DECEMBER 7, 2008, Vol 58, No 25

SINGAPORE – Former prison inmates and their families and Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM) volunteers observed Prison Week 2008 with a Mass at Church of St. Alphonsus on Nov 16 celebrated by prison ministry chaplain Redemptorist Father Paul Pang at which 50 volunteers  were commissioned. Archbishop Nicholas Chia celebrated Mass at Changi Prison on Nov 18.

The ministry now has over 140 members, mostly retirees; only five percent of volunteers are below age 30.

Through the ministry, prisoners in 13 prisons can worship at Mass, receive the sacraments and counselling, and participate in RCIA and ALPHA courses.

It’s not just a fad or something fashionable. Caring for the Earth and all it provides us is part of the Catholic social teachings.

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SINGAPORE – Having a community where friends could be made meant a lot to Nicholas Tang, especially since there were many places that he could not go to  because of his medical condition.

Mr Tang, 17, suffers from a tumour in his windpipe which prevents him from going to places
that could result in infections, but that did not stop him from singing at a performance at the Assisi Hospice Charity Dinner at the Pan-Pacific Singapore Ballroom on Nov 16.

It was because of the community and friends that Mr Tang has found in Assisi Hospice that he discovered his love for music and has since been developing it. Mr Tang has been a patient at the Day Centre for Children in Assisi Hospice since 2001, the same year the Day Centre for Children was opened.

It’s like a community centre where you can make friends especially during the period of treatment because there’s a lot of places and food that you cannot go and eat because of germs,” Tang told CatholicNews.

While “dying” is normally associated with hospice care, Assisi Hospice Chairman Ronny Tan emphasised that this is not the focus for Assisi. Rather, the hospice aims to help terminally ill patients to “live well” while in their care.

In his address at the charity dinner, Mr Tan explained that the hospice does this by improving the quality of life of patients and their families by “alleviating physical suffering such as pain and breathlessness”. Care is also taken to help them to “understand the psychological and emotional struggles” they go through. Financial support is also provided and “avenues for closure” are created.

There has been a sharp increase in the demand for palliative care. In 2000, Assisi Hospice had 66 patients per day requiring home care service. Today, this has grown to 114 patients per day.

In 2003, 230 patients were admitted for residential hospice care, and this has doubled to 427 inpatients in 2007.
Irene Chan, administrator and spokesperson for Assisi Hospice, told CatholicNews that the sharp increase in demand for palliative care is due to the ageing population in Singapore, high incidence of cancer and other terminal illnesses, and a greater awareness of availability of palliative care.

Support for Assisi Hospice has also increased. This year saw the most number of tables sold for its annual charity dinner. The dinner, sponsored by Pan Pacific Singapore, which has been supporting Assisi Hospice and encouraging volunteerism among its staff since 2004, raised the target of $1 million.

The money was raised through the sale of tables at the charity dinner, through a silent auction of art pieces that had been exhibited at Pan Pacific Singapore and donated by the artists, and through a competitive auction at the dinner.

One of the items on sale, a one-night presidential suite stay for two at the Pan Pacific Singapore, began with a starting bid of $1,288 and gradually rose to $8,500. At this point, the hotel’s general manager, Ivan Lee, threw in three nights stay in a normal room during the Singapore Grand Prix season, and the bidding grew competitive, with the item eventually going to Dr Michael Tien at the price of $20,000.

Another item, a calligraphy drawn by guest-of-honour Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam, was auctioned off for $40,000. The item was purchased by Ho Ching, Assisi Hospice patron and chief executive of Temasek Holdings.

In his off-the-cuff address, Mr Tharman said that hospices and palliative care are going to be “increasingly important” as the government wants to do more in this area as “it needs to cater to a large number of people”. Some of the ways he said that the government will help is to “encourage accreditation” and to encourage more doctors and nurses to take up this specialisation.

Mr Tharman also said that in difficult times, “the business of charity becomes more important and challenging” and that this is something the government recognises and is going to help.

“Charities are not just a substitute for tax dollars, which keeps taxes down,” he said, “but is also a way for people to decide which causes they want to support and put their money there. We hope to encourage a society where rich people are more involved, not just through donating money.”

In 2009, Assisi Hospice needs almost $6 million, of which $4 million is raised through donations, and the remaining comes from government subsidies and payment from patients who can afford.

The proceeds of the dinner leaves Assisi Hospice with a shortfall of $500,000 to be collected by end 2008. Assisi Hospice hopes that the “Light-A-Heart” fundraiser, which involves donors contributing $10 to light up a bulb on a 30-foot Christmas tree outside the hospice, will be able to raise the amount needed.

Assisi Hospice is one of only two Catholic hospices in Singapore, the other being St. Joseph’s Home & Hospice.

Out of the eight hospice providers in Singapore, only Assisi Hospice provides all the following services: in-patient care, day care, home care, loan of medical equipment, recreational activities, special therapies (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, massage), general counselling services, religious counselling, and training for family caregiver. - Daniel Tay, TheCatholicNews

SINGAPORE – Peter (not his real name) has been a resident at the Catholic AIDS Response Effort (CARE) shelter for about four-and-a-half years.
Peter, 60, considers himself Taoist/Buddhist, but he said, almost shyly, “Every morning, I light a candle for Jesus. I come into the office and pray to the heavenly Father.”
“I’m taking Catholic food, lodging, everything, given by Jesus. So I must give back,” he explained.
Peter first fell sick in April 2004. He spent 11 days in hospital and came to the shelter soon after he was discharged. Back then, the shelter was located at Hillside Drive, at an unused secondary school, and Peter was an active resident.
 “I looked after the garden, the fencing, hygiene and all,” he said. “I got to take care of the whole place and I felt very healthy.”
He used to follow a Sister around the vicinity, chungkol and axe in hand, to look for flowering plants and replant them at the shelter.
They also collected and repaired discarded furniture to sell or use. “We were like karang guni,” Peter laughed.
After falling sick again in 2006 he has had to take his medication several times a day. He goes to bed by 8.00pm and wakes up at about 5.30am.
At their present shelter where they moved to in 2006, Peter keeps himself busy painting and cleaning.
He cooked for the residents initially. “Now we have proper ration so I just cook soup,” he said. “Those patients who just come out of hospitals are usually quite sick so we look after them for a few months,” he related. “When they feel better, the young ones can go look for jobs. I look after them and their needs. Whatever care I have from CARE, I give to them.”
There are 12 residents at the shelter now; six are working, two help in the office and Peter takes care of maintenance and cleaning.
Every week he goes with Sister Geraldine Subramaniam (who takes care of CARE) to shop for food, toiletries and all other necessities for the shelter.
Peter and his wife divorced in 2004. She and their two children are unaware of his whereabouts. He does not want to talk about his family because it hurts.
Peter likes art and he has been drawing pictures, making bookmarks, key chains and sponge roses to use at events like World AIDS Day or as gifts to raise awareness about CARE.
“I must have done thousands of roses and keychains,” he said simply. “CARE looks after me and I treat it like my home. I must work hard to repay where possible. The Catholics really do a lot for me. Catholic people make us (people living with AIDS) feel normal,” he said.
His wish is to contribute where he can to making CARE better known so that “when other people see that Catholics are doing so much through CARE, they will ask themselves, ‘what are we doing?’” - By Joyce Gan

Braema Mathi shares her thoughts with the few people who attended her talk on migrant workers. Though not a Catholic, she has embraced Catholic social mission, making it her own.SINGAPORE – Normally, when the Scheut Missions (CICM) organise and promote a talk – by advertising in The CatholicNews, parish bulletins, and email to religious communities and to those who receive the Missionhurst magazine – some 35 to 60 people would attend talks on mission and 60-100 people attend talks on inter-religious dialogue.
However, the latest talk, “Welcoming the Foreigner in our Midst”, by Braema Mathi at Church of the Holy Spirit where the talks are usually held, attracted only 15 people.
More than 60 persons had been expected, said Father Paul Staes, following the series of  “Dignity in the Home” articles prepared by Archdiocesan Commission for Migrants and Itinerant People and Caritas Singapore Community Council and published in The CatholicNews; a booklet summarising the articles was then distributed in parishes.
“The poor attendance was a surprise and disappointment, but that does not mean that I will be discouraged,” Father Staes said. “On the contrary, I am even more strongly motivated to work harder”
to bring issues of social relevance to the attention of our Catholic population, he added. The social mission of the Church should be claimed as “our own thing”, he explained.
Ms Mathi is one who has claimed this mission as her own though she isn’t a Catholic. Catholic social mission is something that has articulated a lot of her own thoughts, she told a July CSCC social mission conference.
She professed that she’s worked on a few causes before “but it’s the migrant workers one I’m most concerned about”. She is a former senior correspondent with The Straits Times, is coordinator of a human rights group MARUAH, vice-president of Action for AIDS, is involved in AWARE and is the founder of Transient Workers Count Too.
The poor attendance at the talk is a pity but as Father Paul Staes commented, “Information, we can get from many places. Motivation, we usually get from people, like Ms Mathi.” - By Joyce Gan