SINGAPORE – The remains of Father Anthony Schotte and Bishop Carlo van Melckebeke were installed at Church of the Holy Spirit’s columbarium on Friday Oct 24 following a requiem Mass. Both priests belonged to the CICM, an international religious missionary institute. Father Anthony Schotte founded Church of the Holy Spirit.
The Mass was concelebrated by CICM Fathers Frans De Ridder, Angel Luciano, Robertus Sarwiseso, Albert Brys and Holy Spirit parish priests Fathers Andrew Wong and Gerard Weerakoon.
It was Father Andrew’s idea to install Father Anthony Schotte and Bishop Carlo van Melckebeke’s remains at the parish columbarium as part of the parish’s 50th anniversary celebrations to be held in 2010. "It is through these pioneer missionaries in Singapore that we now have our present church," he acknowledged. "We need to keep their memory alive."
"Today we cannot help but recall the great distances these missionaries covered in their lives. The day they surrendered themselves to the Lord and left Belgium, their homeland, they never really stopped to look back," he added.
Father Schotte and Bishop Carlo were born in Belgium and were both missionaries in Ningxia, China – Father Schotte for 22 years and Bishop Carlo for 25.
Bishop Carlo was appointed Bishop of Ningxia in 1946 and forced to leave China in 1952. In 1953 he was appointed by the Holy See as Apostolic Visitor of the Overseas Chinese; he set up office in Singapore. He established the Singapore Catholic Central Bureau (today’s Carlo Society) for the diffusion of Catholic literature in Southeast Asia and initiated several Mandarin language publications including Hai Sing Pao, the archdiocesan Mandarin newspaper.
Father Schotte was also expelled from China and he lived in the Congo for six years before arriving in Singapore in 1958. He founded the Holy Spirit parish at Upper Thomson Road in 1960, and had the first church building completed in 1964.
Both missionaries were inseparable in life and, it seems, even in death. Father Schotte died on Sep 30, and the bishop one day after. They were buried at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.
The remains of Bishop Carlo and Father Schotte had been exhumed on Sep 30 in the presence of Fathers Paul Staes and Andrew Wong. They had found Bishop Carlo’s thigh bone still intact and his pectoral cross still in one piece, although tarnished. Father Schotte’s body had disintegrated but his brain tissues were still intact, said Father Andrew.
The remains of CICM Fathers Jeroom Deblauwe and Marcel Wille were also exhumed on the same day since they were buried beside Father Schotte and Bishop Carlo. CICM priests are still deliberating if their remains would be kept at Church of the Holy Spirit or at Church of St. Michael.
Father Andrew recalled Father Schotte as a "mild-mannered man who had a goatee and a very pleasant smile on his face". Father Schotte had personally attended to Father Andrew’s late grandfather, an early pioneer-parishioner at the church, after he broke his hip and could not go to church.
"Unassuming and caring, Father Schotte’s treatment of my grandfather, Sunday after Sunday, made a tremendous impact on my young mind," Father Andrew said. "It sowed in me a seed for my priestly vocation. I remember wanting to grow up fast… to be like Father Schotte to serve God’s people."
At Holy Spirit, Father Schotte was assisted and then succeeded by Father Fossion, also CICM, who died a year ago, barely a month before the parish was to celebrate the 70th anniversary of his ordination. Incidentally, the requiem Mass and installation of ashes took place on the day that would have been Father Fossion’s 94th birthday.
Father Frans De Ridder, who preached the homily, told the congregation that some parishioners had suggested placing the ashes of Father Schotte and Father Fossion together. They would end up "fighting", just like how they used to quibble when they worked alongside each other at the parish, he joked.
"I remember Father Fossion said to Father Schotte, ‘You’re stubborn as a mule!’ and then Father Schotte said to Father Fossion, ‘You’re as stubborn as two mules!’"
Father Frans also shared an anecdote about Bishop Carlo: The bishop set out to make Pope Paul V – not known for smiling – laugh. Meeting the pope, the bishop said, "I’m Melchizedek from the Old Testament". The pope laughed and the bishop was victorious.
Father Frans said the requiem Mass was "like a celebration of the family … reconnecting with the people important to our lives". He closed the homily by playing the hymn "We Remember" on his flute to the applause of the congregation.
Mass was followed by the rite of interment of ashes and the placing of Father Schotte and Bishop Carlo’s ashes in the church’s columbarium.
Father Andrew, who also performed the rite, added, "These days our youth look for heroes to imitate. May they know that they need not look very far. In our columbarium are the remains of many who have lived holy lives, and if we should like to talk about others, let us talk about how we can imitate these holy people [instead]." - by Joyce Gan