“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…
by Cassey Fernandez
Like this famous passage from the Gospel of Matthew, we often hear the call of God, but struggle to respond. Some of us might feel unworthy to serve. While others are afraid to be pushed out of their comfort zones. To most, we use that most popular of excuses, ‘I have no time’.
But for one of our parishioners, Erlich Phua, he was not content with just being a Sunday Catholic. He aspired to follow in the footsteps of the great Saint Paul by bringing Christ Jesus to the gentiles. Erlich serves in the Society of Saint Vincent De Paul (SSVP) while his wife Joanna Phua, serves in the Catholic Welfare Services (CWS).
One day his wife encouraged him to go on a night mission with CWS and for the first time, Erlich was exposed to the homeless in Singapore. When people think of Singapore, they see tourist attractions and technological advancements, a booming economy and a stable workforce.
So it may shock some people to find out that there are indeed homeless individuals living in Singapore. During the night missions, CWS volunteers distribute food to the poor and lend a listening ear to those in need. They try their best to offer the possibility of helping the poor out of their plight.
Erlich recalls meeting many homeless people and interacting with them before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them came from abusive homes and sought refuge in public places like a neighbourhood MacDonald’s outlet.
A particular encounter with an SSVP beneficiary left Erlich in awe of Christ’s ability to work through him and the people he meets. M (not his real name), a friend in need (FIN), was under Erlich’s care. M came from a broken home and had a troubled past. One night, M messaged Erlich saying he was hungry and had been eating instant noodles for the past three days.
It was past 10pm and Erlich’s only concern was to get M fed quickly so he wouldn’t stay hungry throughout the night. He met M for supper at a coffee shop and began a conversation. Through this simple gesture, M developed some level of trust and formed a friendship with Erlich.
Through this and similar experiences, Erlich learned that all the homeless want is to have someone to talk to. They are often alone and misunderstood by society. Erlich has been journeying with M for four years now. M also has anger issues and shared that whenever he feels he is about to flare up, he thinks of his friend Erlich and prays for guidance. “I know it is not me that M sees. M sees Christ in me,” said Erlich.
When asked about how such experiences have impacted him, Erlich says that Christ blindfolds him and leads him to where he needs to be. “When you show the face of Christ in whatever you do, you allow the poor to find Christ in you. You are Christ’s instrument in ministering to them,” he said.
He usually doesn’t think about it much, and goes in good faith to serve the poor. “When you empathise with the poor, that is when it really hits you,” he said. Though such encounters can be heart wrenching, it also shines a light on our personal and spiritual growth. Are we doing what Jesus has asked of us in the Matthew 25? How have we helped the least of our brothers?
In return, this journey with the poor has once again shown Erlich that God is at work qualifying the called. It has strengthened his relationship by encouraging him to see Christ in the poor. They are no less worthy than us and we are all gathered in communion with God.
As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Catholic Church in Singapore this year, are we ready to step out of our comfort zone and let the spirit lead us? Erlich has this advice for all of us, “Allow yourself to be uncomfortable because it is in your discomfort that you ask yourself, where is Jesus in this? If you want to help, come with an open heart!” he encouraged.
You can reach out to Thomas Lew (8126 3276) from SSVP or Brian Monteiro (9128 8568) from CWS if you are interested to find out more.