GENTING HIGHLANDS: Seorang paderi Ordo Suci Sto Fransiskus dari Singapura telah datang ke Malaysia untuk memimpin retret bagi para Pelayanan Katolik untuk Orang Pekak (CMfD).
Fr Rowland Yeo Teck Heng, merupakan paderi Katolik pertama di Asia Tenggara yang melayani Pelayanan Katolik untuk orang-orang pekak di seluruh benua.
Beliau berbicara tentang ajaran-ajaran teologi yang dibahagikan dalam beberapa sesi tentang Berkat dan Sakramen-sakramen, Wabak, Perjamuan Malam Terakhir, Musa dan Yesus, Roti Kehidupan dan sebagainya.
Paderi itu berpesan kepada ahli-ahli CMfD agar saling mendoakan antara satu dengan yang lain, menyokong ahli-ahli sepelayanan demi kebaikan dan kesejahteraan bersama lebih-lebih lagi bagi golongan Katolik yang bermasalah pendengaran.
Melalui topik-topik yang di-sampaikan, para peserta memperdalamkan pengetahuan mereka bahawa iman Katolik telah memainkan peranan penting dalam sejarah manusia khususnya dalam bidang pendidikan, kesihatan dan sosial.
Fr Rowland juga menyatakan harapannya agar semakin ramai paderi yang menyedari keperluan rohani orang-orang pekak.
Katanya, pada masa ini, amat diperlukan para paderi yang tahu berbahasa isyarat agar golongan kurang pendengaran boleh mengikuti Misa Kudus dan melakukan Sakramen Pengakuan.
Retret pada hujung minggu itu telah membawa kebangkitan dan kesegaran iman di kalangan CMfD serta memperbaharui keinginan untuk meneruskan pelayanan untuk golongan pekak.
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.”
The Franciscan Friars have been organising pilgrimages designed specifically for young adults since 2019. In fact, Friar John Paul Tan led a group of young adults, aged 18 to 35 years, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last December.
An objective of these pilgrimages is to help young adults make sense of what they have learned and heard – in their catechism classes and during the pilgrimage – and lead them to an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.
As Yossi, our archaeologist tour guide in the Holy Land, is fond of saying, the distance between the human mind and the heart is about a foot but it can be the longest journey. By that he means that the historical, religious and cultural significance of the places we visit could remain at the head level without reaching the heart to make a difference at the faith level.
One of the places on the pilgrimage is the Benedictine Monastery of St Mary and the Church of the Resurrection which was built by the Crusaders. Located in the Arab village of Abu Gosh, this church commemorates the event in Luke 24:13-35 when Jesus appeared to two disciples on their way to Emmaus. They had become disillusioned after the crucifixion of Jesus.
Jesus taught the disciples as they walked, about Moses and the prophets and about himself being the fulfilment of the scriptures. But it was not until the “breaking of bread” that the disciples encountered Jesus in person and recognised him. “Were not our hearts burning …,” they said. It was the moment when the mind met the heart!
“During the pilgrimages, our pilgrims are invited to make their own Emmaus journey; to allow the knowledge that they have gained to move their hearts,” said Friar John Paul Tan.
“Our young pilgrims have their lives ahead of them. Many obstacles and hurdles, disappointments and disillusions will block the journey from the head to the heart. It is our hope that these pilgrimages will give young adults the impetus to discover Jesus more in the scriptures, and reignite their faith in the person of Jesus who continues to be present at the Breaking of the Word and at the Breaking of Bread.”