NEWLY-ordained Jesuit Father Charles Sim believes that strong families are the backbone of a strong Church and healthy society. That is why he will be actively involved in family and individual counselling and therapy in the course of his priestly life. He spent the year 2000 studying for his Masters Of Science in family therapy at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London.
Fr Sim, 37, will go back to London soon for further clinical training. The Jesuit, ordained on Dec 29 at the Church Of The Blessed Sacrament, said: “I see families as the fabric of society, unless you strengthen them, you will not be able to raise good Christians and good citizens. “It is within families that you produce good persons. If you strengthen the fabric of society, you can look forward to a healthy society and Church in Singapore.”
It is within families that parents promote vocations, he notes. “Small examples of love within the home go a long way in bringing up children with faith.”
He observes that family life work encompasses many areas. However, he would like to focus on helping families cope with their problems by teaching them coping skills.
“I’ve learned that families are unique and have their own resources to cope with difficulties,” he said. Fr Sim joined the Jesuits on March 19, 1989, after realising his call a year earlier.
The second in a family of three children, his vocation, he said, was probably planted by his father, Mr Alexander Sim. “He is a very prayerful man. He did not call us to pray every day but he said his own prayers. In a way, his examples of daily prayer and dedication to the family influenced and encouraged us to consider becoming Religious, although he never mentioned that to us,” he said.
Fr Sim’s older sibling, Canossian Sister Elizabeth Sim, 41, helped him to discern his vocation. “She guided me in my search. We had some very deep conversations about my struggles,” he added.
Fr Sim, who served as an altar boy at the Church Of The Blessed Sacrament, came to know the Jesuit community only a year before he joined them.
As if to affirm his choice, he said: “In my years in the Society, I have met many remarkable Jesuits, which speaks of the whole ideal of being companions of Jesus. I benefited a lot from them. The friendship never goes away. I really cherish that in the Society.” After two years of novitiate formation in Singapore, Fr Sim spent more than three years in the Philippines studying Philosophy and Counselling Psychology.
Most of his two-year regency, from 1996-98, was in Cambodia. For 18 months he worked with the Jesuit Service Of Cambodia at a school for handicapped former soldiers and taught part-time at a university. In the school, soldiers from the rebel group Khmer Rouge and from the government troops live and study together. For one year, they are taught skills in farming, carpentry, welding, electrical, and others, and given free food and lodging.
“It is a place for reconciliation, understanding and learning to forgive each other,” Fr Sim added. He notes that without a skill, the people would have been social outcasts, treated like modern-day lepers.
The other six months were spent in Singapore, as a counsellor at the Family Life Society in Selegie Road. He spent the last three years of his formation in Dublin, Ireland, studying Theology. From there he volunteered to go to Bosnia with European Jesuit seminarians.
During their month-long stay there, he helped clear out debris from houses damaged in the Bosnian war. He also helped senior citizens prepare for winter by assisting with household chores.
His experiences in Cambodia and Bosnia left a very strong impression on him.
“What impressed me most was the generosity of the people despite their poverty, the willingness to share from the little they have. They have a sense of goodness despite what they went through... It is amazing to experience so much goodness amidst destruction, poverty and pain.”
Before joining the Jesuits, Fr Sim was a marketing executive in a pharmaceutical company for two years.