‘I came here to be near God’

St Simon Catholic Church Likas Soccom Ministry photographer and regular contributor writes about her visit to the Holy Family Residence for Senior Citizens in Papar, alongside the parish’s Pastoral Care Ministry, recently. What she didn’t expect was a chance meet-up with one of the residents who shared her inspirational journey of conversion, which turned the formal visit into something more personal than Joan expected… JOAN PANG reports. 

PAPAR: About 25 members and family of the St Simon Catholic Church Likas Pastoral Care Ministry visited the Holy Family Residence for Senior Citizens, here, on July 29.

The sixth outreach visit for the ministry this year, led by Vera Chin, also involved 15 students from confirmation class and two teachers including Teresa Ham.

The team was blessed by parish rector, Father Cosmas Lee, before the convoy of 10 vehicles loaded with food stuff and goodies left for the 45-minute journey.

On hand to welcome us at the centre, home to 35 elderly, were the sisters in-charge, Sister Aileen and Sister Regina.

Mingling with the senior citizens at the centre. – pix by Joan Pang

Some of the highlights of the visit included meet-and-greet, fellowship and performances by the confirmation class students which moved some of their audiences to tears, among others.

However, amid all the formality of the event, one story of conversion caught my attention. Following is one Madam Chin’s story…

Journey of Conversion

Madam Chin, 84, was wheelchair-bound following a fall which injured her hip bone. She told me she moved into the centre only four months ago.

She told me her story of conversion which she claimed she has not confided to anybody except me, which in turn inspired me to write about it. I felt so honored and gave her my full attention as she told me about encounter with God through the Catholic faith.

Madam Chin was born in Sandakan to a pagan family. When she was five years old, she envisioned an eagerness to see God and asked her elder brother where to find Him.

“It has to be the God from the Catholic mission (Tien Tzu Tong),” she said.

Her brother told her the church is the only place to find God. He was studying in a Catholic school then. While growing up, she never forgot about the Catholic Church while practicing the family’s religion – Buddhism.

Fast forward, she got married and had children of her own. Then one Sunday morning 22 years ago, she felt a very strong urge to seek God. So she got hold of her baby grandson who was under her care then, called a taxi and instructed the driver to go straight to St Mary’s Church (now St Mary’s Cathedral) which was eight miles away from her home along Labuk Road.

She said the minute she heard the Church bell tolling and the hymns, she felt her burden, sorrow, unhappiness and sufferings all disappeared. She felt so peaceful, relaxed, and joy filled her body thoroughly (the feelings have never changed since then, she said).

That same Sunday, she enquired about how to become a Catholic. She was introduced to Rev Fr Tobias Chee, the rector of the Church then. She joined the Chinese Catechism class and was baptised a year later.

Later, her husband got a stroke and she had to care for him.  She confessed there was a time she became a lapsed Catholic while being engrossed with family matters.

When she decided to go to a retirement home she insisted it has to be managed by Catholic mission. So the Holy Family Senior Centre is her only choice because that is the only place she feels she can be near God. She said she prayed very, very hard in order to be admitted into the centre. She believes she has made peace with God now by attending daily Mass to make up for the times that she neglected God.

Writer’s note

I noticed that when Madam Chin talked about God and by praising God, her tone becomes very excited and her face radiant, and a flow of peace and happiness filtered through her. When she heard the song “Amazing Grace”, her eyes were swirling with tears. She doesn’t speak English but hummed along  sweetly. She said she loves singing and would love to have a Chinese hymn book (I will remember to bring one for her).

Looking around, I just wonder how many inspiring or memorable stories the senior residents would like to share. Do we have the time or even bother to listen attentively to them?

Madam Chin said, “Come back and we’ll talk some more….” Indeed, it was so difficult to say goodbye when there are unfinished stories to tell. I am quite sure a number of Pastoral Care members also encountered similar moving stories with the seniors.

I am so privileged to meet this simple but remarkable lady whose struggle to know God took her so many years of ups and downs and difficulties that now she surrenders her later years in the senior home just to be near God and not with her children and family.

“It is my choice to come here… to have time with God,” her very first words to me when I shook her hands.

Thought for reflection: Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is for me brother, sister or mother.” – Matthew 12: 48-50

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