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 week before the World Youth Day event in Lisbon, a group of pilgrims from Singapore embarked on a spiritual journey to Assisi. Led by three Franciscan Friars, this Franciscan pilgrimage from 24 to 31 July was a profound quest by the pilgrims to deepen their faith and explore the timeless teachings of St Francis and St Clare, who have been guiding lights for over 800 years.
The pilgrimage had three simple yet profound aspects: to get a sense of where we are going, how we are getting there, and with whom we are travelling:
1. Clarity of Purpose: Just as St Francis and St Clare found their calling in a life of poverty, simplicity, and service to others, we sought to clarify our life’s purpose and to understand the path God has set for us.
2. Continuation of the Journey: The pilgrimage was only a chapter in our greater pilgrimage of life, an experience that we hoped would teach us how to continue our spiritual journey with renewed vigour and purpose.
3. Companionship: We discovered the importance of community and companionship in our spiritual journey. We travelled with like-minded individuals who shared our faith, and provided support and encouragement along the way.
Our journey took us to sacred sites deeply connected to the lives and legacies of St Francis and St Clare:
1. Basilica of St Francis: This magnificent basilica, dedicated to St Francis, is a testament to his enduring influence. It was here that we felt the presence of St Francis, whose teachings of poverty and love for all living beings continue to inspire us.
2. Basilica of St Clare: St Clare’s Basilica is a place of quiet reflection where we contemplated her dedication to a life of prayer and simplicity.
3. San Damiano: This humble chapel was where St Francis received his divine calling. His experience at San Damiano imprinted the image of the crucified Christ upon his heart. Our visit allowed us to connect with the momentous event that set St Francis on his path of service and humility.
4. Basilica of St Mary of the Angels: This is where the Porziuncola, a small chapel dear to St Francis, is situated. The Porziuncola conjures up sentiments and thoughts linked with having a centre, a heart. This place symbolises Francis’ heart, and invited us to ponder who or what is at the centre of life for us.
5. La Verna: Nestled in the serene Tuscan hills, La Verna is where St Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. Francis had a lifelong, burning love for Jesus crucified, and his experience at La Verna imprinted the passion of Christ upon his flesh. Our time here was marked by deep contemplation and a sense of spiritual awe. We are called to come to the Lord with our burdens, our brokenness, and our weariness, and find rest in His loving embrace.
6. Carceri: The hermitage of Carceri, located in the lush forests above Assisi, is where St Francis and his companions sought solitude and communion with nature. It is from this experience and practice of solitude that Francis’ life and the Franciscan movement took root for all time. The development of a regular rhythm of solitude gives birth to a sense of listening and depth in one’s life.
7. Greccio: The place where St Francis arranged the first-ever nativity scene, Greccio is a place of profound faith and celebration that reminded us of the joy and humility of the Christmas story.
Each day, the pilgrims participated in the Eucharist, engaged in faith formation sessions and group sharing led by the friars, and spent quiet moments reflecting on the teachings of St Francis and St Clare.
One crucial aspect of the pilgrimage was the call to “do penance”, a call to introspection.
We were encouraged to examine our lives, seek new possibilities, and embrace new ways of acting that align with the values of simplicity, humility, and service.
Just as the Israelites were led by Yahweh in the form of a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud, we were guided by the wisdom and example of St Francis and St Clare. We welcomed the challenge and the gift of walking this path with one another. We laughed, we cried, and we carried one another’s burdens. Facing the challenges together strengthened our bonds and deepened our understanding of the pilgrimage of life.
The Franciscan pilgrimage to Assisi was so much more than a physical journey; it was a transformative experience that illuminated our spiritual path.
Through visits to sacred places, moments of reflection, and shared experiences, we gained clarity, learned to continue our journey, and discovered the power of companionship. We returned from this pilgrimage carrying with us the teachings of St Francis and St Clare, who inspire us to live lives of faith, simplicity, and service.
God sends us companions on our spiritual journey, for us as individuals and for us as an organisation or ministry. For our Custody, St Anthony has been our patron saint from the beginning.
Why St Anthony you might ask? Well, it goes back to 1957 when Friar Vergil Mannion arrived in Singapore to establish a sociological centre to offer an alternative to communism. The centre was named Studium Sociologicum in Latin, but its name in Chinese – 安道社会学研究社 – translates to Anthony Sociological Research Centre. There is nothing that explains why the friars chose St Anthony as the centre’s patron though. Perhaps St Anthony, the patron of finding lost things, will help us find the answer to that one day!
In 1991, when our Custody, dependent upon the Australian Province, was established, the new entity chose to keep St Anthony as its intercessor, protector and guide. When our Custody became autonomous on 25 April 2023, we could have chosen to adopt a different saint as patron, but we wanted St Anthony to continue as our main patron. After all, he has helped us find our way all these years.
However, the Custody did adopt a co-patron, Friar Gabriele Allegra, for it was he who conceived the idea of setting up the sociological centre. Friar Gabriele Allegra was recognised for his holiness and great contribution to the church and hence beatified in 2012 as Blessed Gabriele Allegra.
We commissioned a painting of our co-patrons for our declaration of autonomy. In it, Blessed Allegra holds a book, and on the cover are the words 圣经, which translates to “holy scriptures”. This is because Blessed Allegra is well-known for his pioneering efforts to translate the bible into Chinese from the original Hebrew and Greek. Blessed Allegra is credited with the founding of two research centres – one on the bible, the other for sociology.
May the co-patrons of our Custody, St Anthony and Blessed Allegra, inspire all of us friars and all of you to work hard and pray even harder as you bring the Good News to the people, that they may find their way to God, who is always looking out for us, especially those of us who are lonely and lost.
Have you wondered why St Anthony is associated with bread? It is the power of his intercession. One legend is that when a boy drowned near the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua, his mother in her desperation called out to her beloved saint to restore her son’s life, promising a gift of grain to the poor equal to her son’s weight. We know how this story ends: restoration of life and the beginning of a beautiful tradition of giving to the poor because of graces received.
Blessings of God are everywhere if the eyes of our heart are open to them. We do not need dramatic stories to remind us that God is looking out for us and for those who are suffering and need a helping hand.
After the example of our father Francis, Franciscan Friars look out for those in the peripheries, and those who fall through the cracks. We have friars on the ground working with the people, knowing their pain and their desire for a better life.
When our Custody become autonomous on 25 April 2023, we wanted to underscore our commitment towards living out our mission and evangelisation, while promoting justice and peace among all.
So, we revived our Poor and Mission Fund which, remembering the origin story of St Anthony’s bread, we call “St Anthony’s Touch”. There is a new tick box in the tear-out slip that comes with this newsletter, and we hope you, our friends, donors and benefactors, will partner with us in reaching out to those in need and in bringing them the Gospel of love and hope. In addition to touching the lives of those in need within the Custody boundaries of Malaysia and Singapore, we hope to use this fund to respond directly to crisis needs on the ground via the Franciscan network.
We announced our first St Anthony’s Touch commitment during the Thanksgiving Mass for our new autonomous status. The Custody has pledged a sum of RM50,000 (SGD14,500) in support of Projek Sentuhan Murni, a project of our Franciscan parish of St Ann’s in Kuching to provide decent housing for the poor and marginalised in the kampungs in which we serve.
St Ann’s parish launched Projek Sentuhan Murni (which translates loosely to “A Touch of Blessing”) in 2021 as a direct response to the hardships faced by the people during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, the parish provided food aid to more than 70 families.
Following feedback from the community, the parish began looking for a more permanent way of assisting the poor and marginalised. After much prayer and discernment, it decided that the project’s primary focus would be the building and renovating of homes. The permanence of a home would allow for the continual witness of God’s care and providence not only to the direct beneficiaries, but also to the community at large. Building homes would also provide jobs as village carpenters and workmen would be employed for the work.
In May 2022, the parish embarked on a pilot project to build two houses. The first house was for a family of seven living in a cramped wooden house perched on a precarious ledge. The head of the household had suffered an accident which had left him unable to work. The second house was for a destitute young man living in squalor.
Work began in mid-June, and six weeks later, the two single-storey houses were completed at a cost of RM58,000 (SGD16,800). A house blessing and simple handover ceremony took place on 6 August.
In 2023, the parish has allocated a budget of RM120,000 (SGD34,800) for Projek Sentuhan Murni. The commitment from St Anthony’s Touch will go towards this. Already, five applications have been received and more are likely.
The friars in our other parishes and ministries know to alert us of any dire and pressing needs that we can help alleviate through St Anthony’s Touch. I am certain more opportunities will present themselves as we open our hearts to those in need and collectively discern the voice of the Lord.
Please join us in praying that through this humble effort, the Lord’s presence and care may become more incarnate in the lives of the poor.
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.
In the first official biography of St Francis of Assisi, the author Thomas of Celano, one of the Saint’s first companions, wrote:
“Once while he (Francis) was staying near the town of Greccio, a certain brother brought him a live rabbit caught in a trap. Seeing it, the most blessed man was moved with tenderness. ‘Brother rabbit,’ he said, ‘Come to me. Why did you let yourself get caught?’ As soon as the brother holding it let go, the rabbit, without any prompting, took shelter with the most holy man, as in a most secure place, resting in his bosom. After it had rested there for a little while, the holy father, caressing it with motherly affection, let it go, so that now free it would return to the woods. As often as it was put on the ground, it rushed back to the holy man’s lap, so he told the brothers to carry it away to the nearby forest. Something similar happened with another little rabbit, a wild one, when he was on the island in the Lake of Perugia.”
Life of St Francis, Chapter XXI
There are numerous stories of how Francis extended the same loving care towards birds, fish and even earthworms, and how he praised the Creator through all created things. It is no wonder that Pope John Paul II named Francis of Assisi the Patron Saint of Ecology on 29 November 1979.
The story of Francis and the rabbit gives us an example of how we can live the reality of fraternity with every person and all creatures:
1. Be moved with tenderness: The brother who brought the rabbit saw the creature as food. Francis saw it not as a thing, but as a brother.
2. Welcome others into your life: We live in a world of fear, and people try to protect themselves because they have been hurt and threatened in many ways. Francis was so secure in himself and so welcoming in his love for all, that the rabbit instinctively knew it could run to him and find refuge.
3. Do not cling to anything or anyone: The rabbit wanted to stay with Francis, and Francis might have been tempted to keep the rabbit as a pet. But he knew that wild rabbits are meant to be free, and he found his own freedom in letting go.
4. Don’t stop at one act of generosity: As Thomas of Celano wrote, “A similar thing happened with another little rabbit, a wild one, when he was on the island in the Lake of Perugia.”