Read an article written by Fr. Michael (Mike) Cheong, a Singaporean missionary priest once assigned here in Cebu, Philippines as he shares his experiences in Rome in his studies and missionary life.
Dear family, dear friends,
How are you? I do hope that you are keeping well in the Lord.
I think the last time I wrote was more than a year already. I apologize for not staying in touch this past year. It has been rather intense with studies and with house renovations. Time passes quickly when one is busy. I myself was surprised when I realized that a year had passed.
This has been a year of more intense study, not only because there were more courses than the first year, but especially because I felt really drawn to make the most of the time here to participate in more seminars to update myself and to read more widely on certain topics of interest.
One of them was a study on the role of Mary in the Church mission and Ecumenism. I must certainly say that this time in Rome has been a renewal of my own relationship with Mary in a very affirming and consoling way, and I see so much in her now in our own path of becoming saints in this world. She is so necessary if we are serious to live that extraordinary life of a Christian, and it was no coincidence that Jesus gave her to us on the cross: “Behold your mother.” (John 19:27)
I must say that this year has been lived in a more “monastic” tone, where I tried to spend even my summer time trying to strengthen my contemplative life, like Jesus probably did when he lived his hidden life in the desert before his own public ministry. All servants of God need that hidden life in order to live our service to God and his people credibly and authentically.
The recent months have been a time to be bombarded by the news of church scandals and calls for Pope Francis to resign because of certain accusations of mismanagement. Being in Rome, this has been a time to be purified of my own conception of church and to see it more clearly as sinful and saintly, as Saint Augustine put it: “a mixed body”.
Without wanting it, these scandals have become a topic of discussion in our lecture halls and classrooms, from the reforms we need to implement to curb clericalism and abuses in the Church to fighting against the spiritual forces that are trying to undermine the Church’s presence in the world and its mission.
Personally, for me, I find all these recent scandals a call for a deep examination of conscience for those of us who call ourselves servants of God, especially in terms of our own dedication to prayer and holiness of life. In a time when the priesthood may be perceived as a mere profession instead of a personal call from God, we need more emphasis on the servants of God to be immersed in a real contact with God that sanctifies and not make us merely good administrators.
What can we say about the papacy? That at the end of the day, it is the inheritance of the role of a poor fisherman, but a fisherman chosen by Christ who entrusted his church to him.
Today we celebrate the canonization of Pope Blessed Paul VI amongst 6 others, a pope who was not particularly popular amongst those whom he worked alongside. He was the first so called “missionary pope” because he was the first pope to leave the walls of the Vatican, a pope who was highly criticized in his time for his visionary outlook of the Church and the courageous implementation of the Vatican II Council reforms.
Forgive me for such a heavy sharing in this present update. These are the circumstances in which we find ourselves at this time and age in the church, and we need to face them. Yet we are not without hope or enthusiasm.
These days we are celebrating the synod of Bishops on the youth, the future generations. Despite certain negative prophecies against the youth of today and the society they are growing up in, we are reminded by this synod in the context of this canonization, that saints were persons who responded to the Gospel in the midst of the difficulties of their own times.
The Gospel of today speaks of the call of Jesus to the young man to follow him. God continues to call young men and women today. He sees their own restlessness for holiness of life and for building a better society. Let’s pray for more young people to respond in whatever state of life they are called to live.
Special thanks to all who have kept in touch in one way or another, through calls, messages or even personal visits to Rome. Thanks to those who have constantly sent their prayer requests to remind me of the intercessory power of prayer. Time has really gone by quickly this past year, and I suddenly realize I have been in Rome for two years already!
This week I begin my final year of studies in order to complete my licentiate in missiology. I am raring to go, and if I am honest, it is partly to do with getting it over and done with and to return to my mission work and inviting more ‘workers in the vineyard’ in this great and wonderful mission. Yet I know that this final year will be the most important year to do a synthesis of what I have learnt and for writing my thesis.
My little thesis will have to do with the Pope’s call for a renewal of theological studies in the Church. According to him, theology should not be meant to prepare us only for more studies in the future, but to make us spiritual pastors in the church and in the world, and prepare seminarians to be servants of the faith of everyone.
This search for a more missionary and pastoral method of theological studies has brought me back full circle to my own charism as a Verbum Dei missionary. Our own founder passed on just last year, and I am reminded of his own legacy of holiness of life and pastoral zeal, a man in love with Christ and unstoppable in his conviction that this world can be changed through holiness in Christ.
I ask your prayers for this last year of studies. In a way, I ask you to pray for the future generations of the church, that we may be able to prepare them to be holy and zealous pastors for the Church, worthy of our trust.
Best regards and prayers from Rome once again…
14 October 2018
You may also read the article in PDF form below: