From presenting radio programmes to editing newspapers, Father Cyril Lee’s reach has extended from a single congregation to beyond the Church. Darren Boon catches up with the former CatholicNews editor
FATHER CYRIL LEE enjoys keeping abreast with current affairs – from world events to public affairs. With a keen eye and acute sense for the contemporary, he analysed developing situations in Singapore and the world and penned down his observations for his readers.
As former editor of the archdiocesan newspaper until 2001, it is with the thought of reaching out to God’s people to inform and form them that inspired and motivated his editorials for over 10 years.
Gaining insight into what people think and do still interests him today, Father Cyril shared.
Having recently celebrated his 70th birthday in March, Father Cyril reflected, “Although I have not actually done very much in the parish, yet through my writings I feel that I have reached a lot of people, and in fact much more than if I had been in a parish.”
Then, he had a big following of readers who looked forward to reading the perceptive editorials he used to write in his distinctive style – clear messages in simple English that went straight to the point.
Janet Lim remembers reading Father Cyril’s articles in the CatholicNews. While she is unable to comment on specific articles, she certainly remembers the content as positive and making for a good read.
“It was nice to have a priest writing in the CatholicNews. It was really appreciated,” said Ms Lim.
Father Cyril’s insightful perspectives also came through in his homilies, according to Michael Chua, a parishioner of Church of Christ the King where the former used to serve as assistant priest.
“I remember Father Cyril to be an intellect, and a loving one at that. At the pulpit, he would preach with certain eloquence but never [with] arrogance, and would always end his sermons with, ‘Let us reflect’, which, in retrospect, is a good sign-off because it tells us exactly what to do with the sermon content. Otherwise, it would merely be a commentary,” said Mr Chua.
“Off the pulpit, he was a simple and caring priest who, although did not say much, spoke volumes by his simple ways,” he added.
Father Cyril’s first brush with the media was not CatholicNews. Rather, he took turns with Jesuit Father Gerard Keane to present a religious programme on radio that used to be broadcast on Sunday evenings and late nights in the 1980s.
The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation allotted the Catholic Church the 20-minute timeslot twice a month, Father Cyril recalled.
The segment was not ‘live’. The programme script would first be written and vetted by the radio station. About a week before the broadcast date, Father Cyril would record the segment in the studio.
The content could be just about anything and could even take the form of a skit, but there was usually some religious content, such as scripture reflection, remembered Father Cyril, his eyes sparkling with nostalgia.
He enjoyed those days being on radio which, he said, is an effective means of reaching out to people since not everyone has the time to read newspapers, but can listen to the radio while working.
“Somehow, people can pick up something while listening to the radio,” explained Father Cyril.
“The experience was great... great to feel I was speaking not only to one congregation but also to the whole Church... and even beyond the Church,” he said.
A pioneer in the pastoral care
After returning from his studies in the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila, Father Cyril started the Catechetical Centre in Waterloo Street in the 1970s. It was a precursor to the current Singapore Pastoral Institute.
The centre had only one room, but attracted people with its basic courses in bible study and catechetics.
Then, there were several catechetical programmes and textbooks “floating around”. Hence, there was a need for a centre to help catechists “know how to use or make their own programmes to cater for children coming from different backgrounds” such as those coming from Christian or government schools, explained Father Cyril.
In his 44 years as a priest, Father Cyril has served in several parishes including Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Michael, St. Vincent De Paul, and St. Anne.
Nowadays, Father Cyril Lee spends his time ministering to the Mandarin-speaking community in the Church of St. Anthony where he is assistant priest. As he is not in the best of health, he avoids going out as much as possible.
Yet he frets not one bit. “I really do not think much about the future. I use the time and opportunities as they come by,” he said.