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Friday 5 July 2024

REMAINING STEADFAST IN OUR MISSION

As the Parish of St Thomas, Kuantan celebrates its Feast Day and 118 years of its establishment, the Feast Day committee has made a significant decision to mark this occasion by holding a public procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Saturday, July 6, 2024, being the sixth-day celebration of the Feast Day Novena and Mass. This tradition, observed on Corpus Christi and parish feast days, holds great significance within the Catholic Church, particularly in our spiritual intimacy with the Blessed Sacrament.

We took the first step by submitting the application for a Police permit through our committee member, a retired Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Tuan William Fernandez, a month before the celebrations began. On 28 June 2024, we were invited to meet with the Special Branch to discuss details of the procession and the instruments we intended to carry along, such as the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament, the cross, candles, banners from each BEC representative, the total number of participants, and other matters. We explained to them the crucial of each item in the solemnity and reverence of the procession. We had a productive meeting with the Special Branch police officers.


The Secretariat of the Officer in Charge of Police District (OCPD) of Kuantan invited a few committee members, including myself, to meet with the Tuan OCPD, Wan Mohd Zahari Bin Wan Busu, on Tuesday, 2 July 2024, at 3.00 pm at his office. Two representatives from the feast day committee members, June Thoo, Clement Lim, and I, eagerly attended the meeting, hoping to return with the permit. During our meeting, nine other department heads, such as Special Branch Officers, Patrol Officers, Traffic Police, Crime Investigators, and others, were present. We had a pleasant and constructive hour-long conversation with Tuan OCPD and his team.


Tuan OCPD was a very humble person, and he spoke to us in a polite and respectful manner. During the conversation, he stressed the “sensitivity” that could be triggered in certain individuals regarding our proposed procession through the town, especially the carrying of the Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament and Cross. On our part, we re-emphasised the profound significance of the Blessed Sacrament held during the procession, a symbol of our spiritual connection with the Divine. 


We, too, agreed to their request to have the procession commence only after their Maghrib prayer time. Although they seemed hesitant to provide immediate approval, they assured us that a decision would be made within a few days. During the Novena Masses, I requested everyone to pray for the success of our application to hold the procession. The police response, dated 4 July 2024, stated that the procession is not an absolute necessity for religious practice and is not listed as an annual activity in the calendar.

Despite the authority’s last-minute rejection of our request, we remain steadfast in our mission to celebrate and proclaim Jesus as “Our Lord and Our God!” We are disappointed with their decision but resolute in moving forward with our faith. We question the rights to "freedom of religion" and the promotion of religious and racial harmony stand in our nation, but we are determined to continue with the celebration as the psalmist expresses, “Lead me, O Lord, in Your justice,” (cf. Psalm 5:8). 



Saturday 29 June 2024

BECOMING AN APOSTOLIC COMMUNITY

Bishop Richard Ng - the Bishop of Miri in Sarawak, and president of the Regional Biblical Commission of Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei - recently launched and dedicated the month of July each year as the Bible Month. This initiative is of great importance, as it promotes a culture of reading, studying and praying the Word of God within our Church community. He encourages every parish community to participate actively in this initiative and organise bible-based activities affirming the importance of the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. Together, we can make a significant impact!
 

He suggested some inspiring bible-based activities such as owning a Bible, sponsoring a Bible for poor students, participating in seminars and courses, joining a Bible sharing group, using a daily Bible reading guide to help read the Bible systematically, organising Bible dramas and quizzes, and engaging in storytelling and colouring activities for students and children. Just like the Sower in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15), we should generously share the Word so that some of it may fall on fertile ground and produce a bountiful harvest.

Let’s commit to reading the Bible at a specific time every day. It is not about how much we read, but about setting aside time and making a conscious effort in reading the Bible daily. Even if we start with just five to ten minutes each day, it is a great beginning, and we can gradually increase this over time by disciplining ourselves. By doing this, we show our dedication and effort, and God will surely be pleased and bless our act of devotion. Remember, the deeper your understanding of Sacred Scripture, the greater your knowledge of Christ will be. May the Lord bless our July Bible Month initiative, and may it foster a deeper love for the Word of God in all of our hearts.

In the week ahead, from Monday, 1 July to Sunday, 7 July 2024, we will commemorate our Parish Feast Day with Novena Masses at our St. Thomas Church here in Kuantan. On Saturday, 6 July 2024 at 10.00 am, there will be a special anointing of the sick, and we extend an invitation to the elderly, sick and homebound to join us for this healing service and Mass. On the same evening, we will have the main celebration, which includes a candlelight procession with the Blessed Sacrament throughout the town. We will start the Novena and Mass fifteen minutes later than usual, so that the procession with the Blessed Sacrament takes place after 7.35 pm, because the authorities have requested that we begin after the Maghrib prayer time. We have agreed to comply with this request accordingly.

 

We are confident that our daily celebrations throughout this upcoming week will proceed according to plan. We wholeheartedly welcome everyone to join us in the celebration, and we are deeply grateful for your participation. As we come together, may we strengthen our love and desire to encounter the resurrected Christ, and become a strong apostolic community.





Saturday 22 June 2024

PREPARED IN PRAYER, DELIVERED IN SPIRIT

During his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on 12 June 2024, Pope Francis emphasised the importance of keeping homilies short to prevent members of the congregation from falling asleep. He suggested that priests limit their homilies to a maximum of eight minutes. His message stressed the significance of keeping homilies concise to ensure that the congregation remain attentive and fully engaged in the Eucharistic celebration.

 

In January 2023, the Holy Father also highlighted that priests should limit their homilies to under 10 minutes. If they are lengthy, they are “a disaster,” and congregations may lose interest. He suggested that priests keep their homilies concise and within eight to ten minutes or less. He also said priests should include “an image, a thought and a feeling” in their homilies, which would help the congregation take something meaningful with them.

The Pope pointed out the significance of clear and understandable communication in his statements, stating that “sometimes priests talk a lot, and you don’t understand what they are saying.” This highlights the importance of improving communication to ensure clarity and understanding. In the Eucharistic celebration, the pastoral approach to the liturgy is to “lead the people to Christ, and Christ to the people.” The Pope said, “If we neglect this, we will have beautiful rituals, but without vigour, without flavour, without sense,” as they fail to truly connect with the hearts and lives of the people of God.

 

In our recent Archdiocesan Clergy Recollection on 18-19 June 2024, the second spiritual session focused on the Holy Father’s remarks concerning the time limit for homilies. Several priests expressed their perspectives, concerns and recommendations, sparking a lively discussion with constructive suggestions and valuable insights. Many raised significant reservations about delivering homilies within an 8-minute timeframe, particularly during multilingual Masses and major feast-day celebrations. Adhering to strict time constraints can potentially detract from the true essence of the liturgical celebration, causing the spiritual significance of the event to be overlooked. Priests need to understand that homilies are “sacramental” and should be “prepared in prayer” and delivered with “an apostolic spirit.” 

 

Each priest must not only fulfil the duty of delivering a homily during the Eucharistic celebration, but also play a pivotal role in guiding the community to deeply engage with the beauty of the liturgy, and foster spiritual unity within it. Congregations usually view homilies as a chance for spiritual guidance, reflection on religious teachings, and Sacred Scripture – a connection to their faith and life journey. Parishioners appreciate thought-provoking and personal homilies delivered with genuine sincerity and humility. A well-composed and delivered homily could significantly impact an individual’s understanding of religious teachings. 

 

As priests, we must understand that delivering significant and relevant homilies that resonate with the congregation’s lives or current concerns, is paramount. We must present our messages with enthusiasm to captivate the listeners’ attention. Ultimately, to effectively engage with parishioners, our homilies should be meticulously prepared, relevant, delivered with passion, and respectful of the congregation’s time and attention.

 

“The Gospel must be preached to all peoples.” (MK 13:10)





Saturday 15 June 2024

HONOURING AND CELEBRATING FATHERS

Father’s Day has been observed globally on the third Sunday of June every year since June 1910. It is a day dedicated to honouring and cherishing fatherhood and acknowledging the significant role played by fathers in inspiring, guiding, and supporting us throughout our lives. This day is designated to educate children about the numerous sacrifices father’s make and their unwavering compassion. Additionally, it highlights their greatness and the exceptional qualities and significant impact of fathers in society, who are often underappreciated heroes within each family unit.

Many people post photos with their fathers on social media on Father’s Day. We are glad to have a special day to honour and celebrate our appreciation and respect for our fathers, who provide for our needs, despite the fact that we truly appreciate and respect them all the days of our lives. We thank our fathers (and mothers) for everything they do and have done for us — their sacrifices, providing for our needs, and everything they do for our well-being. Some may take the opportunity to express their gratitude to their fathers by doing something special, like cooking a special meal for them, taking them out to a special restaurant, or getting them precious gifts to make their day special.

 

Naturally, fathers symbolise strength, serving as the foundation upon which a home is constructed. They stand firm in the face of adversity, often finding it challenging to express openly their emotions, but their dedication and hard work demonstrate their commitment to their families. Fathers are mysterious figures, and we may find it difficult to understand them. They may seem tough, but they have tender hearts. They may go through an emotional roller coaster from the moment their child is born. They may not show pain when hurt but become quiet when they see their little ones fall or face adversity. They can endure hardship and bravely face any crisis to ensure their children’s happiness. 

 

A mother's love is often talked about, but we must not overlook the irreplaceable presence of our fathers. Their strength and support are undeniable. We should acknowledge their caring hearts and their impact on our lives. Despite painful memories, honouring and celebrating their role in our lives is essential.

 

In February 2003, I was ordained as a Spiritual Father. On Father’s Day of the same year, I wished my friend a Happy Father’s Day. His response was, “You too deserve to be called Father.” While I personally don’t feel deserving of the title “Father,” I am grateful to Jesus each year for entrusting me with the gift of Spiritual Fatherhood. Throughout my priestly journey, I have drawn immense inspiration from the unwavering dedication and virtuous examples set by my own late father and numerous Spiritual Fathers, both living and those who have gone to their rest. Their legacy of love and commitment continues to fuel my own Spiritual Fatherhood.

Happy Father's Day to all the wonderful, loving, and devoted fathers and Spiritual Fathers! May you continue to ensure peace, love, and unwavering dedication to your families and your parishes.





Saturday 8 June 2024

A SENSE OF TOGETHERNESS

Our Parish community will come together in three weeks’ time, to observe the Novenas and Feast Day of our Parish Patron - St Thomas, the Apostle. The celebrations will begin on Monday, 1 July 2024 and conclude on Sunday, 7 July 2024. Planning for this celebration is already underway, led by a dedicated committee members.


Leading up to our Patron Saint’s celebration, we will be hosting a special Vigil Mass, Holy Hour, Vespers, Silent Adoration and Benediction on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the Apostles (Friday, 28 June). We warmly invite all Parishioners to set aside some time on this day in the evening to participate in these spiritual events. Your active presence will make the celebrations even more meaningful, and will contribute to strengthening the bonds within our community.

St. Thomas, the Apostle has been a beacon of inspiration for our parish community. With his unwavering faith, our Patron Saint tirelessly intercedes for us, urging us to deepen our faith in Christ Jesus. He has been journeying with us for 118 years, since our Church was established in Kuantan in 1906. Despite encountering countless hindrances, obstacles and resistance, many have experienced a profound and life-affirming transformation in their belief in Christ. Let us draw inspiration from his example, and strive to deepen our faith during these celebrations, knowing that it can and will, transform our lives.


We are immensely grateful for your continued involvement and commitment to our community. With a revitalised spirit, we invite the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire our efforts. As we prepare for the upcoming Novenas and Feast of St. Thomas, we hope to actively cultivate and impart our faith to the younger generation. Our aim is to empower them to embrace and thrive, whilst proclaiming and living out their faith in Christ, ensuring a bright future for our community.


This year, our committee members have decided to host a two-kilometre procession through the city. We will ensure that the necessary permission is obtained from the authorities to make this event a reality. The BECs are fully committed to preparing refreshments for all who attend the Feast Day Novenas and Masses. 


Let us unite and lift our prayers as a family and Parish, seeking blessings for the celebrations. It’s a beautiful way for our community to foster a deep sense of togetherness and seek the support of our Patron Saint. We are all part of this journey, and our shared responsibility and collective faith strengthen our community.


May the intercession of our beloved St. Thomas bring comfort, guidance and protection to everyone in this community, and help us discover a deep sense of belonging.





Saturday 1 June 2024

FULFILLING THE MISSION OF CHRIST

During my recent trip to Turkiyé, I was drawn to an image of Our Lady of Grace, made from bamboo silk carpet, measuring approximately 1.2m x 0.6m. It was an attractive and valuable image, and prior to buying it, I was in a state of ambivalence. However, the moment I made the purchase, I felt a deep sense of peace. After safely bringing it home and having it framed, we, the Parishioners of St. Thomas, held a special blessing before commencing our prayer for the closing month of the Rosary, on Friday 31 May 2024. The framed image was blessed at the evening Mass during the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady to Elizabeth. It was then placed in our Adoration Room, where it now holds a place of honour.
 

My heart overflows with gratitude for the unity and faith our BECs and Parishioners expressed during our communal Rosary prayer in May. Your participation was a beautiful testament to our shared devotion, which made a profound impact on our Parish community. Mary, our Mother, holds a special place in our hearts, and we are confident that she will continue to guide us, our families, and our Parish - leading us closer to her Son, Jesus Christ.

 

The World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests is an annual observance that coincides with the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and is a significant event in our Church calendar. Pope Saint John Paul II instituted this special day in 2002, reminding priests to reflect on the value and nobility of their vocation. Priests have a sacred ministry to fulfil the mission of Christ. Hence, they are called to encounter Christ through fervent prayer and passionate love.

Parishioners often ask me how many times a day does a priest pray. It is hard to give an exact number, but generally, priests are encouraged to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (Breviary) at least five to seven times daily. Due to pastoral responsibilities and other commitments, I sometimes miss two to three of these prayer times. However, starting and ending the day with prayer is crucial for me, as it sets the tone for a more promising and fulfilling day. I pray the communal prayers with my Parishioners before Masses, and participate in the Holy Hour, Adoration and other spiritual exercises.

 

As a Parish Priest living in Kuantan, I fill my days with meaningful activities. My schedule is occupied by the responsibilities of parish work, engaging with the community, and travelling outstation for Masses with migrants and Orang Asli, which often involves long-distance driving. Occasionally, I engage in spiritual readings and meditations and make it a point to keep healthy by exercising whenever possible. There is always something to keep me occupied.

Let’s gather for Mass and Holy Hour on Friday, 7 June 2024, to offer prayers and thanksgiving for our priests, who play a crucial role in receiving and administering the Sacraments in our lives. We also pray for their strength and wisdom in their ministry and mission of proclaiming the teachings of the Gospels.

Mary, the Mother of All Priests - intercede for them.




Saturday 25 May 2024

UNITE ALL THINGS IN CHRIST

We are currently in the second period of Ordinary Time, which began after Pentecost Sunday and will continue until the start of Advent. The first period of Ordinary Time commenced after Christmastime and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and continued until Ash Wednesday, which signified the start of Lent and preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery (Easter).


The celebration of Pentecost last weekend took on a deeper significance for us as Christians. Just as the early Church was publicly inaugurated and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we, as a community, are once again called to reflect on our duty and commitment to exemplify Christ’s teachings in our everyday lives.


During Ordinary Time, the liturgical colour green holds a profound significance. Green symbolises life in nature, hope and continuous growth in Christian life. Ordinary time provides us with the graces that draw us into the life of God, and the ongoing spiritual journey. This season in the liturgical calendar is dedicated to exploring and internalising Jesus’ three-year public ministry and His teachings, reflecting on His miracles and contemplating the expansion of the Church. It offers a valuable opportunity for personal meditation, spiritual development and practise to live out the principles of the Christian faith, and to carry out the mission of the Church in the world.


In Ordinary Time, we undergo a period of significant growth and maturation. This is a time when the profound mystery of Christ must become deeply integrated into our lives, leading to the ultimate unity of all things in Christ. Throughout this season, all celebrations are purposefully directed towards the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, which is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.


We have a few important Solemnities and feasts in the next couple of weeks – The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the closing month of the Rosary on 31 May, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) on 2 June and the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in conjunction with the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctity of Priestly Life on 7 June. These are not just dates on a calendar but pivotal moments for us to unite as a community and deepen our faith in Christ. Following these celebrations, we will observe the Novena and feast on St Thomas, the Apostle, from 1-7 July. These upcoming events are not just dates on a calendar, but opportunities for us to come together as a community, and deepen our faith in Christ.


Finding time for quiet moments of prayer and meditation can be tough in a world of challenges. But we can feel a deeper bond with God when we keep a continuous connection with Him. This can lead to receiving many graces and developing virtues like humility, gratitude and solidarity. May the Spirit of God fill us with strength and courage to represent Christ genuinely in our world today.


Our Lady of the Trinity, pray for us!