“If We Hold On Together”

“What is a witness? Do you think that priests here, and the committed youth leaders are witnessing? Why do you say they are witnessing?” Redemptorist Fr Simon Pereira asked this of Trina, a youth from the Church of St Ignatius at the first-ever West District Youth Rally held on Dec 11. She said, “They are witnessing because they have given up their lives for Christ, to live life like Christ did, to witness in love.” Fr Simon then began to recount of an experience where he used to visit a Catholic family whose children were “allergic” to priests, and when into hiding in the kitchen while their parents chatted with him. Many years after that, while giving a retreat to some nuns belonging to the Missionaries of Charity in the Philippines, he recognised one of the women to be one of those children that used to avoid him at the house. After some curious questioning, she confessed that she was a ‘party animal’ then, going to parties every weekend. One day after a party, in the wee hours of the morning, she realised the existence of God after spending some hours in contemplative thought just gazing at the night sky. Washing up at the break of dawn, she went for the early-morning Mass in church. Telling Fr Simon that she ‘felt the Lord calling me’, and today, she is now a full-fledged religious Sister.

Lamenting that today’s computer-addicted youths have no social skills, Fr Simon noted that nobody at the rally was actually welcomed publicly, or even asked for one’s name, unlike many Protestant rallies. Nonetheless, Fr Simon sees many committed Catholics in the university, in NUS, especially in the Legion of Mary. “A spark has been lighted in the flame of their hearts, and that spark has been is just growing and growing. For many of them, it has become a towering inferno!” he exclaims.

“Have you seen Jesus?” This question was asked of Fr Simon on the streets near the Cathay building from a 14-year-old boy. Inspiring by the courage of this young person, Fr Simon then challenged the Catholic youths gathered there in the function hall of the Church of St Joseph (Bukit Timah) to do the same to people they meet in public.

Turning to the priests present at the rally, Fr Simon asked them what their biggest disappointment that they have when working with youths. Archdiocesan youth chaplain Fr Michael Sitaram said it was the priests themselves, a concern which Fr Simon seconded, saying that it was sometimes ‘very hard to move’ due to the hierarchy. Fr Stephen Yim from the Church of the Holy Cross said, “I think the biggest disappointment is myself, because I cannot all the time be there for the youths.”

Franciscan Friar Clifford Augustine, who is also the youth chaplain for the West District, said that he was disappointed with a lot of parents that he thought would be supportive of the programs that the Church organises for the youths, but actually are not. “I do feel that parents do not trust us enough to give us their youths.” Finally, Fr Simon told the crowd gathered what his greatest disappointment was. “My disappointment is that the Catholic youths in Catholic schools have failed to be witnesses for the last 25 years… we have lost the power to witness!” he exclaimed. “We have buildings… but we have not the spirit because there is a lack of witnessing. And because people do not know Jesus Christ!”

Fr Simon then urged the youths to tell their parents this, “The top scholarships from America, Australia, England are going to the Christians in Singapore, and some Catholics. Do you know why? It is because of their commitment to their parishes. The government in Singapore knows this. Do you know what they do? They take our children and youths to be involved with social work… we’ve got it in our churches and the parishes!” He continued, “We have a golden harvest in the parishes! But if you don’t respond and take the leadership, you’re going to be losers. And this is my fear: in 25 years from today our churches in Singapore would be empty, and if it is full, it’ll be filled with old people!” He recounts of youths who came back from America or London who gave up their Catholic faith and mocked him for still working with the youth, but these are the very same ones that approach the priests when in crisis. Ending with a challenge to the youths to ‘dare to make a change’, he said, “At the moment, I’m very, very disturbed at the apathy and the lack of response of the Catholic youths in the school, and some teachers.”

The rally, which started at 3pm, also saw TCS artiste Gregory Teo giving a personal sharing. He too challenged the youths to verbally tell their parents that they love them, even though that powerful statement may shock their parents. “We are all victims of victims… do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” He then went on to say, “I want all of you here to know one very important thing: that you are very, very special, because God does not make junk… and you need time to develop your talents, to discover what are the gifts God has given to you.”

Highlights of the rally include ‘Praise and Worship’ sessions led by the Hosanna! Music Ministry and ‘Voices4’, a local Catholic musical group who recently released a CD produced by the Singapore Pastoral Institute. Taize prayers, a ‘praying-over’ and healing session by the priests present and was also conducted for the 100-odd youths gathered. A Saturday sunset Mass ended the rally at 8:30 pm, with Frs Richard Ambrose, Stephen Yim, Clifford Augustine, Nicholas Ho and Leslie Raj concelebrating. As a farewell anthem, local singer John Klass led the congregation into singing the theme song for the rally, entitled ‘If We Hold On Together’. A survey form was also given out to get to know what the youths wanted from the church, whether it be on faith or moral issues. Kevin Chua, 18, commented, “Even though there are not many youths that turned up, it was more that what I expected. Let’s hope that the Church makes a concerted effort to draw its youths back!”

The Catholic News (January 9, 2000)