Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Initiatives to promote and support GIFT
By:  Raymond Anthony Fernando

"Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."
 - Mahatma Gandhi -

I am often very uplifted when I read of how His Holiness – Pope Francis reminds the Catholic Church that they must always attend to the needs of the mentally challenged and their caregivers.  

In an on-going effort to raise funds on a large scale that is needed to support the many programmes which the Archdiocese has the unenviable task to undertake, all Catholics are being urged through GIFT to donate to this worthy cause.

GIFT stands for Giving In Faith & Thankfulness which the Catholic Foundation is rendering full support. 

According to a communications staff in the Catholic Foundation, basically, what is needed for GIFT are three things: (1) Money, (2) Time (meaning securing volunteers) and (3) Prayers.  In carry out this task, the Catholic Foundation is not in a position to spend money and is hoping that Catholics will contribute from their heart.   The lady also asked me to think of ways of how we can get Catholics to return to church and find out the sentiments on the ground.

There are valid concerns that Catholics are moving away from the church. We need to bring them back to the church. I am attempting to provide genuine and constructive feedback on how we can also help improve services and programmes so that all Catholics come out in full support of their faith.


For my part as a born Catholic, I want to do my best to support GIFT, but to make it a success story, it has to be done in a more articulate manner – bearing in mind that there are hundreds of our Catholics who are out of work, and struggling with challenges.  Workers are being retrenched and the job market is bad.  Families are worried sick of their mortgages.


In striving to make GIFT a success, I have presented an article here on my blog on this meaningful project and I hope that it will be well received.  

Exercise sensitivity on appeal letters

The appeal for support to GIFT must exercise sensitivity for Catholics to ‘voluntary’ contribute as opposed to ‘compelling’ them to do so – as that is the message I and others are getting.  I have read the bulletins and the articles and it is not possible for Catholics to give a monthly contribution for reasons which I have mentioned.


We can do much better that this by learning of success stories from other faiths/charities.


That said, I applaud two very kind Catholics who have made a difference in my life and that of my late wife, Doris Lau who until today I miss very badly, especially during the yuletide season.


(a) Willie Cheng


Willie Cheng and the team from Charis for the excellent work they have done to reach out to the Filipinos in the Philippines.  He has also supported many of my books and that of my wife, and I deeply grateful to him.


(b) Rev Fr Andrew Wong


I am also touched by Rev Fr Andrew Wong’s kindness to me and how he brought me back to the church when my wife fell seriously ill. I discuss this further in my article.  He lets me have blessed candles whenever I or my relatives need prayers and it helps very much.


Loss of key social support after my wife died


However, sadly ever since my wife died two and a half years ago, the lack of support I am facing from the church is troubling. The NCC that is supposed to reach out to the lonely elderly is not there for me. So is the Legion of Mary.


Next, the St Vincent De Paul Society is not supportive of my needs as an elderly and isolated citizen.  Even when I appeal for some vouchers to be given to me so that I can buy a log cake and some roast beef which was a tradition that my late wife and I faithfully kept, my appeal was rejected by the SVDP.  At the Church of Holy Spirit some of the SVDP volunteers show a ‘black’ face to me when they see me. What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment? And mind they do this just after coming out from the daily morning mass.


But I continue to pray to Jesus and my wife so that I can get the support I so badly need. 


When the volunteers at Tzi Chi Foundation give financial support to their adoptees, it is they who bow to their clients – not the other way around. With our SVDP volunteers, it is the opposite. I have seen and heard with my own eyes and how an SVDP volunteer in another church, humiliated an adoptee by raising his voice in front of all the other people present and said as he handed him the money, “This will be the last one, no more ok? Don’t come and ask again”.  Couldn’t that directive be done in private?


So, let us take lessons in humility from the Tzi Chi Foundation and heed the calling of our beloved Pope Francis to rally around those with special needs.  


It is so important for the church to ensure that her volunteers or ministries treat Catholics with decorum and respect, especially those who are marginalized.


If we want get Catholics to attend mass or return back to church, the clergy must learn to ‘talk to people’ instead of ‘talking down’ to people.   My sister who met an Indian Catholic Priest recently and requested his assistance to give holy communion to my twin brother who has been hospitalized in IMH for more than 6 months for chronic depression was told by this priest that he scolds the parishioners when they tell him this and that. So, my sister asked him how does Catholics have the heart to go to church when they are being chided like this.


I have got feedback that some Catholics do not attend mass at certain churches as the people there are snobbish.  I agree with him.


Now, even as I try to rebuild my life and find a new suitable partner to support me in my twilight years, I am condemned and judged by Catholics. So, I ask these people: “Where are you when I need support?” 


Inter-faith sharing

An effective way for GIFT to succeed is to have inter-faith sharing and learn how other faiths have succeed in meeting their social mission.

For example, the Buddhist Charity – Tzi Chi Foundation, guided by the principle of showing love and compassion is rendering support to the needy that includes financial assistance for all races and religions – not just here in Singapore, but across the globe.  

I first learnt about the good work which Tzi Chi Foundation does through Mr Raymond Ong, the boss of a printing company “Unique Press Pte Ltd” who has been a volunteer with this charity for 10 years, counting. His wife and one of his staff are also volunteers.  Ong’s company had printed many of my late wife’s books and mine, and their quotes are pretty competitive. Added to that since Ong knew that my wife had to struggle with mental illness and arthritis for many years, he went the extra mile and gave us fantastic quotes to some of our books. His compassion has perhaps made it possible for his printing business to be sustainable for decades – even though there are challenges that now lie ahead with a digital world. 

Ong brings me out for a nice meal at a club occasionally because he knows that after my wife’s death, I have become isolated. Ong, a couple of months ago, bought 10 kilos of good quality rice and gave it to me.   He wants me to be able to have food on my table as he knows I am jobless. I was in tears over his kindness.

For countries that are often hit by typhoons such as in the Philippines, Tzi Chi Foundation has a ‘Cash-For-Work’ programme in place which was initiated by Master Chens Yen in which 500 pesos are given by Tzi Chi Foundation to the Filipinos to clean up their homes that are affected by the typhoons.  The concept of teaching a man to fish, rather than giving him fish has paid off handsomely as many Filipinos have become Tzi Chi volunteers.  This is one way the charity secures volunteers.

They have thousands of volunteers all over the world, including Africa, and some of the Tzi Chi volunteers are Christians.  They have doctors who give their time to attend to the sick in many countries that are hit by natural disasters or who have citizens who can’t afford medical treatment. 

Thus, it will be good if our Catholic doctors and nurses could move in this direction as well. 

A softer approach for donations

It is good to get a feel of the ground when such appeals go out, and although there are keyboard warriors who will criticize anything and everything, there are also netizens who do provide comments which are realistic.

Often it is not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it.  In wanting to secure $238.1 million over the next 7 years, the crafting of appeals for contributions could have been better worded as there are hundreds of Catholics who are out of work, have physical illness and mental health challenges which makes it difficult for them to make a monthly donation to the archdiocese.

A better way to make this appeal is to say something to this effect: “The archdiocese welcomes any contribution from Catholics, for $10 is not too big and 10 cents or 20 cents is not to small.”

Being unemployed for more than 10 years, I can honestly say that my weekend contribution to the church I attend mass at, is only 50 cents, as it is the only amount I can afford.  When I was gainfully employed and when my wife was in a stable condition, I could give between $4 to S5.  When I was able to sell my books at churches, a $40 donation to the church was no big deal for me.

Allow books or other arts crafts to be sold at churches for those with special needs with a percentage going to GIFT

Another way for contributing to GIFT is allow Catholics with special needs to market their art works – books or arts and craft at churches with 10 to 20 percent of sales going to the Archdiocese. It serves a purpose as it is a win-win situation. It helps those with special needs and their caregivers to become self-reliant and at the same time, some contribution can be made to support GIFT. To give a blanket ruling that no one is allowed to sell their products is not in keeping with what Pope Francis has advocated for the poor and those with special needs.

T-shirts to promote GIFT

An effective way to soft sell the GIFT project is to design and print T-shirts with GIFT logo and message and appoint GIFT ambassadors to wear them. The cost of printing of the T-shirts can be borne by a sponsor. Picture the message on the apparel: “As a Catholic, I fully support and donate to GIFT. How about you?”

Shortage of priests

The Church is also in dire of priests as we have many ageing priests and if younger ones do not take up the priesthood, then our current pool of priests will be overworked and overstretched, as they not only have to conducts daily masses, but have to take on many other duties, that includes giving communion to the sick, conducting funeral masses and wedding celebrations – just to name a few.

It is therefore vital that our younger generation see the value of becoming priests and that is by no means an easy task as many would want to have an office job and good pay. Our priests are not well paid, but given a small allowance.

To this end, it will be good if seasoned priests from the seminary, like Father Ignatius who gives beautiful moving sermons could give talks at Catholic schools to encourage the students to consider taking the priesthood as a vocation.  This priest teaches at the seminarian at Punggol.

The power of prayer

I’d like to share my thoughts on suffering and the power of prayer.

Many people blame God when they are going through suffering. They blame God for causing them so much suffering – be it financial problems, sickness or emotional distress.  From my own perspective as a Catholic, I fervently believe, that God being the loving person He is, does not GIVE suffering, but He ALLOWS sufferings so that our faith in Him can be strengthened.

Initially, I felt that way too, but two things changed my mind. One was when my Parish Priest prayed over me and gave me blessed candles which helped a great deal to heal my wife when she had a serious relapse of her schizophrenia illness and the other was related: That unflagging support from this kind priest helped me to return to church after a long absence and restored my faith in Jesus.

Having regained my Catholic faith, I am prepared to evangelize my experience at any Catholic church, organization or school, free of charge during the evenings or at night. Given that I am unemployed, it would help, if transport expenses incurred could be reimbursed to me.

The power of collective prayer

Never underestimate the power of Collective Prayer. Praying together simply means more prayers are prayed.  Each of us has a unique way of praying and praying together brings a new voice to our needs.  Praying together gives me a deep feeling of belonging, being cared for, being loved.

Praying together improves the pray mood and the group.  Looking out among others and feeling their love and care regardless of how I felt when I began, I leave feeling comforted and this is why I attend mass every week.

Collective prayer can lift the human spirit – even with the passing of a loved one. This was so apparent when so many people came to my wife’s wake and prayed for both my late wife and myself. They came from all walks of life and included relatives, former classmates, friends and two kind-hearted journalists from the press.

Although I know God is always with me, and I often pray alone and enjoy the benefits of my solitary prayer time, I feel His presence most strongly when I'm praying with others. This is why I make it a must to attend mass every weekend, even if I am sick.  I believe lifting one another in prayer is one of the richest experiences we can share.  Together, we are strengthened and blessed.

Promote GIFT through YouTube

No need to spend on publicity for GIFT or to evangelize, as everything is free on YOUTUBE.  Tzi Chi Foundation’s master does daily teachings from Taiwan in Hokein and it is broadcast ‘live’ to their HQ here in Singapore where they have a few branches. Around 100 volunteers attend her talk at 5.30am.  The teachings are broadcast on YOUTUBE so that all their thousands of followers can pick up the teachings whose focus is often on showing love and kindness to everyone.  That is how this spirit of giving has been molded.

Seek sponsors, volunteers to fund/support GIFT’s programmes

The archdiocese, in collaboration with the Catholic Foundation could approach corporate organizations to fund and support some of her programmes. Ideally, target companies whose management staff are Christians.

Next, secure the services of those in the Arts Ministry of Catholic churches to design creative material to promote these meaningful programmes.







No comments: