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).
Two years ago, Januarius was diagnosed with an acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The Make-A-Wish Foundation (Singapore) has granted Januarius’ wish to become a Franciscan friar. He was brought to Greccio Friary and spend a day with the friars. It was a memorable and special day for him and his family as well as the friars.
Today, we rejoice in thanksgiving as Januarius does not need further chemotherapy session anymore. Watch the video below to follow Januarius latest and inspiring faith journey!
Thirty years ago, on 16 May, the Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) was canonically erected, dependent upon the Province of the Holy Spirit (Australia). We had two Singaporean Solemnly Professed friars (Friars Michael Goh and John Paul Tan), Friar Phillip Miscamble was our first Custos, and we were only in Singapore.
Fast forward to 2021, I am the third “local” Custos after Friars Michael D’Cruz and John Wong, and we are now also in Malaysia (Kuching, Johor and Penang) running parishes, collaborating with the dioceses and immersing ourselves in the lives of God’s people in these places. In recent years, many of our vocations have come from Sabah, adding to the colour and tone of our Custody as our earlier vocations were from Singapore, Peninsula Malaysia and Sarawak. In fact, we celebrated on 16 April the Solemn Profession of two Sabahan friars.
Still, from time to time, I find myself asking two questions – Where did we come from and where are we going? We need to look at history to ground our purpose and see our historical trajectory in the bigger scheme of things, to take stock of the present, and set about “scrutinising the signs of the times” (Gaudium et Spes, 4). In this way, the friars can be relevant and authentic, creative and faithful at the same time.
To be faithful to the founding vision of the Franciscan presence in Singapore, we first need to enter the mind and heart of an Italian Franciscan Friar Gabriele Allegra, who was beatified in 2012.
It is because of Blessed Allegra that the first friar came to Singapore in 1957. While studying Missiology and Theology in Rome in the 1920s, his heart was stirred to bring Christianity to the Chinese people. Learning that there was no complete Chinese translation of the bible, his heart was moved to translate the bible into Chinese from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The Studium Biblicum translation is considered by many to be thedefinitive Chinese Catholic Bible.
When communist ideology began gathering influence in South-east Asia in the 1950s, he proposed to Propaganda Fide (now, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples) that a sociological centre be set up in Singapore to offer the Catholic Church’s Social Teachings as an alternative to communism. Approval of the centre resulted in an international team of friars coming to make this Studium Sociologicum (社會學硏 究社), later located at Jurong Road 83⁄4 mile, a reality. Blessed Allegra himself headed the social institute for three years, from 1961 to 1963.
Back to basics, I would say. Back to what the Franciscan Friars stand for – Fraternity and Minority. Being the Order of Friars Minor. Being a brother to all and not just that, but a lesser brother, one who is humble and poor, who never lords over others, who is subject to all creatures as St Francis exhorted us to be.
We have spread our missionary wings these several years, while our leadership has become “local”. Reading the signs of these COVID times, could we be invited to be more rooted in our spirituality and intentionality, to grow deeper in our relationships with self, fraternity and God?
I proposed to the friars that, during this year, we mull on building a culture of care and trust within our fraternity and focus on relationship especially where there is historical baggage. To dare to risk anew with the grace of the Holy Spirit and to offer mercy even when the brother never asked for it (cf. Francis’ Letter to a Minister). Only when our fraternities are steeped in God and mutual care and trust can we truly be fraternities- in-mission. This process isn’t as clear cut as setting up a new mission centre but it is part of the dream shared by our Lord, St Francis and the many other Christian missionaries of love.
Friar Cosmas Francis and Friar Gerald Terence will make their Solemn Profession of Religious Vows at the Church of St Mary of the Angels on April 16.
They share what making their Solemn Profession of Vows, after years of discernment and formation, means to them, and their hopes for the future.
What does your Solemn Profession of Vows mean to you?
Gerald: My Solemn Profession of Vows is truly my heartfelt response to God. “My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.” It reminds me of the gift of my life and the giving of my heart. And this Solemn Profession of Vows is my daily invitation to die to myself, to take up the cross and to follow Christ.
Cosmas: Solemn Profession for me is a sign and an expression of my love for God who first loved me for what I am. I want to give over my life completely into the mysterious work of God through the identity of the Franciscan, and for the church.
What do you hope to achieve in the long term as a friar?
Gerald: I hope that I will continue to embrace my true self, my shadow, my struggles, and know that by the grace of God and the support and unconditional love from all of you, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). I will breathe in my courage and exhale my fear.
Cosmas:I have experienced many times the mercy and love of God in my shortcomings and weaknesses. I hope that I can express this love of God through deeds and words for the good of all. I encourage everyone to never get tired of getting closer to God despite the obstacles and challenges in daily life.
The taking of solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Franciscan way of life marks the beginning of full, lifelong membership in the Order of Friars Minor. After Solemn Profession, friars seeking ministerial priesthood prepare themselves for the Sacrament of Ordination to Diaconate followed by Priesthood. Friars who seek to remain as lay brothers engage themselves in ministries for which they are gifted and trained to serve the Church and the World.
Do join in the Solemn Profession Mass celebration of Friars Cosmas and Gerald via our YouTube channel on: http://bit.ly/OFMSP2021.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2 is also World Day for Consecrated Life, when those in consecrated life are invited to reflect on how they can be the light of Jesus Christ to all peoples.
We, the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of St Anthony (Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei) would like to take this opportunity to share with you who we are and what we do.
We ask for your prayers as we continue to discern how we can support you in living in the light of Christ as the pandemic continues and beyond.
May the powerful intercession of St Anthony protect us and guide our way to Jesus!
World Day of Consecrated Life – The Order of Friars Minor
Before friars from the two communities in Singapore, Brothers Julian Chua, Sylvester Singh and Timothy Fong were received into the novitiate, and given their habit of probation. Custos FriarDerrick Yap presided at the ceremony and celebration held at Greccio Friary on 9 January.
During the liturgy, when they were asked what their intentions were, all three responded with the request
“to be admitted to your way of life, that we may be tested and learn how to take on our shoulders the yoke of the Lord in love and joy”.
They were then called to sign the Book of Life.
Friar Derrick told the novices, “As you begin your journey to true joy in your daily life, invite St Francis to walk with you. Ask him to be your companion on this journey. Do take time to recall the moments when you encountered Christ, and allow that experience to encourage you in your moments of difficulties. Like St Francis and St Anthony, we are called to follow Christ. Doing so requires us to take to heart the teachings of Jesus and imitate His example, which may involve letting go of whatever prevents us from being free to follow Him.
“Of course, this is easier said than done as we are often weighed down by the burdens and challenges of life, and our human tendencies often get the better of us. However, a new year offers us fresh hope and the promise of new beginnings. The question I humbly invite you to reflect on is ‘As you excited to be a Franciscan Friar?’”
While the focus was on the novices, Friar Derrick reminded the friars gathered of their own profession and commitment to the Franciscan life and vocation. “We ought to be fully invested in our relationship with Christ and in our prayer life. Only then can we see the fruits of our discipleships. Together as one brotherhood under the one fatherhood of God, let us support one another with joy in our earthly pilgrimage with Christ at the centre of our lives. Let us also offer our Lord our thanks and gratitude for the privilege of belonging to Him alone and for the opportunity to bear witness to our love for Him in our calling.”