An insight into the lives of priests and religious in the Archdiocese of Kuching

By Ivy Chai

June 3 2022

Vocation chit-chat

I must admit, it was more out of curiosity rather than the intention to write about the vocation chit-chat held on Vocation Sunday, 8 May 2022, that made me join the online Zoom session organised by the Archdiocese of Kuching.

The informal exchange of dialogue between priests, religious and youths turned out to be enlightening and interesting. There were 59 participants including the speakers, and they connected online from across Sarawak, and from Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, and Johore.

The chat hosts and moderators Fr Alvin Ng a Jesuit priest, and Fr Galvin Richard Ngumbang, a Diocesan priest, were joined by representatives from the different Religious Orders in the Archdiocese of Kuching.

Sr Chennisia Seting (SSFS), Fr Eugene Maglasang (SDB), Br John Emil (FMS), Br Aaron Lee (Jesuit Scholastic), Friar Aiden Jr (OFM), Sr Karen Emmanuel (Carmelite), Br Dannie Luis (Seminarian) and Catherine Sim (OCDS) came online to share their stories, and the challenges some of them faced, when they received their “calling” to their chosen religious professions.

Online Zoom session

Many participants were curious to know how priests and religious spend their time and wanted to know how to discern a calling. Listed below are some of the questions asked at the “chit-chat”:

• Apart from celebrating Mass, what does a priest do daily?
• What are the qualifications to join the OFM?
• Have you ever had thoughts of quitting midway through your vocation?
• What is the difference between a Franciscan sister and a Carmelite nun?
• How can we tell that our calling to the religious order is true?
• What is the difference between a Diocesan priest and religious Friar?
• How to discern which order to join?
• How do I know I am called?
• What is your advice to those considering life as a priest or religious?

The priests and religious who came from different backgrounds, were forthright in their response to the queries and provided heart-warming insights into their journey towards priesthood and religious life. It was revealed priests also have tough days.

To the question on what a priest does on a daily basis, Friar Aiden shared that they…

  1. Celebrate Mass.
  2. Pastoral Care: sick calls, counselling, administration work, raise funds, take care of people’s needs, consider ways to make the church relevant… a lot of pastoral duties.
  3. Prepare for Liturgy.

Catherine, a secular member of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCDS), explained the order is “more into a life of prayer, poverty, chastity, obedience, and the Beatitudes way of living.”

In answer to “how to discern which order to join?”, Fr Galvin’s advice was to explore all possibilities. He “went shopping” and was quite set on the Carmelites before finally taking the advice of Fr Simon Poh (now Archbishop) to consider becoming a Diocesan priest.

Fr Alvin advised those “considering life as a priest or religious” to check their feelings. Pertinent questions to ask themselves were: “Are you at peace? Are you feeling closer to God?” He recommended that they speak to a Spiritual Director.

The numerous responses to the questions: “how do I know I am called?” and “how can we tell that our calling to the religious order is true?” are intermingled.

Fr Eugene believed that vocation is a calling and there is no “escape”. He wanted to go to a government school, but his dad sent him to a religious school and here he is today… a Jesuit priest!

To Br Dannie, it was “like a vision – a mystery, a thirst for the love of God.” The seminarian encouraged anyone who think they have been called to not be afraid, and just respond to the calling.

Sr Karen’s advice was to, “Seek God first, not your vocation. God will find you. You get peace, the truth will set you free. Dedicate time to God instead of searching for your vocation.” She believed that a person will somehow know, and as long as one is honest with oneself and with God, as long as one does not feel fearful, the calling is from God.

Br Emil’s heart-warming suggestion was to “enjoy life”. The Marist Brother who is now a teacher and comes from a family of teachers, advised those receiving the call to be “open to God’s calling. God does not call the equipped. He equips the ones He calls.”

Sr Chennisia believed one should not be afraid and it would be better to have tried than to regret in later years.

Friar Aiden chipped in with, “God wants you to be happy, to have a life. To love, serve and have an abundant life.” His vocation started after he felt something missing in his working life. After praying, searching and looking for answers, he made a drastic life changing move and took a vow to disown ownership of his own life, to serve God.

Br Aaron felt one needs to “row the boat” and “pray and not to be afraid.”

It was a great insight listening to the response on challenges that some of the religious faced in choosing to follow God. Their humility and steadfastness to submit to the promptings of the Holy Spirit for discernment, showed their fervent desire to lead a life dedicated to serve with love.

Sr Karen, a Singaporean, faced strong opposition from her family. However, she felt a certainty from God. Over time, through prayers for her discernment, her family accepted her decision.

Sr Chennisia’s desire to accept the “invitation to live a life of holiness and to serve His Church” resulted in a “conflict with her father who wanted her to become a nurse.” But in death and through prayers, she felt him granting his permission.

To conclude the well moderated and lively “Vocation chit-chat”, Fr Eugene encouraged young people to be active in their parish. Fr Galvin invited them to “speak to us” and Fr Alvin disclosed a series of talks on vocation is in the pipeline.

Vocation Chit Chat 2

The 2-hour session ended with the song, “The Summons”. – Todays Catholic