Tanging Yaman Mission Trip

 

Between May 24 and 31, 2015, Fr. Mark Aloysius, SJ brought three Jesuit candidates from Singapore for a mission trip to Bantayan Island in the Philippines. One of the candidates, Andre Theng, recounts and reflects on the experience.

On the long drive to Hagnaya Port, from which we were to catch a ferry to Bantayan Island, Fr Mark shared with us an anecdote that another Jesuit had shared with him. A Filipino town was considered to have “made it” when branches of three establishments had opened in the town – an SM Department Store, a Mercury Drug Store and a Jollibee fast food outlet.

The department store and fast food outlet have yet to reach the shores of Bantayan. Yet this was the precise charm of the place, a pristine oasis of about 110 square kilometers and about a 4-hour journey away from Cebu City. An hour-long ferry from Hagnaya Port, about a 3-hour drive from Cebu City is the main port-of-entry to the island. Home to about 135,000 people, the main economic activities on the island are fishing and poultry, as evidenced by the many chicken farms on the island. It is also an increasingly popular resort destination.

Together with Fr Mark, Fr Gil and two other Jesuit candidates, we travelled to Bantayan for a week-long mission trip. Much changed on the island following the 2013 Typhoon Yolanda, which caused severe damage to many parts of the island. It was a chance for us to contribute in a very small way to the rebuilding of their lives.

Our main mission was to paint several of the houses which had been newly built with funding from CHARIS Singapore, in cooperation with Jesuit Mission Singapore and the Tanging Yaman Foundation in Manila. It was a simple task if not for the fact that most of us in the group had never painted before. After three days of painting, our small team was able to complete 7 houses in two different areas.

However, we did more than just merely painting, and a major part of our trip also was about understanding how Yolanda had affected the people in Bantayan. On one of the afternoons, we paid a visit to some 20 families who had benefited from the rebuilt houses donated by CHARIS, and we were moved by how their spirit remained strong despite all they had gone through, and how they were filled with gratitude for the houses they now had.

Personally hearing and seeing their stories of the people – a child suffering from bad skin rash, a father suffering from cancer, a mother who had lost her husband to illness and who was now running a convenience store out of her home to support herself and her children made real the struggles of the people. We were glad to see that 50 houses had been completed. Although the project sponsored a fixed design, most of the families had taken ownership of the project and built their own extensions in the form of extra rooms or covered kitchens, for example, and some had also painted the houses on their own, one even in a bright green hue.

In addition, our group also participated in other activities together with the local community. On Tuesday, Fr Mark and Fr Gil, together with Fr Roy Bucag, parish priest of Santo Nino Catholic Church, concelebrated the Flores de Mayo mass for children at the church. We also helped to pack hundreds of stationery sets, donated by various donors from the community, meant for children who were about to begin a new school year.

The trip was also an opportunity for spiritual renewal for us, and the tranquil and peaceful environment at Kota Beach provided for an ideal place for reflection and for rest. We took time each day for daily mass, as well as sharings and reflections on our experiences during the trip. These added meaning to our work and allowed us to learn from one another on how God has been present during the trip.

After a short 6 days in Bantayan, we left with a heavy heart, sad to be leaving not just the beautiful island, but also the many friends we had made there. Our contributions to the people in Bantayan is perhaps but miniscule, but in many ways our time on the island was a source of great peace and of great encouragement in our faith lives, seeing the piety and devotion of people who lead far simpler lives than ours. As Fr Mark shared during the trip, these all were merely numbers prior to our visit to the Philippines – only dollar amounts of financial aid, a number of houses being built communicated in the many emails sent between Singapore and the Philippines and numbers of people affected by the typhoon. This trip was about turning the focus from those numbers to that of the people, whose lives have been deeply affected and changed by the typhoon. Even if we had done only a little to change Bantayan, it was truly Bantayan that had changed us for the better.

We were glad to be able to make a small contribution to the project, a project not about 100 houses or the amount of money it cost to build them, but a project about the people who live in them and their families. 

(To see more photos, please click here.)

Canonical Establishment of Jesuit House in Kuching

The Society of Jesus in Malaysia and Singapore officially established a house in Kuching on 22 April 2015 which is the feast day of Mary, Queen and Mother of the Society.
 
The Jesuits have been in the Kuching Archdiocese since 2012. The decree of establishment was issued by Father General Adolfo Nicolas, SJ and he set the Kuching Jesuits as a dependent community of Arrupe House in Taman Rinting, Masai, Johor.
 
The Jesuit house in Kuching is called Bellarmine House after St Robert Bellarmine, an Italian Jesuit theologian and Doctor of the Church (1542-1621). Bellarmine was a cardinal and was widely known for his many discussions with Galileo on the cosmos.
 
A thanksgiving dinner was held with Archbishop John Ha, the clergy of Kuching, other religious and benefactors on 28 April 2015 to celebrate this occasion.
 
Photo: 
Seated L-R: Fr Francis Lim, SJ, Monsignor William Sabang, Vicar General of Kuching Archdiocese, Fr Colin Tan, SJ, Regional Superior, Archbishop John Ha of Kuching, Fr Alvin Ng, SJ; 
Standing L-R: Fr Larry Tan, SJ, Sch Stanley Goh, SJ, Fr Varghese Lopez, SJ
 

Diaconate Ordination of Gregory Tan, SJ

Singaporean Jesuit, Gregory Tan, SJ was ordained to the Order of Deacons on November 29, 2014 at the Church of St. Carthages, Melbourne by Bishop Gregory O'Kelly, SJ of the Diocese of Port Pirie. Deacon Gregory has been studying theology at the Jesuit Theological College, Melbourne for the last three years in preparation for ordained ministry. We congratulate Deacon Gregory!

Please follow this link for more photos of the ordination.

Regional Meeting 2014

The MAS Regional Meeting was held from the 24th till the 28th of November 2014 at Kingsmead Hall, Singapore. The number of Ours who attended was 32. It was a fruitful meeting, as the Holy Spirit was evidently moving among us when we discussed regional planning for the years ahead. Towards the end of the meeting there was greater openness and sharing which created a deeper sense of brotherhood and mission together.

For more photos following this link.

Year of Consecrated Life 2015: Understanding of the Vows in the Jesuit Way

The following article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of Today's Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kuching.

The Year of Consecrated Life as announced by Pope Francis will begin on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady on 21 November 2014 and end one year later on 21 November 2015. These are reflections by the Jesuits in Kuching on their religious vows.

Fr Francis Lim Chin Choy, SJ, Principal of St Joseph’s Private Secondary School, Kuching

For Ignatius, a Jesuit should always have one foot firmly planted on the ground while the other foot slightly lifted, a sign of readiness to move forward to where there is a need. The Jesuit is one who is securely rooted in his place of mission and at the same time ever ready to go to newer missions when there is a greater need.

For the Jesuits, the religious vows are apostolic, which means that these vows are outward looking. These vows are primarily meant to serve other people. No doubt the understanding of one taking the vows is to progress in one’s own salvation, that is, to help in the saving of his soul. However, the Jesuits see their vows as apostolic.

These vows rather than disallowing the Jesuit to do certain things, they allow him to do certain things.

The vow of chastity is not meant that one cannot get married or have sex; this vow does not merely inhibit one to love someone special, rather the vow of chastity gives one the freedom to love, that is, to love greatly without limitation everyone regardless of distinction. Thus, the vow of chastity frees the Jesuit to love. This love should be trustworthy. People can trust us because of our vow of chastity without being afraid of abuse or their love taken for granted.

We fail to live up to the vow of chastity when we fail to love and when we lack in affection towards others.

In the same manner, the vow of obedience does not mean that one cannot disobey his or her superior. Rather the vow of obedience gives one the freedom to respond, that is, to respond to the greater need in whatever mission the superior sees fit and is for God’s greater glory. The vow of obedience frees us to say yes to God’s mission as concretized in the will of the superior.

We fail in our vow of obedience when we pull back where we are most needed in mission/ministry or whenever we are attached in what we are used to doing and cannot change and move to newer missions/ministry. Thus we are not free to obey.

The vow of poverty is not so much that we cannot possess material goods, but the vow of poverty is the freedom to listen to the poor and give ourselves to them. When we take the vow of poverty, we listen to the needs of those in need and avail ourselves to those needs.

We fail in our vow of poverty when we are so attached to what we have and pull back from the giving of my resources to help others. It is also when we start to hoard stuff, and not only things but also time and energy for ourselves. It happens also when we are not good in the stewardship of resources entrusted to us. The failure of the vow of poverty shows the lack of trust that God will provide for our ministry and need.

Fr Alvin Ng Sze Syn, SJ, teacher at St Joseph’s Private Secondary School, Kuching and Director of Kuching Archdiocesan Migrant Ministry

Until we are fully professed, our vows are called "simple" and "perpetual" precisely because that is what they are. Rather than promises that limit one's freedom, I strive to see the evangelical counsels as affirmations that set a person truly free. It is the freedom to be missioned anywhere (vow of obedience), freedom to love (yes, love!) everyone I meet with the love of Christ (vow of chastity) and the freedom to trust fully in God to provide for all my material needs (vow of poverty, which indeed God has, time and time again). I will be the first to admit that I struggle many times to keep them but this struggle is really a struggle against my own self-centredness. The vows are there to help me get out of myself and get into the world - it is all about mission. And I don't believe that the vows are professed only once or twice in one's life; rather I believe that vows are professed every day when at the start of each new day, I tell God that "today Lord, I still want to be obedient, chaste and poor for your greater glory" echoing Mary's words at the Annunciation and Jesus' words at Gethsamane - "Not my will Lord, but yours be done." It's all about surrendering and therein lies true freedom!

Scholastic Stanley Goh Yu-Ming, SJ, regent at St Joseph’s Private Secondary School, Kuching

The vows have a somewhat paradoxical meaning for me - they are external restrictions that allow for greater inner freedom. The external 'restrictions' have to do with how I lead my life in relation to people and things around me - of the need to be reliant on God for all things, simple and loving to all I meet and obedient to God through my superiors. I realise that these apparent restrictions, when lived with the Lord at the centre, allow one to live a more authentic and free life for God and others. Authenticity comes because I feel more myself when I am able to live more simply and focused on doing the Lord's work in my life as a religious. Freedom comes from not having to worry about temporal or relational needs (Luke 12:22-31) so that I can be more focused on working with and being loving to others. 

Fr Larry Tan Cheong Kee, SJ, Assistant Parish Priest of St Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching

We live in a world where the powerful influence of money, power, and sex on our lives is unmistakable. If ever an antidote were found to these three, it would most likely be the evangelical counsels of poverty, obedience, and chastity.

Living out a life of the evangelical counsels is not without challenges.  The challenges are best seen in the form of a paradox. On the one hand, the evangelical counsels bind me.  On the other, they set me free.

Poverty binds me to a life of simplicity and solidarity with the poor, yet liberates me from undue concern with money.

Obedience binds me to seek the will of God in my superiors, yet sets me free from attachment to a will for power.

Chastity binds me to honour my body as temple of the Holy Spirit, yet liberates me from misusing my sexuality for pleasure.

Ultimately, the binding-freeing paradox of the evangelical counsels as a possible antidote against money, power, and sex frees me for service to humanity by a radical imitation of Jesus Christ, who is poor, obedient, and chaste.