Catholic teachers challenged to give strong Christian witness

“Are we really showing Jesus to other people?” Fr Eugene Vaz challenged the teachers present at the Teachers’ Day Mass held at Convent of the holy Infant Jesus (Toa Payoh) on August 26. He continued, “I address myself particularly to Catholic teachers in both mission as well as government schools. Is our way of life, the way we teach, the way we behave as teachers really showing people Jesus and his goodness, love, mercy, compassion, charity and generosity? We have so many opportunities to do this! Maybe it doesn’t occur to us because we are caught up with so much of work.”

Fr Eugene Vaz, who is also the spiritual director of the Catholic Teachers’ Movement (CTM) and the Singapore Catholic Schools’ Council (SCSC), also spoke on the confusion of vocation among teachers, as they also perform the duties of administrators and clerks, among others. “In our staff-room, there are many non-Catholic teachers. Are we a sign to them, of goodness and love, of understanding and patience and generosity, a sense of duty, cheerfulness and joy? The Catholic teacher in the staff-room must be source of joy, happiness and life, because he or she believes in Jesus, who is Joy!” He then reiterated the need for a strong Christian witness, which is one of the Pope’s objectives for the Jubilee Year. “What impression do the (non-Catholic) children in our classroom have of us? How are they seeing Jesus in us somehow? How are they coming to experience the goodness of God’s love somehow in the way we understand, journey or are with them?” He also lamented the lack of, or the little time given to catechism classes in Catholic mission schools here.

The Mass that began at 6pm also had several teachers testifying to their vocation. Mr Benjamin Lee from Assumption English School had this to say, “I really feel that as a teacher, I constantly do try to bear in mind that I need to love the students. But sometimes, loving the kids can be quite difficult, because they are sometimes very defiant and rude. But I have to tell myself that I have to patient with them and give them my time.” He also mentioned that a recent staff retreat for Catholic teachers had a wonderful effect on him, as it recharged him. Reflecting on Fr Vaz’s homily, he feels that the way of Christ is difficult on him personally, and had put additional pressure on himself, as he is also searching for God in his own journey. But he is also aware that his colleagues and students in school are looking at him and judging whether he is ‘living the way a Catholic should be’.

Mrs Mary Bay, principal of Holy Innocents’ High School also gave her sharing as a school administrator, especially to only about 7% of Catholics in the school. “It’s a challenge, because ministering to all those children is a totally different experience. With so many non-Catholics, the actual Catholics are feeling pressurized and intimidated. Sometimes my own Catholic children do not show or want to tell people they are Catholics because of the high expectations from others. As teachers, we have shown them the way of Christ through our own actions, words and the way we actually take care of our children. My motto for the school whenever I talk to my children is ‘you cannot hurt yourself and you cannot hurt others’, and I think that is the bottom line for all our actions for actions in Holy Innocents. Whenever anybody does anything wrong, we always go back to that root, and it helps explain why the things they are doing is wrong.”

“As for my teachers, we have learnt to live by divine providence. Sometimes when we have to prepare for activities and we do not know what to do, it is easier to pray rather than to plan. When everything is lifted up to God, everything will turn out to be okay, and we have always achieved it through prayer, even with my non-Catholic teachers. Being in a Catholic school have been for me especially have been a very enriching experience, and strengthened my own faith. There is a lot of growth in my own faith, because after being posted to a government school, being posted to a mission school really makes a difference in my life, and the way I minister to the children.”

The Hosanna! Music Ministry and Biblical Dance Ministry entertained the congregation that day with a musical dance improvisation, which is the first ever collaboration between these 2 groups. A sumptuous dinner followed the Mass providing much need fellowship and nourishment for all present.

CTM will be holding its AGM on November 11. Please contact CTM President, Mrs Gail Siow at 2581422 (O) or 4544094 (H) for further enquires on the AGM or CTM membership.

This article appeared edited in the September 17, 2000 of The Catholic News.