The celebration of the Easter season is a time when we reflect on the mystery of Jesus’ supreme sacrifice. He gave his life to win us our salvation. The empty tomb fulfils his mission on earth. What joy we all experience in the knowledge that we have been saved and, as faithful disciples, will one day share in his resurrection!
The Easter season concludes on the feast of Pentecost, often referred to as the birthday of the church. From the Gospels we know that after a time of despair and fear, the disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit of God, left the security of their hidden life to courageously proclaim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and the teachings that he had shared with them.
They faced much opposition from the established religious leaders but, accepting their mission to preach Christ Crucified, they were not deterred.
Over countless generations, men and women have heard the message of Christ anew, and like the early disciples have been compelled to preach the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.
The Holy Spirit has inspired many Franciscan Friars to go beyond the security of their homelands to live and preach the Gospel as instructed by our Holy Father St Francis.
The feast of Pentecost has special significance for my province as it is under the patronage of the Holy Spirit. Franciscan Friars from Ireland established a community in Sydney in 1879. Then in 1970, the Australian friars assumed responsibility for the mission in Singapore. As more young men joined, it was declared a dependant custody of the Province of the Holy Spirit. It was my privilege to serve as the first Custos.
On 25 April, we celebrated the establishment of the Custody of St Anthony as an autonomous entity in the Order of Friars Minor. It was a momentous moment in the life of the friars in Singapore and Malaysia and for the entire Order.
We give thanks to God for the courage of our brothers from Singapore and Malaysia and pray that they will, by their faithful living of the Gospel life, inspire others to join in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, just as the early Franciscans did, just as the first disciples did – free from all fear and despair, but full of trust and faith in the Paschal Mystery of Salvation.
May we always be inspired by Pentecost and marvel in the Spirit’s action in proclaiming the story of our Salvation. May we always be willing to accept our mission to proclaim the Risen Lord. May the Holy Spirit of God be alive and active in all we do.
So many more came to our first Franciscan Spirituality Conference than we had dared to hope. We expected many friars, sisters and Secular Franciscans. After all, the conference was part of the celebration of the 8th centenary of St Francis writing the Later Rule, and it was an opportunity to gather as a Franciscan family to witness to the fraternal journeying together, male and female Franciscan religious, young and senior members, contemplatives and actives. However the conference also drew a good number of the greater body of the Lord’s faithful, showing that there is a clear interest in Franciscan spirituality.
The conference was held over two days each in three locations – Kota Kinabalu (12-13 April, below), Kuching (15-16 April, top, right) or Singapore (19-20 April, right) – so that more people could join us in learning from Friar Wayne Hellmann OFM Conventual, a distinguished Franciscan academic and scholar. It was organised in collaboration with the Secular Franciscans in Singapore and Franciscan sisters congregations in Malaysia.
Friar Wayne is one of the most brilliant and prolific Franciscan scholars of our time. He specialises in the writings and theology of St Bonaventure, and is professor emeritus at Saint Louis University, USA.
Over four talks, Friar Wayne brought us on a Franciscan spiritual journey. He began with the heart of St Francis in the first talk, “Francis, Teacher of Prayer”, where he delved into the meaning of the prayers Francis prayed throughout his life and taught his brothers. Several sisters and seculars said this session brought them closer to the heart of Francis, and made them feel closer to our spiritual father and his way of journeying into God.
In the next talk, “Franciscan Vision in the teachings of Pope Francis”, Friar Wayne helped us to recognise this privileged springtime of Franciscanism when a Pope has chosen to embody the vision and spirituality of St Francis of Assisi in his teachings and Petrine ministry.
On the morning of day 2, by expounding on Bonaventure’s theological insight on the Holy Spirit, Friar Wayne helped us to recognise the Holy Spirit as “The Culminating Gift” given to us. In the evening, in the final talk of this conference journey, “Recapturing our Symbols”, Friar Wayne used Desiderio Desideravi, the Pope’s Apostolic Letter on the liturgical formation of the people of God, to guide us through how we can grow in earnestly encountering God in the Sacraments and Liturgy.
For Russell Tan, who attended Friar Wayne’s final talk, the Franciscan perspective of Desiderio Desideravi was something new. “Friar Wayne reminded me that we are called to be fraternally One in Christ in our worship,” he said.
As for the Franciscan family, Friar Derrick Yap, who accompanied Friar Wayne to all his talks, said he heard many sisters and seculars express the hope that there would be more such sessions to deepen their knowledge and passion for Franciscan living and mission.
Dearest Family and Friends, Divine intimacy. Is there intimacy within the Trinity, where there is such a deep connection between the persons of the Trinity? I say yes.
St John tells us that God is Love, and the source of this Love is the Father, who is the fountain fullness of self-giving love. For love to be love, it has to be poured out freely on another. Who is this other? It is the Son, who receives this love completely. And because the Son is like the Father, he pours out the love he receives completely and freely back to Father who also receives this love completely. This intense powerful exchange of love is the Holy Spirit, or we can say that it is intimacy within God.
This divine intimacy is shared with us who dare to open our hearts to God, and we celebrate this intimacy at Pentecost! The tongues of fire that rested upon Mary and the Apostles represent the passionate fire of love that came from above to fire up fearful souls, so that these Apostles preached what was bursting from their souls – that “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
This is the raging outpouring of pure love we receive from the Holy Spirit through our baptism that frees us to be who we were created to be: sons and daughters of the Father, the source and giver of life.
On the morning of 25 April 2023, our Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) was declared autonomous by OFM Minister General Friar Massimo Fusarelli. This means that our Custody is free to chart its own course through its own discernment, guided of course by the Holy Spirit. For it is only with the Holy Spirit, that we can truly love and forgive each other as brothers, and it is the Spirit who will empower us to reach out and heal lives that are fragile and broken, even as we struggle with our own imperfections.
I would like to acknowledge in a special way the Province of the Holy Spirit in Australia, that cared and nurtured our Custody for many years enabling us to mature into the Autonomous Custody that we are today.
Even as we rejoiced, we wanted a concrete act in solidarity with those who are in need. Hence, we launched “St Anthony’s Touch”. This is our Poor & Mission Fund that will support our outreach to the poor, our evangelisation efforts and projects in the area of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. There is a new tick box for this in our donation slip.
On this feast of Pentecost, my heart is full, full to overflowing. There are so many to thank but I want to mention two especially – Friar Phillip Miscamble, who is the Provincial Minister of Australia and our Custody’s first Custos, and Friar John Wong, the previous Custos and currently Definitor General for Asia-Oceania, who played a huge part in our journey to autonomy. I have asked them to share their thoughts on this milestone in this issue of St Anthony’s Bread.
Finally I thank you, our friends, collaborators and benefactors, for your constant support and wish you the divine intimacy that God desires to give us. May we live our Christian lives to the full, and bring all Creation back to God the Father, the source of all life and love! Happy Pentecost!
The Franciscan Friars, also known as the Order of Friars Minor, have a rich and continuous history in Singapore over the last 65 years. On 26 August 1958, the Order entered into a contract with the Archdiocese of Malacca-Singapore, which allowed the Franciscan Friars to establish their first official foundation, consisting of a friary and attached public oratory, at 8¾ Mile Old Jurong Road. The first community of friars in what is now the residential township of Bukit Batok comprised friars from America, Europe and Asia.
During the first 10 years, the friars were involved in activities such as translating the scriptures and social teachings of the Church, providing pastoral care to Catholics in Jurong-Tuas, conducting catechetical training and retreats, and serving as professors and chaplains at Nanyang University.
In 1969, the Province of the Holy Spirit in Australia agreed to accept the friary as a house of the province, and a year later the friary oratory was formally established as the church of the parish of St of St Mary of the Angels in Singapore. In the 1980s, the friars began to attract local vocations, with young men joining their ranks such as Friar Michael Goh, the first local member of the Custody to be solemnly professed, Friar John-Paul Tan, the first local member to be ordained, and Friar Arul Sagayaraj Mariadass, the first Malaysian member to be solemnly professed and ordained.
In 1991, the Custody of St Anthony of Padua (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) was formally established, assisted by friars from Australia and India who served as leaders, formators and pastors.
On 25 April 2023, the Franciscan Friars celebrated another important milestone in their development and in the history of the Order. On the feast of St Mark the Evangelist, the Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) was declared an Autonomous Custody during a Special Assembly. The declaration of autonomy by the Minister General of the Order, Friar Massimo Fusarelli, was a moment of great joy and pride for all the members of the Custody.
This declaration of autonomy followed a process of careful study by the General Government of the Order, consultation with and documentation by local friars and Provincial leadership, and the recommendation of the leaders of the Franciscan Friars in the region of South and Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania.
For more than three decades the Custody has focused on formation, pastoral ministry, missionary commitment and expansion into Sarawak, Johor, Penang and Sabah. The growing number of friars living and transmitting the Franciscan charism, together with the active commitment to formation and evangelisation, provided the basis for the autonomy of the Custody. By the mid-2000s, the leadership was made up entirely of local friars, and the leadership and financial sustainability of the Custody also played a decisive role in its recognition as an autonomous entity.
I am truly grateful to have been able to be present at this significant moment in the history of our Custody, both in my official capacity as Definitor General for Asia-Oceania and as a member of this Custody. As a member of the Custody who serves in the international leadership of the Franciscan Order, I have a dream that this Custody will continue to grow and broaden its focus. My hope is that the friars will continue to be radical in their witness to the Gospel, unafraid to proclaim the Good News in ways that are meaningful and relevant to all people.
The Franciscan tradition has always been about living the Gospel in a practical way, with a focus on fraternity and minority. This means reaching out to those who are suffering and have not yet encountered the Gospel as Good News in traditional ministries and in new. The Custody could extend its presence into the digital realm, including online platforms and the metaverse. It could also share the rich heritage of Franciscan spirituality through prayer communities and hermitages.
The Custody would benefit from engaging in dynamic partnerships with non-governmental organisations, as well as ecumenical and inter-religious organisations, in order to uphold shared values and work towards common goals. These partnerships can be a powerful means of caring for our common home, upholding the dignity of human persons, and building up the wider Kingdom of God. Finally, the Franciscan intellectual tradition is another important aspect of the Custody’s heritage which should be developed and shared more widely.
With a strong commitment to the Gospel and a willingness to reach out to all people, the friars of the Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) can make a real difference to the lives of those around them. This Custody has the potential to be a beacon of hope and witness to the Gospel of Christ, not only in Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, but throughout the world.
Friar John Wong OFM
Definitor General for Asia-Oceania
A recording of the Thanksgiving Mass can be found in the Custody’s YouTube channel – FranciscanFriarsMySg.