One of the significant celebrations in our Custody is the Feast of St Ann and St Joachim which falls on 26 July. This is because the friars have been serving in the parish of St Ann in Kuching, Sarawak since 2001. Under her patronage, the parish has grown from a small mission outpost to a vibrant parish.
Although dampened by COVID restrictions, the feast day this year is uniquely special because Pope Francis recently declared 25 July 2021 (fourth Sunday of July) the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. This is in no way a coincidence as St Ann and St Joachim are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and grandparents of our Lord Jesus.
According to tradition, St Ann was an old woman when she conceived Mary immaculately in her womb. The years of shame and hardship that both of them endured as a barren couple turned to unsurpassed joy at the gift of a child, who would one day bear within herself the Messiah. This beautiful miracle attests to the fact that God can work through anyone He chooses.
From this elderly couple and indeed many others in Scripture (eg Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth), God raises our hope and cements our belief that all of us are part of the body of Christ, each with a valuable and indispensable role.
In his message for this first celebration, Pope Francis reminds the elderly of their role, saying :
“Think about it: what is our vocation today, at our age? To preserve our roots, to pass on the faith to the young and to care for the little ones. Never forget this.”
– Pope Francis
Indeed, it is from the elderly that we inherit our faith, customs and traditions, from whom we learn the virtue of humility as we acknowledge the wisdom they have gained through years of life experience.
At the same time, the elderly need our special care and attention – more so in this time of social isolation. Who can bring them consolation from God, who assures us with these last words of the Gospel of Matthew – “I am with you always” (Matt 28:20)? Yes, the young, and the not so young!
As Pope Francis says in his message, “May every grandfather, every grandmother, every older person, especially those among us who are most alone, receive the visit of an angel!” Each of us can be that angel, but so too can parishes, and perhaps especially a Sarawakian parish under the patronage of the grandmother of Jesus.
Student friars Marvin Voo and Nelson Evarinus spent the month of June on a mission exposure and pastoral attachment at St Joseph’s Home, a home for the aged under the care of the Canossian Sisters. They share some of what struck them from the experience.
Friar Marvin: On my third day, I asked the Lord why he had sent me there. God replied during morning prayer in the reading – “Give your bread to those who are hungry, and your clothes to those who are naked. Whatever you own in plenty, devote a proportion to almsgiving. Bless the Lord God in everything; beg him to guide your ways and bring your paths and purposes to their end.” (Tobit 4:16,19).
In a literal sense, I was doing “give your bread to those who are hungry, and your clothes to those who are naked” by helping to bathe and feed the residents, and make their beds.
What gives meaning to what I was doing is “Whatever you own in plenty, devote a proportion to almsgiving”. Sr Geraldine, who was in charge of us, was always telling us – residents and staff – to harvest the smile. One afternoon, a resident who was difficult to handle and cursed almost every day caught my hand as I walked past, and asked me gently if I was still working and when was I going back. I was stunned and touched because that was the nicest thing I had ever heard from him.
I will never forget our fourth day. In the morning, we prayed Lauds with a resident who passed away that evening. That was a reminder to me that I need to live well every second of my life and “Bless the Lord God in everything; beg him to guide your ways and bring your paths and purposes to their end”.
Friar Nelson: I always describe old people as messy, wrinkly, and ugly. But one of the biggest benefits of living many years is one that so many today overlook or dismiss. It’s the wisdom that comes from so much experience in life!
Living and working in St Joseph’s Home for a month made me realise that ministering to the elderly is not a burden but is instead an opportunity to see my future. I remember seeing a poster in a senior centre that declared, “Growing old isn’t for sissies!” As the years go by, we will all relate with that statement more and more. But the Creator who designed our bodies to be affected by the passage of time does not leave us to suffer alone.
Through the prophet Isaiah, He says, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by me from birth, who have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I am he, and even to grey hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3-4).
Our brother, John Wong, OFM has been elected as the new General Definitor for Asia-Ocenia Region. The election of members of the General Definitory for the 2021-2027 term took place on the 13th day of the OFM General Chapter (Thursday morning).
We continue to pray for the new team in their servant-leadership as they guide us to a more radical and authentic franciscan way of living and serving, according to the mind of God and following the spirit of Francis and Clare!
In conjunction with the 30th Anniversary of the establishment of our Custody, the friars will be celebrating St Anthony Feast Day Mass. Join us in celebrating St Anthony Feast day, our Custody’s patron, via live streaming mass broadcasting from Greccio Friary.