24 July 2023

Touching the lives of the poor with St Anthony’s Touch

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.

Friar Derrick Yap OFM and Friar David Au OFM

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