.

The mission is not restricted to only the Catholics. Father Simon, who has been conducting school missions for the past 27 years, told everyone present: "This programme is dedicated to almighty God, no matter whether you're Hindu, Taoist, Christian, Buddhist or Muslim."

And to prove it, his mission team invited three Muslim students to say the opening prayer for the healing session.

(continued on page 3)

In all these years of missions, not once has Father Simon, present youth chaplain Father Frederick Quek and their mission team received a complaint of proselytism. On the contrary, through the evaluation forms received, they have frequently received feedback that more time should be dedicated to it.

In the past, the mission was more like a retreat which was held over several days. As circumstances changed, the duration has been reduced to only one session (morning or afternoon) Many students are thankful to the mission team for helping them search within themselves and find "what has been bothering" them.

I am convinced of the value of school missions and it gratifies me to see that the healing power of God is not reserved for Christians only. I did not have the advantage of a Catholic education. Even with this one experience as an observer at a school mission, I now begin to understand what I have missed. 

Father Peter Zhang will be leaving Singapore on Jan 3, 2006 for a Pastoral Leadership course in the Philippines which lasts for three months. He will then travel to Rome for further studies in Moral Theology on the instruction of the Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord, to which he belongs.

He came to Singapore nine years ago for his priestly formation in the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary. He served his diaconate in the Church of the Holy Spirit where he was ordained on Oct 26, 2003. He has been serving in St. Anne's Church as an assistant priest since January 2004.

The Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord was  founded in 1931 in Chahar Province, China, by Cardinal Celson Costantini. The cardinal was appointed by Pope Pius XI as the first delegate of  the Holy See in China in 1922.

The congregation has a special commitment to evangelise the Chinese people, both in China and in other countries. Its main work is concentrated on the higher cultural and educational level of missions and requires priests who are not only holy but highly educated.

By Joyce Gan

Father Annasamy Amalraj returns to India to receive treatment for cancer of lymph nodes

The Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea bade goodbye to Father Annasamy Amalraj on Dec 15. Father Amalraj has returned to his hometown in Salem, India to seek treatment for cancer in the lymph nodes.

Father Amalraj came to Singapore in January 2003 filled with confidence in God's plan for him here; he left with this confidence unshaken.

Although his cancer is painless, it has nevertheless left him "half the man I used to be", he joked about his loss of weight; meanwhile his faith has increased multifold. Both can be attributed to contemplative praying that Father Amalraj practises twice a day - one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.

(continued on page 2)

"All my negative thoughts and emotions go up in the sky and I transcend the world to be in God's presence," was Father Amalraj's explanation of the healing effects of contemplative prayer on him. This form of surrender has helped him to come to terms with his sickness. "I am not scared or sad about my sickness," he affirmed.

"I don't ask God why - I just willingly accept it. Everyday, I surrender my negative emotions sweetly and completely," he said with no regret, no resentment and no bitterness against his sickness. Father Amalraj also believes that this meditation will heal him. It already brings him the "experience of salvation".

The discovery of his illness came about a month ago when he went to see a doctor after coughing for more than two weeks. The doctors at the clinic thought he might have dengue and sent him to Mount Alvernia Hospital for a blood test; the test ruled out dengue. A biopsy at the Singapore General Hospital showed he had Mantle Cell Lymphoma in the early stages.

(continued on page 3)

The Paris Foreign Missions (MEP) in which Father Amalraj belongs, gave him the option of undergoing chemotherapy in Singapore, India or France. He chose India, his home. If possible, he would try Ayurvedic treatment too.

Ayurvedic treatment uses only herbs, something that he agrees with, as he has adapted to a vegetarian diet these days. He had started this diet to avoid eating meat as it contains a lot of toxins. He took well to it, feels healthier and no longer drinks coffee. He feels more spiritually relaxed with his new lifestyle and said that without it, he experiences body pain.

Father Amalraj used to meditate on Psalm 91:14-15 which speaks of God's promises to "rescue all who cling to me, protect whoever knows my name, answer everyone who invokes me…"

"Our God is a God of promise and I believe these promises will become a reality in my life and I believe that these promises have already started working in my life," he said confidently.

(continued on page 4)

Father Amalraj was ordained in 1980 and had served in the Diocese of Salem for 21 years before he joined MEP at age 48. "I had wanted to go out of my country to work on missions but I never thought I'll be sent to Singapore," he recalled.

Most of the time here in his parish, he  counselled parishioners who have problems. Although Father Amalraj shared that he will miss "all the good people here, my good parishioners", he recognises that God has a different plan in store for him. "God is prepared to send me elsewhere [now]," he concluded with hope.

"I know God has a good plan for me but I don't know what it is. I have to wait and see. I am sure

and certain that I will be healed and I will be used by God."

As part of their feast day celebration, the Church of the Holy Family organised a gathering of youth to watch the newly released movie, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe".

A 166-seat theatre at Century Square at Tampines was booked for the 9.30am screening on Dec 26, 2005. Arrangements were also made for the parishioners to remain in the theatre for an extra 45 minutes after the film ended for a discussion on the film.

Alvin Tan, who led the film discussion, shared, "What we did was to break down the session among three different groups - families, youth and adults. The group for families felt that the discussion was really good because it taught them how to discuss topics, especially after watching such a movie. The parents now know how to go about structuring questions to generate conversations with their children."

Three of the four priests of the parish also attended the screening.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI)

ACMI is making a concerted effort to continue its training and personal development programmes and to offer support to migrants "by being there". ACMI is looking into developing its centres to become a place where migrants can meet and socialise to form a community of their own.

Catholic Nurses Guild of Singapore

The focus for 2006 is to maintain spirituality in healthcare workers. This will add a different perspective to their knowledge and skills in healthcare to help them to reach out to the less fortunate in the community. There will be at least two retreats organised during the year and more pastoral care workshops to help healthcare workers reach out  even to the terminally-ill. The Guild wish to also extend their helping hand to the many migrants in Singapore.

Young Christian Students' Movement (YCS)

YCS is currently based in several Catholic schools and is involved in forming leaders in Christ. They hope to extend their work to more mission schools and, in particular, to approach more students to join them despite the fact that under the current Singapore CCA system, the YCS is not considered a core CCA. This means that students who join them do not receive any CCA points - a big drawback for them. YCS aims to work towards overcoming this obstacle.

Catholic Medical Guild (CMG)

CMG's mission has always been to build a culture of life with dignity from the moment of conception to the point of natural death. With this in mind, CMG hopes to continue to organise fellowship sessions to foster their sense of identity and vocation as Catholic medicos. CMG also aims to educate the laity on issues involving medical ethics as well as the church's teachings on these issues and to empower teenagers and parents/educators with the necessary knowledge and skills to handle sexuality issues.

It will seek to provide medical support to the archdiocese in handling potentially hazardous situations such as a possible avian flu pandemic and to continue outreach missions to other countries.

Christian Family and Social Movement (CFSM)

The CFSM intends to help families reinforce their faith and build relationships with each other by its faith formation sessions as it is important for all families, Christians and non-Christians alike, to treasure the gift of the family. The family is humanity's way of nurturing the next generation and stronger families will strengthen the hope for the future of our community.

Sister Mariana D'Costa, FMDM, (photo) Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI), engages in animated conversation with Msgr Eugene Vaz during lunch following the annual Christmas Mass for staff and volunteers of organisations housed at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre on Dec 19.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia was the main celebrant at the Mass which was concelebrated by Msgr Eugene Vaz (Pastoral Training Programme), Fathers Ambrose Vaz (Director of Bible Apostolate), Johnson Fernandez (RCIA Team and CatholicNews), David Garcia (Diploma in Adult Faith Formation lecturer), and Charles Sim (President of Family Life Society).

 

By Joyce Gan

Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) took a useful step to fostering inter-religious harmony by bringing different religious groups together to engage the public at Kovan Hub on Dec 18.

More than 200 IHM parishioners also spent the afternoon in "Christmas Love" - the theme of the afternoon - and to remind the public of the spirit behind Christmas. A 50-strong IHM choir sang Christmas carols and the appreciative audience danced. A Nativity Play put up by the IHM youths was warmly appreciated.

The talks were organised with Paya Lebar-Kovan Community Club Inter-Religious Circle Committee. Speakers included Pastor Billy Chan from Glad Tidings Church (on Christianity), Haji Azman Mohd Ariffin (on Islam), Master Huang Xin Cheng (on Taoism), S. Nallathamby (on Hinduism) and Toh Sze Gee (on Buddhism). Father Joseph Tan, parish priest of IHM, spoke of how the Catholic faith is based on the salvation story of Jesus Christ which all began on Christmas Day.

(continued on page 2)

This event was initiated by the IHM Epiphany Group, one of three parish missionary groups started by the Archdiocesan Commission for Missionary Activity. The other two groups are at Blessed Sacrament Church and Church of St. Joseph at Bukit Timah. These groups make parish mission their focus besides also going on mission trips overseas, Christian Kwan, the Chairman of IHM Parish Pastoral Council (PPC) Ex-Co, said.

He spoke also of how these groups do outreach work by organising Alpha, an introduction course to the Catholic faith that leads to the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) for non- Catholics, dialogue with people of other faiths as well as help to make parishioners conscious of the need to pray for conversions.

The Epiphany Group took six weeks to organise this Christmas event. Their maroon-coloured Tshirts bearing the theme logo was worn by all the 200 parishioners there. Only four out of 500 T-shirts were unsold at the end of the day.

"I think we've seen how the spirit can work through us in really interesting, creative and even strange ways!" An excited Julian Kwok, a guitarist in the IHM choir and a member of the IHM Young Adults, shared on their collaboration with grassroots communities. "Kovan Hub this year, Esplanade next year!" he joked.

Master of Ceremonies Terrence Fernandez said that it is timely that the church in Singapore has now come out of its comfort zone to reach out to the public in collaboration with other faiths. It is encouraging to be able to bring Christ to them and to show the face of Christ to them, he added.

(With information from Christian Kwan, Chairman of IHM's PPC Ex-Co)

Catholic parish hosts inter-religious dialogue activities attended by  representatives from many religions

By Sister Wendy Ooi, fspCatholics engage members of other faiths including (clockwise from right-most photo) Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs and Muslims at the Inter-Reigious Organisation Fellowship Day hosted by Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines.

Catholics engage members of other faiths including (clockwise from right-most photo) Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs and Muslims at the Inter-Reigious Organisation Fellowship Day hosted by Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines.

The afternoon of Saturday Dec 10 saw an unusual crowd gathered in the parish hall of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines. They were people of different religions assembled for an Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Fellowship Day hosted for the first time in IRO history at a Catholic parish.

Father Johnson Fernandez, parish priest, welcomed the 70 representatives of various faiths including Taoism, Islam, Bahá'í, Jainism, and Buddhism. Father Timothy Yeo addressed them in Mandarin. The youth of the parish performed a dance that incorporated the different religions of the IRO.

Father Bruno Saint Girons briefed them on the major tenets of the Catholic faith and stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue for the Catholic Church. Canossian Sister Janet Wang shared on the church in Singapore. Representatives of several ministries in the parish -  the Youth group, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Chinese Apostolate Group, and Neighbourhood Group - also briefly shared on their activities.

(continued on page 2)

The guests then toured the parish buildings, including the church on the third level and the columbarium in the basement. The afternoon concluded with tea and an opportunity to mingle and socialise in the hall.

Harbans Singh PS, President of IRO explained the objective of the Fellowship Day. "To talk about peace and harmony we need to go out and know more. This is a further step, beyond mere tolerance, to understand other religions and hopefully, also appreciate. The only way we can do that is to go out. It's a way to reconfirm that we're talking about the same thing, but there are different ways of doing it."

For most of the guests including Marlissa Bte Mokhtar who works with Jamiyah (the Muslim Missionary Society Singapore), the afternoon was an occasion of many "firsts". "This is the first time for me to have a tour of the whole church, to enter the main prayer hall, to see the pews and the kneelers, and the confession room and the place you keep the holy bread which I never knew about. Also my first time to be in a columbarium and the first time I got to know about theresurrected Jesus," she said.

"I know a little bit about Christianity, there are so many movies about Jesus Christ, but here I learn more things," said Ashvin Desai, president of Singapore Jain Religious Society. "I've been to churches but now I know where things are placed and their purpose. The day has been well organised."

(continued on page 3)

Jainism was founded 2,600 years ago. It recently became the 10th official member of the IRO. Today there are 5 million Jainists worldwide, with 700 members in Singapore. Its basic theme is non-violence - in thought, word and speech.

Harbans Singh PS was impressed with the various ministries of the parish. "The church here is providing for a need which is very urgent today - the need for people to come for guidance and spiritual support, and psychological strength," he observed. "The services here provide care for all sectors of a very large community. It's a worthwhile effort."

Ven. K. Gunaratana, of the Mahakaruna Buddhist Society, who came with around 10 fellow Buddhists, shared, "The Fellowship Day helps those who treasure religious harmony. I had no strange feeling when I stepped here, I felt very comfortable. The church is doing excellent work to the community, it is well organised, branched out to various levels. But from the sharing it is good to see that beyond the physical work, they (the laity) are motivated by some religious thoughts, and the spirit of community is important to them."

One of the tour guides for the guests was Dorothy Koh, a parishioner of Holy Trinity, involved in several ministries. She shared on her experience of guiding a group of Muslims, "They asked in- epth questions - how to become a Catholic? What must we do as a Catholic? What sacrifices do we have to make? It was a challenge for me but I was able to answer them and we also exchanged views - it was a two-way communication. It was a very good experience."

Sister Maria Lau, IJ, who represents the Church at the IRO was pleased at the success of the day. She summed it up as "a very meaningful experience, and another level of dialogue in getting together to fellowship and understand each other's religion."

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