SINGAPORE – Malayalee Catholics here have a new spiritual director, Father Michael Benchamin (photo) here to replace his predecessor Father Joseph Kanappilly who has since returned to India.
Father Michael has been a priest for 16 years, and, aside from a few short stints in Canada, Italy, and Malta, this is his first overseas posting.
He was born and educated in Kerala, South India, and hails from Kottayam, the capital city of the district of the same name in central Kerala. He promoted vocations, and was the diocesan director for the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement.
He is ‘on loan’ for two years from the Vijayapuram diocese in Kerala to Singapore in order to minister to the Malayalee Catholics here. He will also assist Father John Khoo, parish priest of Church of St. Stephen.
Father Michael acknowledged that two years is too short a time to make long-term plans for the Malayalam-speaking community. Even so, he hopes to “orient them to Jesus... lead them in their spiritual life... [and] conduct the people when they come to church” and when they gather to worship God.
His role requires him to oversee the Singapore Malayalee Catholic Community, which numbers about 1,000 people, and the Malayalam Charismatic Group (MCG), which comprises 17 prayer groups. Each prayer group meets monthly in homes where members pray the Rosary, praise and worship God, have the priest break open the Word of God for sharing, and participate in a love meal.
Since his official posting on Apr 20, Father Michael has been spending time learning about cultural and lifestyle differences between Kerala and Singapore. In Kerala, people are mostly farmers, and families of 15 to 20 gather more freely in homes or in church in the evenings.
Father Michael’s duties currently include celebrating Mass for the Malayalee community at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes (first Sundays, 4.00pm), Church of St. Stephen (second, third, fourth Sundays, 3.30pm), Church of St. Francis of Assisi (fourth Sundays, 7.30pm), Church of St. Anthony (first Fridays, 9.30pm), and Choice Retreat House (second Saturdays, 9.30pm).
MCG member Thomas George described Father Michael as “joyful and dynamic”, and expressed hope that with the latter’s experience of working with youths in India, Father Michael would be able to give spiritual guidance to children approaching teenage years.
Mr George also said that he hopes Father Michael will continue to build on the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) among the Malayalee.
St. Stephen parishioners will find their new assistant priest placed in charge of the catechists, Bible sharing, St. Vincent de Paul conference, rosary devotion group, and youth ministry, among others.
Father Michael hopes that in the next two years, he will “find the grace ... in personal prayer” to “fulfil his duties”.
By Darren Boon