Archbishop Nicholas Chia - all things to all men
In celebrating the Year for Priests declared by Pope Benedict on Jun 19, 2009, CatholicNews has been featuring one priest in each issue; Joyce Gan concludes this section with an interview with Archbishop Nicholas Chia, the priest of priests in the Singapore Archdiocese
IF ANYONE HAD suggested to young Nicholas, or even Father Nicholas Chia that he would one day become the Archbishop of Singapore, he would have laughed and responded, “I will be quite afraid because of the many heavy responsibilities!”
But become the third Archbishop of Singapore, he did, on Oct 7, 2001.
Perhaps one would have expected a grand and loud calling for the archbishop, but there was nothing dramatic about his calling. He simply followed the promptings in his heart and responded accordingly – the rest, as they say, and as he says, happened according to God’s will.
As the third son in a family of six, young Nicholas grew up in Hougang and attended then Holy Innocents’ English School, now known as Montfort School. His parish was Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his role model was his parish priest, Father Francis Chan.
“He showed me what a good priest was like, and he was very close to my family, visiting us all the time,” Archbishop Chia recalls fondly. It was his encounters with Father Francis that sparked his first interest in the priesthood.
At 16, Nicholas applied to enter the seminary.
Although he had considered being a teacher, he eventually felt that going to the seminary was the right choice for him because of the level of “attraction I felt to the priesthood”.
Bishop Murphy Pakiam from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur shared about their days in the seminary, in the commemorative book prepared for Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s Episcopal ordination, that “Brother Chia was a good sport, joining in all our pranks, nevertheless he knew his goal. With the sail set square to catch the full wind and a steady hand at the rudder he just sailed through with flying colours. One wondered if the seminary was made for him and he for the seminary.”
On Jan 26, 1964, Nicholas Chia was ordained at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, where he was to return 37 years later for his Episcopal ordination.
As a priest, Father Chia was attracted to pastoral work. To him, love for people was the important thing and he immersed himself in parish activities, as assistant priest at the Churches of Sts. Peter and Paul, and Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Then came several years of further formation. Father Chia was sent to Rome in 1969, where he obtained a Licentiate in Moral Theology and also did comparative studies on religions.
A great multitude of tasks awaited Father Chia upon his return in 1973. First, he took on the positions of Lecturer and Procurator at College General in Penang. In 1978, he became Director of the Singapore Pastoral Institute, and two years later, he was appointed as parish priest at Church of the Holy Cross, where he would remain for 21 years.
It is obvious that Archbishop Chia still cherishes those days, when his voice softens as he shares of his time at the parish, “I really love my ministry in Holy Cross and I miss the parish very much. [There], I was close to so many people.”
Even while he was ministering to his flock at the Holy Cross parish, Father Chia was also lecturing at the St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary in Singapore, Chaplain to Catholic students in the National University of Singapore, and Chancellor and Procurator of the Archdiocese of Singapore.
How did he find the time?
Through obedience, replied the Archbishop. “Whenever I was given any responsibilities, I just tried to be obedient to the Archbishop and I did my best.”
He touched the lives of so many that many parishioners came to miss him when he was appointed Archbishop, while recognising that “a parish’s loss has become the Archdiocese’s gain”.
When Father Chia first learnt he was going to be the third Archbishop of Singapore, his response was simply: “I had to obey God’s will, not my will.”
Such obedience perhaps sums up why the archbishop chose for his motto, “Omnia Omnibus”, which is Latin for “all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:22), because Archbishop Chia feels it in his calling to be that in his service.
“A priest must make use of all his time, and all his talents to serve the people of God,” he concluded.
A MASS WILL be held to close the Year For Priest celebrations, and for the faithful to bid their farewell to Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, who will be transferred to New Delhi.
Date: Saturday Jun 19
Venue: Cathedral of the Good Shepherd