New Catholics who joined the Church at the recent Easter vigil share their faith journeys with Jared Ng
Finding God in a visit to St Peter’s Basilica
It was during a tour in Italy on their honeymoon in 2010 when Mr Choo Poh Choon and his wife, Bibianna, first experienced the “calmness and peace” of the Catholic Church.
One of the stops during the tour brought them to St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
“We were told it would be crowded inside but it wasn’t that bad. We felt really peaceful when we walked in,” said Mr Choo, 35, who uses a wheelchair.
He sustained spinal injuries during National Service which paralysed him from the waist down.
The couple said that a few years later, they had another “calling”.
On one occasion, when Mr Choo – who represented Singapore in basketball at the ASEAN Para Games in December – was having his sports training near Novena, his wife decided to attend a service at Novena Church.
“I saw the Novena Church and it reminded me of our trip to St Peter’s Basilica. So I decided to attend one of their services while waiting for him [Mr Choo],” she said.
She eventually got her husband to attend the Novena services with her and from there, “we were looking to deepen our knowledge of the Church.”
An ex-colleague of Mrs Choo had told her about the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace and the couple began attending Mass at the parish.
However during Masses, “we had trouble understanding the meaning of some parts as we did not know much,” said Mr Choo.
They found out about the RCIA programme from parish volunteers but realised that the course had already begun.
Mrs Choo later remembered the church she attended kindergarten in, the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
They enquired about the RCIA programme there the following week and the organisers “just told us to ... head straight for the first session which was starting. We haven’t looked back,” said Mr Choo.
“There were times we would not be able to make it for RCIA sessions but our sponsors were always around to remind us of what we missed and explain concepts we didn’t quite understand,” said Mr Choo.
The couple also credited the RCIA community for being “supportive and warm” throughout their journey.
Looking back, Mr Choo realised that “God was always there for us, from the first time at St Peter’s Basilica up until now. He has always been there.”
Mr Choo said they “hope to possibly be sponsors in the near future”, but not “until we deepen our knowledge of the faith so we can help others.”
Mr Choo also said he would like to “help families who have special-needs children. Perhaps I can share my story to inspire them.”
‘He was calling me to Him’
Ms Jilly Chen, 31, had left her banking job to join her fiance “in his venture, thinking he would love me more if I were of a great help in his business”. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned and she was left jobless and crushed when they separated after eight years in 2014.
However, during her time working in her ex-fiance’s business venture, she met Ashley, a colleague who often volunteered her time at the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC).
She once asked Ashley why she joined the business venture, “and she simply said, ‘I was on a mission to save you!’ I laughed it off, not understanding what she meant,” said Ms Chen, who now works as a sales manager.
She began attending worship sessions at CSC with Ashley and it was “after a couple of sessions that I felt that He was calling me to Him.”
Ms Chen was also invited by Ashley to attend Mass.
“I remembered Ashley once told me that there was a Catholic church in Pasir Ris called the Church of Divine Mercy.”
Ms Chen said she “felt a great sense of peace when I stepped into the church.”
That same evening at the end of Mass, “the promotional powerpoint for RCIA was flashed on the screen. I knew He was calling me,” she shared.
Looking back over her RCIA journey, Ms Chen shared that she can now “better understand the Catholic faith and the meaning behind its practices, as well
as the importance of having a community”.
She added that she hopes to be able to serve in the Children’s Liturgy at the parish or become an RCIA sponsor after her baptism.
Prayer for healing led her to God
Born into “a fairly staunch Buddhist family”, Ms Jeslyn Ngan’s interest in the Catholic faith first started when her elder sisters converted to Christianity.
In 2014, she came down with a “viral infection, high fever and gastritis” that lasted for about a month and a half.
Her mother instructed her sisters to “pray for me to get well as doctors were unable to help”.
On one night, she “was in so much pain and feeling so unwell” that she decided to “pray to our Lord and asked for the removal of all pain and suffering.”
That was the first time Ms Ngan, 37, had ever prayed.
Less than 20 minutes later, “I was no longer in pain; I sat up in bed fully alert and well,” she shared. That experience made her curious about knowing more about God.
Through the Internet, Ms Ngan came across the Church of Divine Mercy website and found out about the RCIA programme.
Although she was initially brought to a Protestant church by her sisters, she said she “felt more comfortable in a Catholic church”.
During her journey in the RCIA, Ms Ngan faced certain challenges.
“I had a huge fight with a best friend and was terribly hurt. I withdrew from church activities and I stopped praying for awhile. I was feeling all alone, lost and very heartbroken. I had no friends I could talk to and I started to have negative thoughts of myself,” shared Ms Ngan.
It was during this Lent that she felt God pulling her back to Him.
“I prayed for God to restore my faith and to give me the courage and strength to fix the situation I was in.”
Similar to Jesus being tempted in the desert, “I realised I too, was being tempted and challenged,” she said.
“However I am extremely grateful for God’s mercy to me and how He answered my prayers in His own way and time.”
The RCIA programme has helped “to mould me into someone more peaceful as I pray the Lord’s prayer every morning.”
She added that she is “now less quick to judge and more accepting of differences” in others.
‘The obstacles that we face in life are gifts from God’
Ms Kang Hui Juan suffers from a congenital heart condition – a structural defect in her arteries.
“I had to go through surgery just four hours after being born and my parents were told the odds of survival were really low,” recalled the 20-year-old, who recently graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic with a Diploma in Electrical Engineering.
Against all odds, Ms Kang managed to pull through. However her condition results in her feeling weak and tired often.
“I can’t do strenuous activities and I can’t take part in physical education [PE] or National Physical Fitness Award [NAPFA],” said Ms Kang.
She is currently taking traditional Chinese medicine but accepts that she will have to live with her condition.
Early last year, she mentioned to one of her friends that she wanted to visit a Catholic church for personal reasons.
That friend happened to be attending the Church of St Mary of the Angels and invited her to visit his parish.
“It was a weekday when I went to the church so it wasn’t very crowded but I somehow bumped into Fr Clifford,” said
Fr Clifford Augustine is the parish priest.
“We didn’t really talk for long but he introduced me to the Catholic faith. That day I found out about the RCIA as well through
posters in the church,” she recalled.
She enrolled immediately.
Her journey through the RCIA programme had its share of challenges but the community helped her.
She said she often had difficulty attending “some of the sessions at my group leader’s house as they would end at about 10pm”.
“I usually have to be in bed by 9.30 pm because of my condition. Initially I tried to keep up but it became too difficult for me as there was still the hour-long journey home after each session,” she said.
Her group leader decided to conduct separate sessions for her. Looking back, she says it is something she is really “grateful” for.
Another challenge occured during the Rite of Election held in February. “I wasn’t feeling very well and so I went to rest for a while. When I came back to join my RCIA community, they all knew about it and really showed their care and concern,” she shared.
Ms Kang said that her RCIA journey has helped her to surrender her condition to God.
“The obstacles that we face in life are gifts from God and I believe it’s through these trials that we will be moulded into a better individual. The trials of this life will ultimately lead to joy if we patiently trust in God’s plan and discover how we use adversity to grow stronger,” she said.
As to how she intends to live out her Catholic faith after baptism, Kang said she will “continue to do God’s will and discover His plan for me by reading the Bible.”
A conversion journey of the heart and faith
“Before knowing about Mother Mary, I used to think: Why can’t we just go straight to God?” said Ms Lim Weeyin.
“But through the RCIA, I learnt why Catholics would rely on Mary and pray to her for intercession. Praying the Hail Mary for me personally also brings me great comfort now,” she shared.
The 37-year-old used to attend services at a local megachurch before discovering the Catholic Church and its RCIA programme.
“I was quite active in the youth cell group” at the megachurch, she shared. “I would help plan programmes and social activities for my ministry.”
She shared that the church later moved into a new direction which made her feel uncomfortable.
She decided to leave it and changed her priorities in life.
“I started putting my career as my idol and that was the only thing of importance to me,” shared Ms Lim, who currently works in property development.
However, she knew “deep inside her” that one day she “would want to go back to God”. Her friend, Vera, whom she has kept in contact with since their secondary school days brought her to the Church of St Mary of the Angels.
“It was very still and quiet ... The atmosphere made me very calm,” she recalled of her first visit.
Although she had reservations about joining the RCIA programme, “Vera would always encourage me, saying ‘Just give it a try, if this isn’t what you want, you can spend more time reflecting.’”
Ms Lim said her RCIA experience made her realise that were “many differences in belief” between the megachurch she attended and the Catholic Church.
“My journey with the RCIA has also helped me to be conscious of my flaws and showed me that God works in different ways to reach out to me,” she said.
Ms Lim, who has also been attending Bible sessions in the parish, said she intends to gain a deeper understanding of the Catholic faith before deciding on the next step in her spiritual journey.
Balancing school and church
“At times, it does feel like I’m living two lives, one at school ... and the other at the Church of St Mary of the Angels,” shared Mr Justin Ho.
He is currently a fourth-year law student in the National University of Singapore.
The 24-year-old told CatholicNews that it was difficult to strike a balance between school and church.
“It is indeed hard to reconcile the two ... and at times going for RCIA sessions irks me because I have a whole ton of work left to complete,” he said.
“I think most university students can relate to the never ending amount of schoolwork. That, alongside the amount of activities that we choose to participate in school leaves us with a very packed schedule.”
At times Mr Ho would “skive on prayer and quiet time” but it eventually dawned upon him that his “faith was more important and everything else paled in comparison.”
Mr Ho credits his parents, who were baptised in 2014 at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, for setting “a brilliant example of living out a Christian life at home everyday”.
He shared that he was previously exposed to Protestantism, but decided in university that he wanted to know more about the Catholic faith. “I started exploring the Catholic faith since that was how the Protestant Church started. It was surprising to me how little I knew about Catholicism apart from the previous notions I received from Protestants.”
Mr Ho also discovered that he “could relate to the doctrines and theology in Catholicism much more”.
Later, when undergoing RCIA, “priests such as Fr Jude David and Fr John-Paul Tan always went out of the way” to help him, said Mr Ho.
Since joining the RCIA, Mr Ho shared that he has been able to let go of his pride and learn “to depend less on me and more on Him”.
“I’ve come to know Christ more and He has made me a better person ... At this point I’m just filled with more joy than I’ve known, and definitely more at peace,”
On how he intends to live out his Catholic identity after baptism, Mr Ho said: “I will do my best to reconcile ‘both lives’ such that I’d be living a Christ-like life.”
Mr Ho added that he has one younger brother who will be attending RCIA later this year.