Hearts Filled with Grace and Gratitude

Hearts Filled with Grace and Gratitude

Dearest Family and Friends,

I’m home! I penned this message in Assisi, and yes, I fondly call Assisi “home”. There is such a feeling of right-ness whenever I am in this sacred town where St Francis, the little poor man (Il Poverello), was born, lived and loved, and where he finally transited from this earthly life to heavenly life.

Francis’ Transitus nearly 800 years ago is being commemorated as a series of important life-episodes leading up to his passing:

1223 – Approval of the Later Rule and Nativity at Greccio
1224 – Stigmata of Mt Alvernia
1225 – Composition of the Canticle of Creatures
1226 – Transitus (the passing of St Francis)

This is a Franciscan family celebration, not just for the OFM (First Order) but also for the cloistered contemplative Poor Clares (Second Order), and the Franciscan Religious brothers and sisters and Secular Franciscans (Third Order), and indeed by all who embrace the spirit of Francis.

Our Custody of St Anthony began celebrations in April this year with the Franciscan Spiritualty Conference featuring Friar Wayne Hellmann OFM Conv. In October, the Franciscan Friars hosted the Franciscan family in Singapore in celebrating the Transitus at the Church of St Mary of the Angels, where the themes of the Later Rule and the Nativity at Greccio were weaved into the Transitus recollection. Other commemorations are planned in the years leading to 2026.

Looking back on the year, I am grateful to see friars owning the Fraternal Life Project in their own fraternities. The seven fraternities developed their own Fraternal Life Project according to their unique character and circumstances while respecting the common Franciscan life that we friars have committed to, i.e. prayer in common, times for recreation and chapters (meetings), and dedicated time for regular days of recollection. It is my hope that they will each also have a fraternity mission project to serve the poor and needy together as brothers.

What the Fraternal Life Project really needs is for a friar to dream, spearhead, and animate the process. Who better to do this than the “mother” of the house, the Guardian (i.e. the superior of the community)? This is one of the reasons we have a greater concern for formation and support for our Guardians, and why we came together for a three-day gathering recently. You can read about this in the News section.

These are some of our efforts to foster holistic care of the individual friar. In this way, our friars can journey towards greater authenticity and integrity for the service of God’s kingdom, and our mission will be totally focussed on the Lord and his people.

There is an accompanying formation journey in the areas of Mission and Evangelisation, and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC).

In fact, JPIC is the focus of student friar Marvin Voo’s Franciscan Year Exposure in Indonesia. He has been there since January, and he shares his learnings with us in this issue.

As for myself, I was graced recently to spend time with refugees in Kuala Lumpur. I met students and teachers at Zotung Catholic Learning Centre, and the sharing session with the teachers, who are also refugees, was heart-wrenching but very inspirational. Such stories of courage and faith.

We also visited a clinic and a convalescent home for refugees, who often have limited access to medical treatment. The tireless efforts and passion of those involved are examples of hope for all humankind. I hope to be able to collaborate in their efforts, if possible. This is what we Franciscans have been called to do – to have a special love for the poor and disenfranchised, because Christ Crucified lives in them.

As we approach the end of the year, may we see the graces God has blessed us with, may we see the life’s lessons that we have painfully learnt, and may we see the needs of others that we have been called to alleviate.

On behalf of all of the friars, I pray that the celebrations of Advent and Christmas will bring you and your family plentiful graces, and that the joy and peace of the Christ Child will fill your hearts with grace and gratitude!

 A Franciscan Year Focussed on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation

 A Franciscan Year Focussed on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation

For the first part of my Franciscan Year, I was sent to Indonesia to learn about the Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) and Eco-Pastoral activities in the Province of St Michael the Archangel (Indonesia). The province has a well-established JPIC office in Jakarta with dedicated staff, and Eco-Pastoral is active in several locations around Indonesia, in Sindanglaya, Atambua, Khurbokho, Pagal and Tentang.

In January and February, I went to the JPIC office every day to learn its administrative structure. In March and April, I was in Eco-Pastoral Sindanglaya, where the friars administer a boarding school and the elementary school. Close by is a middle school, and the friars offer accommodation for students from low-income families and from the countryside.

On weekends and school breaks, a Lay Brother and Eco-Pastoral staff guide the students as they work in the garden or farm. They learn about compost packaging, gather grass to feed the goats, feed the fish, water plants, and harvest vegetables and other produce for their meals. They also learn to lead prayers, and read and sing at liturgical services.

I spent the final week of May to the end of June in Atambua, West Timor, near the border with Timor Leste. The journey to the friary in Atambua took six hours, and the Eco-Pastoral Motamaru mission is another 30 km by motorcycle.

The villagers are poor. When I visited a couple of nearby homes, I was sad to see that they only had soil floors and their walls were made entirely of bamboo. Imagine how wet everything would be when it rained.

The mission consists of two lay Franciscan brothers and four aspirants, and is neither affiliated with a church nor engaged in traditional ministry. Instead, it finds ways to interact with the villagers through eco-farming and, because it has a water pump, providing them with clean water. They are undoubtedly living the two Franciscan lungs of fraternity and minority.

My month there was a precious experience that strengthened my vocation. The morning I arrived, they had already begun their day. I am grateful that I was able to work with them in the paddy fields. It reminded me of what I used to see with my maternal great grandmother when I was a child.

However, the rice mill was what really moved me. It was not what I am used to seeing in my hometown in Sabah. This was smaller and ‘”do it yourself”.

I took a photo of Br Agus smiling while sitting on top of the rice mill, and looking at the photo later, I thought that he must have been smiling with the satisfaction of reaping what he had sown. A few bags of rice were kept for the friars’ consumption for the next six months, and the rest was sold to support the life of the friars and the aspirants.

Initially I was troubled by the lack of security. People were free to come and go, and to use our water pump at any time. I was always worrying as I had heard about goats and cows being taken in the past. However, God was teaching me to have faith, and to worry less in order to pay attention to what I was doing. So I said, “God, if it is meant to be, so be it.”

From West Timor, I moved to Flores Island on 2 July. There I worked, until the end of August, in an Eco-Pastoral with parish in Khurbokho, and later in Eco-Pastoral Pagal, where the Eco- Pastoral ministry began.

I learnt that the Eco-Pastoral mission provides practical experience through study and internships with nearby schools or universities. Students go to learn about how to care for the soil, and how to grow vegetables without using chemicals or pesticides.

The Eco-Pastoral team also teaches the younger generation that farming is a vocation. Eco-Pastoral Pagal is even introducing new varieties of vegetables to the villagers.

It is only now, after working with Eco-Pastoral Pagal, that I can grasp the meaning of Integral Ecology. It is the cycle of life, and we human beings are interconnected with the ecosystem. Eco-Pastoral is a way friars can build bridges in response to the cry of the poor and the earth.

As I look back on my time in Indonesia, I remember a line in a song by Ivan Nestorman in Manggarai dialect (the local language in West Flores) – “One hau de daku nai… ai hau de, mata leso ge”. This translates to “I give you all my loving heart, because you are my sunshine”.

This is like a prayer for me as I give God my time and myself, since he is the one who always shines the light for my journey, and is where my soul finds rest. Now, whenever I am feeling down, I find consolation in looking at the sun rising, shining in dazzling yellow, or setting in an orange-coloured sky. I feel the warmth of God’s love as he is always with me.

Friar Marvin Voo OFM

The Franciscan Year is an important time when the student friar is exposed to other fraternities, missions and possibilities to help him clarify the desire for solemn profession and his sense of belonging to an international Order.

An Evening of Fellowship and Exploration

An Evening of Fellowship and Exploration

Eight young men chose to chill out with the Franciscan Friars at the St Peter of Alcantara Friary in Penang on 11 September 2023.

The “Lepak with the Friars” evening was an opportunity for them to get a glimpse of life as a friar, and explore the possibilities for a deeper discernment for their calling in life.

The evening began with Vespers (Evening Prayer) and looking back on the day with a sense of gratefulness. This was followed by a hearty dinner of hot and spicy ayam penyet sambal ijo rice complemented by a refreshing passion fruit drink prepared by Postulant Master Friar Cosmas and Jonathan, the Postulant (first-year student).

After the warm fellowship at dinner, the guests were given an introduction to the Order of Friars Minor and, in particular, its presence in Malaysia and Singapore i.e. our Custody. They were very interested to hear about the various communities and ministries we have in Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak), Masai (Johor), Penang and Singapore. We also shared a video in which various friars in our Custody of St Anthony shared their aspirations and dreams for the Custody. This offered the attendees a glimpse into our commitment to serving God and His people in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi in Malaysia and Singapore.

The evening’s programme included a brief presentation on the Franciscan family tree, explaining the relationship between the three Orders – the First Order (Friars Minor), the Second Order (Poor Clares), and the Third Order (Secular and Regular).

The evening concluded with Compline (Night Prayer) as we came together in prayer before the end of the day.

More “Lepak with the Friars” evenings are planned so look out for the announcements in our social media channels. In addition, if you would like to have a conversation with regard to your discernment, or are wanting to ask and understand more about the Franciscan (OFM) vocation, do send an email to ofm.vocation.mysg@gmail.com.

Training to Foster Spiritual Growth and Fraternal Unity

Training to Foster Spiritual Growth and Fraternal Unity

From 11 to 13 September 2023, the superiors of the seven communities of friars in Malaysia and Singapore gathered for the Custody of St Anthony’s first Guardians Training.

Over the three days, using resources from the Roman Curia, the Guardians (Community Superiors) enhanced the skills and knowledge they need to be effective in their role.

The recently appointed Guardians – Friars Aiden Peter, Michael Goh, Joseph Lee, Francisco Basnayake, Esmond Chua, Arul Sagayaraj and Moses Yap – were accompanied by Custos Friar Derrick Yap and Ongoing Formation Animator Friar Vernon Chua.

Friar Vernon told them, “The role of the Guardian is a privileged opportunity to serve, knowing that at some point of our religious life, others get to do likewise for us. Not only is the understanding of the requirements of a guardian important but also the relational and exemplary aspect.”

According to the OFM Handbook for Guardians, the role of Guardian is complex and involves a variety of issues, requiring competence in areas such as spiritual matters, juridical matters, fraternal matters, animation and formation matters, financial matters, administrative matters, and pastoral matters.

All were grateful for the opportunity to come together and experience fraternal living, reaffirming the profound sense of brotherhood and responsibility that binds the Guardians.

For Friar Aiden, “the sessions were a sacred space where we could openly share our thoughts and struggles, knowing that we have each other’s unwavering support. It’s evident that the Guardians play a pivotal role in shaping our fraternal life, aiding the Custody leadership in its mission to form and strengthen our fraternal bonds.”

And Friar Michael shared, “The Franciscan understanding and approach towards leadership at the local level adds a feminine dimension to the role of Guardian – a mother who protects and nourishes. Yet ‘mothers’ need support, and our gathering of Guardians provides this. As the Rule for Hermitages 8, says ‘Those brothers who are mothers should protect their sons from everyone’.”

Recognising the importance of togetherness within the Franciscan community, the group took the time to visit with the friars in the St Peter Alcantara Friary.

It is hoped that formation sessions for Guardians will be held once a year to continue fostering collective responsibility, self-care, and the art of leadership among them, echoing the timeless message of St Francis in their devotion to spiritual growth and fraternal unity.