Thirsting for knowledge to serve

Ervin TanFeature, Reflections

Thirsting for knowledge to serve

The Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS) is a vital part of the archdiocese’s vision for a vibrant, evangelising and missionary Church. It seeks to educate and form lay Catholics, equipping them with the resources to serve God in the various ministries. In this article, volunteer writer Amanda Yap, discovers how Andrew Ng was inspired to search for knowledge about the faith at CTIS and apply that knowledge in serving with the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry.


Andrew (third from left) together with his group of fellow RCPM volunteers.
Photo: Andrew Ng

For most of his 63 years, Andrew Ng would have classified himself as a ‘Sunday Catholic’. However, God in His infinite mercy and goodness, led him on a path to early retirement in 2013 to allow him to “do what was necessary for God”.

A year earlier, Andrew went on a pilgrimage to Israel. After a tough, yet enlightening experience, he returned to Singapore with an intense thirst to acquire faith-filled knowledge of the Catholic Church. It was an unexpected, never before experienced, yearning.

Andrew said, “I felt compelled to read as many books on the Catholic Faith as I could lay my hands on and yet I wasn’t satisfied. It finally dawned on me that my search for faith needed structure.”

CTIS

When the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS) was formed in 2013, Andrew was “overjoyed” and quickly seized the opportunity to register for the courses available.

CTIS was established for the systematic formation in Catholic theology. Its courses are structured for candidates preparing for ordination and the religious life, as well as for lay students.

Through its education programmes, CTIS equips the laity with the necessary knowledge of the Church’s teachings so that they can better participate in the mission of the Church and transform the world according to the Gospel of Christ.

The structured curriculum appealed to Andrew and allowed him to effectively learn about the teachings of the Church, which in turn, strengthened his formation in the Catholic faith.

With his commitment and perseverance, Andrew acquired a Certificate, and then later, a Diploma in Theology. He said, “I was, and still am, very impressed with the lecturers. They foster a conducive culture for learning and are incredibly knowledgeable. It was illuminating, learning about the complexities of theSecond Vatican Council, Moral Theology, and much more.

Ministry work

While serving in RCIA, Andrew was invited by a fellow sponsor to help develop a workshop for the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM). After reviewing what RCPM stood for and praying about it, it became clear that God was leading him to his real calling to prison service. He said, “I was certain that God always had this plan for me.”

Volunteers in the RCPM work as a team to fulfil their mission to be the compassion of our heavenly Father for our brothers and sisters in Christ – ‘I was in prison and you visited me’. Mt 25:36.

Now, serving within a small group of volunteers, Andrew commits himself to engaging a group of inmates, imparting the faith through scripture sharing and discussions that encourage faith exploration, development and formation.

The knowledge gained from attending the courses at CTIS has helped Andrew to more effectively clarify doubts and answer questions posed by the inmates in matters of the faith.

“Sometimes, they just need someone to talk to, and it can really help to unburden them. They only get this outlet for two hours, once a week, and its importance is immeasurable to them. We clearly see them walk out of the room lighter than they did walking in.”

Working alongside and providing sorely needed assistance to priests, RCPM holds intercessory prayer and inner healing sessions, provides counselling for inmates, and follows up with those released from prison.

Perseverance

Returning to society and one’s life after incarceration is the biggest challenge of all. While Andrew recognises the difficulties faced by exinmates in their struggle to reintegrate back to society, this does not shield him from the disappointment that arises from learning about an ex-inmate’s relapse to his “old ways”.

Andrew recounted, “I cope by holding onto the belief that God has carved a unique journey for each person. Every one of us is a child of God, and comes with our own personal cross to bear.” During these moments, Andrew would also fall back on his relationship with God, which he described as one of immense “thankfulness”.

He shared, “It is only through the loving mercy and grace of God that I am alive. It is my belief that I am here today, to do His work. Right now, I know he wants me to continue serving him by sharing my knowledge of the faith with those who are desperate for it.”

Serving God

Through serving in RCPM, he witnesses God at work, especially through seeing how Catholic and non- Catholic inmates alike, are touched by the selflessness and commitment of members of this ministry. More importantly, he is aware of the importance of being anchored in the Catholic faith, and the necessity of the role of lay people in supporting and collaborating with priests to do God’s work.

To this end, Andrew encourages individuals to enrol for the Certificate in Theology to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the faith to encounter Christ.

He said, “I hope that more brothers and sisters in Christ will be open to the New Evangelization and strive to be knowledgeable in our faith to serve our very personal best.”

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