Cross-cultural experience

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As I remembered rightly, there was a lot of walking at the zoo, but it was smaller than I remembered. Perhaps that’s because we walked much faster than the last time I visited.

Having finished with our trip to the zoo faster than expected, I sped up the itinerary and begun our church tour. Having come from Darjeeling, where land is plentiful and church compounds are large and spread out, Johnny found Singapore churches to be compact and made full use of land space available. Prior to our church tour, he had only visited Church of the Risen Christ, and Church of the Holy Trinity where he is staying. From these two, he had earlier concluded, “Churches here are mostly the same.” Then I knew I had to bring him to a variety of churches.

So we set out, first, to Church of the Holy Spirit, where I got married earlier this year. From there, we went to Church of St. Ignatius, a parish run by the Jesuits, brothers of the same religious order as Johnny. We then went to St. Joseph Church in Bukit Timah, which was originally built for the Chinese Catholics and so had many elements of Chinese architecture. Finally, we headed over to Church of St. Mary of the Angels, an architecturally aesthetic wonder among churches here.

Franciscan Friar John Wong was there. He said hi, gave us each a small curry puff and a pudding, as well as a guide to touring the church. From this church, Johnny got many ideas – especially from the columbarium and the adoration chapel. Ideas that he can implement in his own parish of St. Paul the Apostle where he was recently appointed parish priest.

Columbariums, especially, are new to Johnny, because in Darjeeling, most deceased Catholics are still buried. In land-scarce Singapore, we’ve taken to cremating our dead and putting their ashes in niches in columbariums. This also creates a source of funding for parishes. After all, a niche in a columbarium is no more than a hole in a wall… and one that can cost something like $12,000 per niche, depending on how high or how low it is. Niches at eye-level tend to cost more.

We spoke at length about the differences between Singapore and Darjeeling Catholics. Johnny said that each parish in Singapore is like a cathedral in Darjeeling, with respect to the size of the church building and the number of parishioners that attend Mass. I remember during my visit to Darjeeling in 2006, that the territorial size of each parish there is about the size of our diocese.

Each family in his family is visited twice a year. Johnny knows well each family’s background so when parishioners approach to speak with him, he usually knows that it is about. Here, parishioners may not ever see their parish priests in their homes except for house blessing or anointing of the sick.┬áThere they have a practice of having their house blessed every year, whereas here we have our houses blessed when we first move in.

Here, our priests can drive up practically to our doorstep. There, Johnny has to park his bike by the road and walk 1, 2, sometimes 8 kilometres over hills and valleys to get to a village. Houses in a village can be some 500 metres apart from each other, so it can be very tiring to bless all the houses in a village. He tells me that sometimes he wakes at 6am, leaves the community residence, reaches the village at 10am, and is out doing pastoral work until 6pm when the sun sets.

What else was there? Oh yes, the zoo. Many of the animals we have in our zoo are also present in Darjeeling… in their tea plantations. Johnny says he has, on two occasions, had a tiger walk past him just several metres away. In our zoo is also a section of tropical crops, many of which are found in Johnny’s parish where they grow their own food. But of course they don’t have giraffes, zebras, and hippos.

Singapore – an Indian perspective

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Today, I am going to the zoo! I haven’t been there since 2005 and what I remember of it is that there’s lots of walking.

I’m going with a visiting Jesuit from India. It’s the first time in Johnny’s 13 years as a missionary in Darjeeling that he’s taking leave from his work. It’s also his first time travelling out of India. He marvels at our efficiency, both in terms of how fast we do things and how much we get done in one space. For example, while he visited Church of the Risen Christ, he was amazed at how Singaporeans pack everything that they need into one building. I suppose that’s because in Singapore, land is expensive, so we’re forced to be creative in maximising the use of what we have.

His host, Fr Albert Ng, who is currently assistant priest at Church of the Holy Trinity, took Johnny out to sea for a fishing trip last week. That was the first time Johnny had ever set foot on a boat, and what an experience he had! Coming from the hilly district of Darjeeling, where there are no seas or lakes, Johnny had a rocking experience on the boat, in addition to the fact that the boat went through a storm that night! Now he knows the fear that the apostles felt. Makes him a better priest, I suppose. =B

A new beginning

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I started out this website when Befriending Jesus was published in 2008. This website never did become what I intended it to be.

I had intended to port over my then blog’s entries to this one, but I had written too much for the content to be ported in fully. So I then decided to continue writing in my old blog, and leave this one as a website for BJ. Then some unknown person reported my old blog to the archbishop, and because I was a church employee then, I made the difficult decision to stop writing in it.

Fast forward to today and I am no longer employed by the church and hence, more free to write what I want without fear of being reported to my boss or my boss’ boss. So I’m going to start writing in here again.

Children befriend Jesus at Church of the Holy Spirit

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I was at Church of the Holy Spirit this past weekend (Sep 27-28) to sell Befriending Jesus to parishioners. Holy Spirit Parish Priest Father Andrew Wong kindly allowed me to set up a booth outside the Church main hall to share with his parishioners the joy of having Jesus as a friend through this book.

Over this past weekend, I’ve had time to reflect more on this book. I really must thank Father Gerard Weerakoon for catalysing this process of reflection in me.

On the evening of Sep 27, after the sunset Mass, Father Gerard approached the booth and began to ask some questions. He asked me what the proceeds of the sales of this book would go to, and whether I had sought any approval from a church figure on publishing a book containing Church teaching. He also took a copy of Befriending Jesus to read over the night.

The answer to the first question is: evangelization. As for the second question, the book has been endorsed by Sister Jean-Marie Andrews, FMDM.

That got me thinking more seriously about those two areas, because it is not the first time that someone has asked me what the proceeds of the sales go to. My brief answer is that the proceeds go towards evangelization, which means to cover the costs of publishing Befriending Jesus, which is itself a tool for evangelization, as well as to fund the publishing of future Catholic books. But I had previously never sat down to work out just how large a percentage of sales go towards evangelization.

So, tonight, after I came back, I sat down and worked out those figures. The result is, based on the current figures I have, and projected figures, 73% of the proceeds from the sale of Befriending Jesus goes towards evangelization.

I also reflected more deeply on why exactly Befriending Jesus is a form of evangelization. As Pope Benedict XVI recently said to pilgrims at the Paul VI Hall on Sep 3, “Christianity is a personal encounter with Jesus“.

Befriending Jesus is evangelization because it helps readers to encounter Jesus as a friend by helping the reader to reflect on his or her own friendships and showing the reader how Jesus himself was a friend to the people He walked among. It also shows us the kind of friendship that Jesus wants to have with us, a friendship born from a personal encounter with Him.

I’m happy to say that Father Gerard seemed to approve of Befriending Jesus when he returned the copy the next morning, and I thank God for the opportunity to reflect more deeply on this book.

I am also thankful to Diana, a catechist at the parish who purchased 50 copies for her catechism class., her own children, and for her preschool students. I pray that these little ones may go to Jesus and get to know Him as a friend.

Over 400 copies of Befriending Jesus sold in 1 weekend!

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I was at Church of Sts. Peter and Paul last Thursday 26 June, and on the weekend of 28-29 June to sell Befriending Jesus to the parishioners. Thanks to the generosity of former parish priest Fr. Thomas Lim, OCD (who just stepped down) and the parishioners and visitors to the parish, 440 copies of Befriending Jesus were snapped up in that one weekend!

Thank you to all of you who have been so generous in purchasing a copy, and I hope that you, and the people you’re giving the book to, will benefit greatly from the simple but deep message within its pages!

Here are some photos of the weekend. I didn’t have time to take many, because we were all so busy!

Fr. Thomas Lim, OCD encourages his parishioners to purchase a book for others.

A friend is… someone who brings out the best in you.

Illustrator Clare Tan and author Daniel Tay at Church of Sts. Peter and Paul

Bestselling Befriending Jesus… in Mandarin?

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I met with a couple of Stella’s friends on Thursday evening. They are Methodists and having read my new book Befriending Jesus “cover to cover twice”, as one of them put it, they prayed about it and decided that God was calling them to translate the book to Mandarin!

Now this is truly ironical, especially if you know my history with the language. But, God does have a sense of humour, so I would put it past Him to do this. I wonder what my JC Mandarin teacher would say if he received a copy of a book written by me in Mandarin… Incidentally, for those of you who don’t know, I took ‘AO’ Level Mandarin three times. My scores: F9, F9, E8.

What I am also grateful for is the opportunity to share my book with other Christians… in other countries. Will see how it goes…

In other related news, it’s been 47 days since the book has been published, and I’ve sold about 450 books already. An acquaintance of mine, Raymond Anthony Fernando, author of Loving A Schizophrenic, tells me that this makes it a bestseller already. That makes it about 10 books a day, which is not too bad, actually. I’m looking forward to my first booth sale which will take place at Church of Sts. Peter and Paul on Jun 26 evening, Jun 28 evening and midnight Masses, and Jun 29 morning and evening Masses.

Anyone wants to help me out at the booth?

Judge a book by its cover

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Befriending Jesus is a book that can certainly be judged by its cover.

On 27 April 2008, just days after my second book was published, CANA – The Catholic Centre took 100 copies off my hands and placed them near the counter. It just so happened that Singapore Archbishop Nicholas Chia was there that evening, and the cover of the book caught his attention. He picked it a copy of it and thumbed through it, asking the question that everyone who’s seen the book asks, “Who’s Clare Tan?”

It just so happened (as well) that Clare Tan, the illustrator of Befriending Jesus was there that evening, and a CANA volunteer brought her to meet His Grace. Complimenting her on her creativity and skill, Archbishop Chia proceeded to give her a friendly slap on the cheek, the kind that he gives to all who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation from him. It left Clare bewildered, but pleased nonetheless, to have her work complimented by the Archbishop.