Why God 'allowed' deadly tsunami to strike

Why God 'allowed' deadly tsunami to strike
By Edmond Eh
Straits Times Forum, Jan 29, 2005

RECENT attempts at philosophical/theological reflection on the tsunami disaster by Mr Tan Tarn How ('Evil? No way, come hell or high water'; The Sunday Times, Jan 9), Ms Chua Mui Hoong ('Where was God when the tsunamis hit?'; Jan 16) and Dr Andy Ho ('Where God was when the tsunami struck'; ST, Jan 22) raise interesting points, but contain important mistakes.

In the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, God is believed to be (1) existing, (2) omnipresent (all present), (3) omniscient (all knowing), (4) omnipotent (all powerful) and (5) omnibenevolent (all good).

However, the challenge from the problem of evil is this: given the presence of suffering in this world, it is not possible to affirm all the five properties of God stated. Accordingly, Mr Tan denies (1), Ms Chua denies (4) and Dr Ho denies (5).

Firstly, Mr Tan states that the problem of evil provides evidence that God does not exist. This is based on a wrong conception of evil. Evil is not a substance or a thing; it is a state of lack of something good. So, the concept of evil is parasitic on the concept of good. This being so, the existence of evil does not disprove God. Rather, the reverse is true.

As St Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) teaches:
Boethius introduces a philosopher asking the question: 'If there is a God, how come there is evil?'. The argument should be turned the other way: 'If there is evil, there is a God.' For there would be no evil, if the order of goodness were taken away...

Next, Ms Chua believes that God is not omnipotent because He created people with free will and cannot force them against their freedom. This is based on another conceptual misunderstanding.
Freedom is part of the essence of a human being. Someone without free will is not a human, but an animal or a robot.

To say that God is not omnipotent because He cannot stop humans from being free is like saying that God is not all-powerful because He cannot make pigs fly.
To blame God for not being able to go against human freedom is to accuse God of an inability to perform a meaningless contradiction.

Lastly, Dr Ho believes that God is not benevolent to all His creatures but 'only some whom he chooses so his will is worked out'. He comes close to the view of John Calvin (1509-64) who taught double predestination in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Calvin held that God only chooses to save some people (the elect) because He predestines some to heaven and others to hell. Unfortunately for Dr Ho, very few modern Calvinists still uphold this doctrine because it creates a wholly inaccurate and cruel image of God. Actually, the simple reason why God allows evil is that if He did not, then a lot of good would be lost. To quote St Thomas again:
Hence many good things would be taken away if God permitted no evil to exist; for fire would not be generated if air was not corrupted, nor would the life of a lion be preserved unless the ass were killed...

Also, contrary to Ms Chua and Dr Ho's opinions, evil does not show the limits of God's omnipotence or omnibenevolence. Again, the reverse is true. As St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) explains, God is 'so omnipotent and good that he can bring good even out of evil'.

Edmond Eh Kim Chew
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Are you Christian or Catholic?

"Are you Christian or Catholic?"
by Chrisyeo

WHAT will you answer when someone asks you this question?

Simple right? After all, your birth certificate says 'Roman Catholic' and you will put 'Roman Catholic' when filling up forms..

Well, the correct answer is you are first a Christian, but also a Catholic.

I trust that anyone reading this post will know that already, but you'll be surprised how many people are not quite aware of this point - both protestants and misinformed Catholics...

"Excuse me, are you a Christian?"

"Yes, I am."

"Oh! Which Church do you attend?"

"I attend a Catholic Church."

"oh..ok" (wierd look), (walks away)


"Excuse me, are you a Christian?"

"No, I'm Catholic"

"Oh..ok.." (walks away)

My dear friends, I invite you to engage any person that asks you whether you are Catholic or Christian. The question is pregnant with opportunity to inform and reach out to others, especially our protestant brethren. Take the opportunity as a calling to evangelise...
click on 'permanent link' to read the full article...

Discussion about what this blog is..

This post is to discuss about the blog. Please give your comments and suggestions here!

Over the past one month, Irene, Nick, Chris and I have written articles which were posted on this blog. We now have a good idea of the blog looks like and feels like. My question is, what now?

Do we take a long-term slow-and-steady approach by streadily posting solid articles and spread the word slowly and hope by the grace of God that more people will read and contribute?

Or, looking at it now, you might feel that interest is not sustainable in the long run?

Perhaps that is my fear. Could I please garner your comments as to what the future of this blog will be like?
click on 'permanent link' to

Some admin issues..

This post is to discuss some of the formatting issues for this blog.

has everyone figured out how to use the /span class="fullpost/ tag so that only a portion of your article appears in the main page? Perhaps not.

There are two modes that you can write your post in - "HTML" and "Compose". I suggest that you write in the HTML window, and then use Compose to add in formatting if you wish. This way, you don't inadvertantly introduce new tags that mess up the post. In any case, I have altered the beginning post so that the issue should be less severe now.

can we decide if we want a standard format for the formal articles? For example, I have added headers to our articles that look like this:
Is the Sunday Missal meant to be read during Mass?
By Christopher Yeo
DID YOU KNOW that people have..

  1. Title is repeated in the post and in "Huge" size and bold
  2. Author is stated and in italics
  3. First few words are emphasised in capital, and
  4. First letter of article is "huge" size.

I know that this is more work, but I think the image it presents if worth it. After all, if we put in the effort to research and write and article, we should make it look as good as possible right? Should we standardize it then?

I would like to suggest adding a pre-summary and a footer to every article.

For example, I have added a header to the Youth Ministry article that goes like this:

This excellent article was taken from a magazine called Catholic Asian News. In it, Adrian Khoo explores very insightfully the problems that our youth groups face time and again. He suggests that the only way forward is to look upon our youth as ambassadors in training...

You will notice that the article ends with a brief introduction of the author:
"Adrian Khoo has 8 years involve­ment in BEC youth groups, parish youth ministry and as full-time co­ordinator of Lifeline College & Young Adults Ministry, Church of St Francis Xavier, Petalingjaya".
I have also added one to my Missal article.

I think that these two additions will add to the readability, professionalism and impact of the articles. The pre-summary should be written by someone else (we will write for each other) while the footer should be added by the author. What do you all think?...
please click on 'permanent link' to read the post...

Studying Theology on a bond

"Should lay people be sponsored by the church to study things like theology, and so give back to the church?"
Studying Theology on a Bond
By Nicholas Teo

RECENTLY I MET A PRIEST and had a chat with him as I shared with him about my youth group.

We were on the topic of youth coordinators and why the church do not send people overseas to further their theological education. I even suggested putting those people on bonds.

He told me that is not a new idea for in fact its a tried and failed method. That came as a surprise to me, because I didn't think anyone would try and cheat the Church, especially if their intention was to serve it then.

He told me that even he himself had sent people overseas but they never came back, in fact he sent as many as 8 before but only 1 came back. The only Samaritan!

So I questioned, didn't the Church sue them, isn't that the point of having bonds? He said no, because they are the Church.

Now, I appreciate the Church for the compassion of theirs, forgiveness is without a doubt a commendable trait but I think all they did was to sink their own ship.

First of all, they didn't sue and those who followed knew they would be safe. And because the church doesn't get any 'rewards' from sending people overseas, they totally give up! How many potential talents would they had wasted? A pity indeed.

In moments like today, where the modern Catholics are so intelligent and well-read, yet there is a lack of theologically-educated people around to complement priests, I find it unacceptable.

Instead we depend on volunteers or whoever has a good heart to come forward and teach our young whatever 'we were taught when we were young', and priests who are so busy doing every other things except teach. How then can we face the challenges and needs posed by this modern society?

In fact, this is the greatest irony in the church. The most spiritually sound person in the parish is the priest but because he is the only one who can do those 'priest-things', he has no time to educate the parionshioners. Instead he leaves it to the cathechism teachers who may not necessarily be good teachers (though perhaps good baby-sitters for some) to continue with that vicious cycle.

I lament that because I seek a proper education but yet the oppurtunity given to me is not adequate.

But yet I do not want to be an empty vessel making loud complaints but yet do nothing about it, I guess the next best thing is to just seek whatever available courses and hope that I do not get sucked into the cycle.

Nicholas Teo is currently a co-leader of the youth group in the church of St Stephen, that youth group is called Little-Crosses. His personal mission is to make young people realize that Catholicism can be a way of life.
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The Church and Media relations

Should the church have a media office?

Don't you think that Archbishop's comments on the tsunami published today in the Straits Times looked totally inadequate beside the comments of the pastor from City Harvest Church? This is not the first time that I am getting this impression. I seriously think that the Archibishop's office and the Church needs to have a media relations person.

A little light to heal a darkened world
As the world sympathises with victims of the tsunami, Life! asks religious leaders here how faith can heal sorrow
By Jill Alphonso and Sujin Thomas
Straits Times: Jan 5, 2005

MOHAMED KHAIR RAHMAT, 35, Imam of Al-Falah Mosque at Bideford Road

'What happened is awful, especially considering that so many of those who died were women and children. The congregation at the Al-Falah mosque was naturally shocked by the disaster.

However, Muslims believe that this world is a place to be tested, and that all trials come from God. As a result, we do not blame God.

We believe that we have been created for a purpose - to do good in this world. With each trial, we should reflect on whether we have done good deeds in our lives and whether we have essentially been good people.

We also believe that those who have died were fated to. The Prophet also says that those who die traumatically - through accidents, burns or drowning - will have a place with Allah because their suffering is great.

It is our responsibility to help the surviving victims through prayer. In our sermons, we try to deepen the congregation's empathy and compassion for the victims.

We encourage them to do what they can, be it through prayer or through giving to charity.

The principles in Islam lead us to believe that there is something to be learnt from every situation, no matter how awful it may be. We believe that there is always a blessing to be found.

For example, we can see that the world's commitment is now to help the victims, with so many nations rallying to give aid. We can take some comfort there.

At the end of the day, we try not to dwell on the tragedy itself, but to see what we can do.'

REVEREND KONG HEE, 40, senior pastor and founder ofthe City Harvest Church in Jurong

'The Christian community is very much saddened by the earthquake and tsunami disaster. For the Christians, we accept that we live in an imperfect world. Bad things do happen to good people.

In light of the disaster, this is a time for great spiritual introspection. Our faith teaches us to always put our trust in God, and even when we can't see his hands, we can always trust his heart.

The Christian faith makes it clear that in this world, there will be trials and tribulation. God did not promise life without struggle. The Bible teaches that suffering, disasters and all order of human difficulties are unavoidable.

We believe that every hardship can be overcome. God promises us provision in need, strength for the day, healing and comfort in our darkest hour.

If we go through the disaster with our faith intact, we will become better people at the end of the day.'


'We are saddened by the calamity and are relying on our faith to get us through. We are encouraging people to be compassionate, and to donate and pray for the victims.

Mass prayer sessions, for example, will be held at most Roman Catholic churches next Friday.

We try not to dwell on the tragedy itself, but concentrate on aid and prayer. As Jesus is merciful, we believe that we ourselves should follow in that vein.'

THE VENERABLE SHI MING YI, 42, abbot of the Foo Hai Ch'an Monastery at Geylang East and chief executive of Ren Ci Hospital

'The tsunami disaster is something totally unexpected. Such a disaster serves to wake people up to realise that life is impermanent and unexpected.

In the Buddhist faith, we believe in karma. Karma is basically explained in the sense where when you do good, you receive good fruits for your deeds. Likewise, when you do bad deeds, you receive punishment. Bad karma can also be due to what people have done in their past lives.

However, in this instance, I am not indicating that the people who died had bad karma. Rather, we should look at it as the collective karma of the world. To have a better future, we should all do good together.

It really takes time to get over losing somebody close to you or even seeing such a tragedy of a major scale. From a religious point of view, we can say prayers for the victims as they move on to another life.

The main concern for the living is to treasure your relatives, friends and loved ones. Do not wait for the moment to come before doing good deeds such as charity work or expressing your love to your loved ones.

The tragedy has already happened. What we can do is to transfer some merits to the departed ones by doing things that benefit the people affected as a whole.'

RABBI MORDECHAI ABERGEL, 36, spiritual leader of the Singapore Jewish community

'Our first reaction should be: 'Where can I help or contribute?' When people witness a tragedy of such proportions, their faith is affected.

We should not let the sadness affect us to the point that we lose our focus on the main issue at hand and that is to extend our assistance. Even a letter written by a small child can go a long way to bring comfort to the bereaved.

In these moments of sadness when we are most vulnerable, we must strengthen our resolve to reach out and help, one act of kindness at a time.

In our Bible there is a saying: 'A little light dispels a lot of darkness.' We can change the world one small deed at a time. Now, more than ever, we must realise we are worth what we are ultimately willing to share and give.'

MRS RANJANA NANIKRAM, 54, secretary of the Sandhu Vaswani Centre

'Hindus believe there is this life and after that there is rebirth. There is what we call 'prakriti', which is like 'nature'. Nature takes its own course and has its own place in the universe, which is always balancing itself.

Hindus believe that they are made up of more than one body in the sense of it being composed of physical, subtle and universal bodies.

If we did not have spirituality within us, there would be no life. If you see a dead body, it is just a physical body. What is missing? It is the spirituality.

It is very difficult for people stricken by the disaster. You must remember not to lose your faith. Let it be your anchor. These people who are helping the affected people in Asia are instruments of God because they are inspired by goodness. Goodness can come only from God.

I think it will take a long time for people to get over the disaster. It is not only a physical wound, but also an emotional one that has to heal.

On top of that, the fear will always be there because the waves came when they never expected them and could come again in future.'
click on 'permanent link' to read the ST article...

Is the Sunday Missal meant to be read during Mass?

Is the Sunday Missal meant to be read during Mass?
By Christopher Yeo

DID YOU KNOW that people have three kinds of learning styles - auditory, visual and kinesthetic? Auditory people prefer listening, visual people prefer reading, and kinesthetic people prefer doing.

I would like you to try an experiment. Are you able to play the famous Alleluia chorus from Handel's messiah in your mind? If you don't know the tune, just use the gospel acclamation in your church. Try it.

Can you 'hear' the Alleluia?

Now try replaying it while reading the following words:

A-lle-luia. A-lle-luia. Alleluia, Alleluia, A-lle-lu-ia...

Did you fare better or worse you think?

Now, this is the observation I make about the Catholic Mass - throughout the eucharistic celebration, at every reading, psalm, prayer and song, we are reading it. The vast majority of the congregation have their heads buried in the missals and are reading along. (Sadly, the remainder seems not to be following at all!) Does this constrain our experiencing of the Eucharist, you think?

Having studied some scripture during my time in NUSCSS, I found some time back during mass that I could follow some of the gospel readings, especially from Luke. I then begun to experiment listening to the gospel without looking at the missal and experienced a whole dimension to the proclamation of the Word that till then I never had. I was really quite a difference between following the sunday missal and hearing and feeling God's word, flowing and working inside you.

A few times, my choir mates standing beside me saw that I was not looking at the missal during the readings and offered me their books. I remember smiling at them, lifting my hands and showing that I already have the missal in hand, even opened to the right page. I was simply choosing to listen and look rather than read along. They appeared quite shocked initially, since this practice appears to be so unusual! Today, my dear choir mates to my left and right also prefer to listen to the proclamation of the Word without looking at the missal. Try it yourself!Come early for some quiet time before mass and read the passages first, then spend the time during mass reflecting and feeling. I pray that your experience of mass may be enriched by this 'tip'.

There is still some more to this point that I would like to share:

Don't be afraid to do something new in church
Is it so strange that I don't read the missal during mass? Why be afraid to do something different? Although our mass seems to not have changed for as long as we remember, the way we celebrate mass is actually open to a lot of flexibility, and over time, change has occured even though you may not have noticed it. This is so, for example, in the music liturgy. Faith is something that is alive and constantly seeking new ways of expression and fulfilment. Since our buildings have been renovated, it is also time that we renew the way we look at and celebrate the mass. Don't be afraid to personalise your experience of the eucharist, try new things, ask questions, and grow.

Readers and psalmists rarely proclaim the word of God, but only read.
Once you start looking and listening to the readers and psalmists instead of just reading along, I am sure you will realise like I have that some readers are totally inadequate in the way they proclaim the word of God. I try to ask myself how St. Paul or the early church leaders would have proclaimed their experiences of Jesus to their audiences. If the word holds meaning to you, there is just no way to stop your body, your tone, or your expression from coming forth on the pulpit. I think the problem is that readers have spent all their lives experiencing the word with their heads buried in the missal. When they proclaim, they end up reading the word in the only way that they have experienced it, which is why the more we open up to listening and feeling, the better I think our eucharistic celebrations will become.

Priests need to engage visual and experience during homilies
Not only readers suffer from the pitfalls of focusing on the visual text. Priests do it all the time when reading the prayers. I do not think that it is too much effort to memorise certain portions of the repeated prayers so that they can be said with much more heart, rather than always reading them off the book and constraining the full expression of the prayer. When delivering homilies, priest also put themselve into a mental pigeonhole and engage only one of our senses, in this case our auditory sense. Walk around, show us examples, engage our feelings, experiences and memories. Homilies, and everything about the mass will become more engaging and alive if we just remember that there is not just one, but three styles of learning to cater to.


Christopher Yeo is a member of the Genesis Choir at the Church of St. Francis Xavier which sings at the 6pm evening mass. He believes that we can enhance our eucharistic celebrations by learningfrom our protestant brothers and sisters .

Blessing in Disguise?

Blessing in Disguise?
"The man of knowledge must find a way to turn defeat into victory"
By Irene

THE RECENT disasters make it seem that what has happened is a defeat. just think, the number of deaths here far exceeds the number in the september 11 disaster. but the results of this disaster can't be more different from then. i think it's an eucatastrophe. the mighty hand of god at work.to explain: looking beyond the obvious physical devestation.

The result of september 11 disaster is a world becoming fragmented and war torn. suspicions, distrust, hatred, discrimination...

But the result of this tsunami disaster is a world bonding together, helping the victims and survivors. no one stopped to think "hey, indonesia is a muslim country. what if the aid money is going right into osama's hands?!"

No. no one thought about that. they all just thought "here's fellow human beings in trouble and we've gotta help them." it forced people to think about their own existance and their relationships with those they love and cherish. i guess this is the blessing of such a disaster.

How we can turn the defeat into victory.the eucatastrophe. it has brought the world closer and forced them to think about their fellow people as people and not as potential enemies. and this is a good thing for our world.could it be a hidden sign from god that 2005 will be a better year for intercountry relationships? is it a really a blessing or a disaster? Think about it.

Irene is currently waiting to enter into tertiary education. She has just finished with her 'A'levels from Meridien JC. She is also the Cantor head and Organist assistant from the Church of St. Stephen's Youth Choir, 'Little Chorales'

Confusion and Confirmation

Confusion and Confirmation
by Chris Ow

THE SACRAMENT of Confirmation is perhaps the most poorly understood sacrament of all amongst contemporary Catholics and Singapore is no exception to this. Part of the confusion arises from inadequate catechesis. Another contributing factor is the variety of ages at which the sacrament is administered to cradle Catholics and those baptized in childhood. What is even more frightening is that many responsible for catechesis are themselves not entirely clear as to exactly what to make of this sacrament.

I have been involved in the catechesis of confirmands since the late 90s. And in these years I have experienced a whole range of approaches to preparing our youth for confirmation. I have led at least three batches of young people through to their receiving of the sacrament itself and this year, God-willing, I shall lead yet another batch. And I have worked in two different parishes, and have had some contact with other parish programs as well. These have been a good mix of two year and four year programs. In my own parish, I have been working on the transition between the two approaches.

I offer below some of my observations and reflections on the situation as it stands today.

Minimum age?

When I was a young altar server in my parish in the 80s, my seniors shared with us that they received confirmation at the age of 11, in Primary 5. For myself and my peers, we had to wait till age 14 before we could be confirmed. I was confirmed in 1991. When I got involved in catechesis myself in the late 90s, the age of confirmation still remained at 14. But it was not going to stay that way for long. In the 90s, among some of the East district parishes, a new program was being piloted. Here, confirmation was delayed till the age of 16. This ‘trend’ would soon catch on, and other parishes would move to adopt this new four year program to prepare their young people to receive confirmation.

I have heard many different accounts of why this change was necessary. Some invoked the rationale of a more thorough preparation – based on the assumption that more time spent in formal instruction would produce confirmands who were better prepared to live as Christian witnesses. Others argued that since many were treating Confirmation as a ‘graduation’ sacrament, it would be better to keep them in formal education for another two years, so as to more effectively counteract this pernicious attitude. Related to this is the hope that delaying confirmation may reduce the number of young people who stop practising their faith after Confirmation. The idea is that delaying their ‘graduation’ from formal catechesis will allow them to form stronger bonds that will keep them coming to church in the years following their confirmation. There are still others who make reference to the relative maturity of confirmands. The argument is that 16 year olds are in a better position to understand what confirmation is and what it entails that 14 year olds. Older confirmands would also be able to take greater responsibility for their Christian mission and be better equipped to carry it out.

Now it is not my intention to quibble with these various rationale. Each makes a valid point in itself. However, the move from a two year program to a four year one is not one that should be undertaken lightly. And there are theological and pastoral considerations that each parish must carefully bear in mind before it makes a commitment to a new approach. The worst thing to do would be to make the switch without careful consideration of the finer details of the program, and without determining if the parish does in fact have resources with which to sustain on an ongoing basis the more demanding four year program.

The real deal

What is immediately clear to anyone who actually bothers to refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is that baptism and confirmation form a special unity and the two together with the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist make up the Sacraments of Initiation (CCC 1285). What the CCC is silent about is the appropriate age at which confirmation is to be administered. The only condition explicitly specified is that the confirmand must have attained the ‘age of discretion’ (CCC 1307-8) or ‘age of reason’ (CCC 1319). Now this is notoriously difficult to pin down to a specific numerical age. In practice, the age of reason is traditionally taken to be about seven years. The age of reason is also a requirement for the reception of First Holy Communion (FHC) (CCC 1244). For some reason, the problems that plague the administering of confirmation do not seem to affect the age at which First Holy Communion is given. This is usually done at the age of 9, when the children are in Primary 3. This practice of giving FHC at 9 has been going on for as long as I can remember (which admittedly isn’t that long) and most, if not all parishes in Singapore, also give FHC to their children at this age.

In the Eastern Church, all three sacraments of initiation are celebrated together. Chrismation is in fact performed immediately after baptism (CCC 1244, 1318). In the West, however, greater emphasis is placed on the role of the bishop as the centre of ecclesial unity (CCC 1318). The bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament (CCC 1313). It is his invocation of the Holy Spirit and laying of hands that are foregrounded in the Latin rite (CCC 1299). Of course, in both East and West, the Sacred Chrism used in the confirmation (and ordination) anointing, is perfumed oil consecrated personally by the bishop, together with his entire presbyterate, at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday (CCC 1297). Thus the Chrism is, in itself, already a most eloquent symbol of ecclesial unity. But the Latin rite is more explicit than its Eastern counterpart in highlighting the unity of the individual Christian with the bishop (CCC 1292).

The Rite stuff

The great ecumenical council, Vatican II, helped shed some light on this by offering the Latin church a new norm for Christian initiation in the revised Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) (CCC 1232). This marked a rediscovery of the initiation practice of the ancient church in the first few centuries before Constantine’s edict reshaped the empire and the faith.

The RCIA divides Christian initiation into five distinct phases. The write-up below is taken from http://www.stjames-cathedral.org/rcia/stages.htm

1. Inquiry or Pre-Catechumenate
At this time participants are encouraged to ask questions and explore the basic tenets of the Catholic faith and to reflect upon these in light of their own life experiences.

2. The Catechumenate
It is during this time that most of study of Scripture, doctrine, traditions and meeting with the community takes place.

3. Purification & Enlightenment
For those preparing for baptism, this stage takes place during the Lenten season where they reflect upon their own faith experiences in a more intense, prayerful way. Other times during the year, baptized candidates reflect more deeply upon the meaning of their baptism and celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.

4. Sacraments of Initiation
Candidates for baptism celebrate their initiation into the Church on the holiest of nights-the Easter Vigil - where they are baptized, confirmed and receive Eucharist. Candidates for full communion celebrate their Rite of Reception several other times throughout the year.

5. Mystagogia
This is a time for candidates to reflect upon their experiences of being new Catholic Christians and find their place in the ordinary life of the Church.

If Vatican II teaches us that the process marked out by the RCIA is normative for Christian initiation, then we must look to it as our model when designing our confirmation programs regardless of duration.

Yet if we are to learn important lessons from the RCIA, we must first know the RCIA. And even that is not going to be enough, since the RCIA deals with the initiation of non-Christian adults, not baptized children preparing for confirmation, who have more often than not already received two of the three sacraments of initiation. Well thought out adaptations will be necessary. It will not do to simply run a four year RCIA program as a Confirmation program. In fact, the RCIA is itself not a program or syllabus. It is, as its name suggests, a rite of initiation. Its proper place is in the liturgy of the parish. It is worship and celebration, not pedagogy and instruction.

Books & Borders

This connection between the revised RCIA and the confirmation preparation of baptised youth is not new or original. Some authors, most notably Thomas Zanzig (through St Mary’s Press), have already developed and published entire Confirmation programs incorporating these new insights. I have myself used Zanzig’s material (in the form of his Confirmed in a Faithful Community [CFC] series) quite extensively. Yet, CFC is not without its problems.

· Firstly, whilst it is very well presented and comprehensive, it is addressed to an American audience and is not always relevant to our youth. The language can be quite difficult for those youth for whom English is not a first language.

· Secondly, the program is entirely imported and is costly. The program materials are very comprehensive, and there is a lot to buy. On top of this, the publishers sometimes produce new editions and phase out older ones. This planned obsolescence only adds to cost, which some parishes can ill afford.

· Thirdly, in some instances, Zanzig mentions theological opinion that goes beyond magisterial teaching. Whilst this may not present a problem for the informed and alert reader, it might confuse those less careful. And it certainly is not helpful for the teenager preparing for Confirmation. The danger is that the reader may take contested theological opinion as defined doctrine. Theological opinion has its place, but a catechetical text is not the right place for it.

What to do?

So a lot of work remains to be done. We need, first of all, to help parishes make a prayerful discernment together with their pastors, on whether or not to adopt the four year program. It would be reckless to insist that every parish adopt the four year program without first ensuring that every parish is suitably equipped with the resources. And we’re not just talking about money, rooms, and equipment, but far more importantly, about having people truly committed to the ministry of catechesis.

Then, we need to really add flesh to bones, and draft, test, and revise a well-researched, well-thought-out program that local parishes can really use no matter which option they choose. It should be a program that really addresses the needs of our young people. It should be a program that is continually being updated to keep pace with the changing needs of our culture and our society.

We need also to vastly improve the training of catechists. Each catechist must be empowered and equipped with the skills necessary to impart their faith with deep conviction. To this end, it will be necessary to take their formation to a deeper level, going beyond teaching methodologies, to the conversion of hearts and minds. And this formation cannot be piecemeal or ad hoc. It should be systematic, and ongoing. After all, God is himself an inexhaustible mystery, and the treasures of our rich Christian tradition are more than can be learnt in many lifetimes. So we can never be satisfied with what little knowledge we may possess.

The catechesis of married couples, especially parents, also needs a drastic overhaul. They need to know that they are the foremost catechists of their children. They must see themselves as leaders of the domestic church, and make their homes holy sanctuaries where the Lord always has a place. That way, the catechesis of Sunday School will not just stop when the classes end, but will be a lived reality for the child every other day of the week as well.

It all seems like common sense really. If, in our secular education system, we are willing to make the sacrifices, and put up with a whole slew of changes, why aren’t we prepared to do the same with regards to the faith formation of our children? If we really regard our Catholic faith as the greatest treasure we can pass on to our children by having them baptised as infants, then we must see the treasure is not tarnished by neglect and indifference during their formative years.
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Discovering the Purpose of Youth Ministry

This excellent article was taken from a magazine called Catholic Asian News. In it, Adrian Khoo explores very insightfully the problems that our youth groups face time and again. He suggests that the only way forward is to look upon our youth as ambassadors in training...

Discovering the Purpose of
Youth Ministry

Babysitters, Entertainers or Ambassadors?
by Adrian Khoo
YOUTH MINISTRY: every­body likes to talk about it, but nobody seems to know quite what to make of it.
Despite the best efforts of dedicated Catholics in parishes nationwide, youth ministry in many parishes can often appear to be an exercise in frustration. In our conversations with youth leaders in parishes across the country, youth group concerns are complex and varied. Among the recent trends:

• The internet and satellite tele­vision have produced the seemingly contradictory phenomenon of the teenager who claims to have no time to come to youth group meetings but can spend hours a day playing the latest networked games at the local internet cafe.

• While the Church views con­firmation as a time of a special out­pouring of die Holy Spirit, youth and their parents have a tendency to view confirmation as a graduation -whereupon their Catholic forma­tion is complete and they (or their children) are no longer obliged to attend Sunday school. A similar thinking exists with participation in youth group activities - as young adults graduate’ from youth group activities, they often graduate out of church life altogether.

• Youth leaders are, more often than not, inadequately formed, poorly equipped with scriptural knowledge, formal people manage­ment skills or principles of Christian leadership. In addition, the turnover rate for youth leaders is high: The average youth leader spends no more than a year in leadership before leaving, often to further his or her studies or career. The result is a perpetual gap in knowledge and experience that creates youth groups that attempt to thrive largely on momentum and enthusiasm alone.

Given the high turnover rate of leaders, a lack of adequate formation and the perpetual struggle to attract new members and retain existing ones, youth groups tend to gravitate towards three models of ministry:

Model #1: The Youth 'Babysitting Model

Underlying thinking:
• The world is a hostile and scary place, full of wrong values and dan­gerous influences
• Youth need to be protected from such influences by mixing with Good Catholics' and participating in 'Healthy' activities under the pro­tective umbrella of the Church
Unstated Goal:
To ride out the turbulent adolescent years!
There is little emphasis on scripture reading or prayer as a means of transforming lives. It is hoped that by spending enough time in church, the youth will be changed by some yet-unknown process of transference of holiness.
If you took away the 'Church' label from the group it is often hard to distinguish the group from secular social concern groups like the Rotaract or Lions clubs.
Unintended Results:
Youth groups structured around this model may develop an 'us against them" fortress mentality. Such groups can become exclusive clubs, having little impact on the society around them.
Few leaders are raised, as parents and youth see youth min­istry as 'just another healthy activi­ty' like piano lessons or joining the boy scouts.
Youth who leave the group to enter adult life are spiritually ill-equipped to face secular realities. They enter a crucial age of deci­sion-making on their choice of vocation, relationships and studies without a mature, tested faith.

Model #2: The ‘Amusement Park' Model

Underlying thinking:

• Youth are not interested in serious bible study or prayer
• A successful youth ministry is one with many members. Entertainment and fellowship is the best way to attract more youth.
Unstated Goal:
To make youth ministry a fun, clean alternative to worldly enter­tainment
There is a strong emphasis on fellowship. Vague concepts like 'togetherness' and 'unity' are often emphasised as the ultimate goals of the group.
The group is activity ori­ented, with a preference towards social/fun activities as a means of occupying free rime and idle minds
Bible reading or prayer is confined to the beginning and/or end of the activity in an attempt to 'Christianise' an essentially secular activity
Unintended Results:
An activity-oriented approach covers up personal emo­tional needs and shortcomings. Members can walk away from an activity temporarily entertained but with unmet fundamental spir­itual and emotional needs
The overemphasis on fel­lowship leads to an excessively strong identification with the youth group. A member of this group will likely identify himself as first belonging to the youth group - belonging to the Church and to Christ comes a distant second and third. Few members make the tran­sition to serve in other areas of min­istry in the church.
In the long run, no youth group can match the sheer diversity and entertainment capability the world can offer: many have run themselves ragged trying. As a result, many parish youth groups are stuck in a tiring, time-consuming popularity contest.
This model tends to have the highest rate of burnout. Minimally trained youth leaders valiantly try to attract as many youth as possible to increasingly elaborate and entertaining events, in the hope that some of the youth will stick around long enough to become 'leaders' (defined as those who are brave enough to join the organising committee of the next event). The defining measure of the success of this model becomes 'how many peo­ple do you have in your group?' and how entertaining the last event was.

Model #3: The Self-run Co-opera­tive Model

Underlying thinking:
• Youth leadership is best developed by empowering youth to lead all aspects of group life Unstated Goal:
A 100% youth min­istry - for youth, by youth
The leadership is comprised almost exclusively of teenage students.
Often, a committee is placed in charge of the group with a nominal coordinator elected to coordinate meetings
Decisions are made by con­sensus with little formal guidance. This is done under the belief that the best decision is the most popular one.
Leadership formation is strictly on the job - they'll learn as they go
Youth spend much of their time in ministry planning for upcoming activities. There usually isn't much time left over for charac­ter development or spiritual forma­tion.
Unintended Results:
Unpopular activities like bible study and prayer get voted down
Like the Babysitting approach, an 'us against them' men­tality can develop. The youth min­istry becomes a youth ghetto: isolat­ed and treated with suspicion by the rest of the church
All three models contain essential ingredients of a successful youth ministry: Young people need a safe environment to grow and mature; they need good friendships and strong community and they need to take ownership and respon­sibility for the ministry. Yet some-

The key to the
revitalisation of parish
youth ministry lies more
in the proper formation
of leaders of great quality
and character
thing is missing: A specific, defined purpose.
But behind the more basic needs lies a higher one -

As part of their desire to be recognized as individuals, young people instinc­tively desire to make an impact on the world they live in. In short, they desire purpose, direction and significance in their lives.

A youth ministry without a compelling purpose places your youth group activities low on the 'to do' list of the average youth. On the other hand, a compelling purpose inspires great amounts of commit­ment even though the conditions may cause a great deal of inconven­ience and sacrifice.
The Holy Father recog­nised this need in his General prayer intentions for September 2001
That the adolescents and young people of the third millennium may discover a profound ideal to give meaning and value to their lives
In the Gospel of John, Jesus answers this need for purpose in a concise, compelling fashion:
"As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21)
And send them He did! In his time with the disciples, Jesus placed a clear priority on calling his disciples, teaching and equipping them not just with wisdom, but with the power of the Holy Spirit and finally, sending them forth to be his wit­nesses.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul echoes this purpose in his ministry of reconcili­ation:
"So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us” (2 Cor 5:20).
It is this call to be an ambassador of Christ in our schools, workplaces, families and in future religious or married vocations, that our fourth model is derived:

Model #4: The Ambassador Training Model
Underlying thinking:
• Short term formation for a long-term mission
This model is based on two critical realities of youth groups:
First, youth groups are a necessarily transitory part of church life. The short-term nature of their time in the youth group profoundly impacts the sense of urgency of the task ahead.
Second, they present an opportunity to impact the lives of the youth in the crucial years when they decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Values, principles and habits are formed in this stage of their lives that can greatly encourage, or inhibit, their journey with God and the nature of their witness to the world.
The success of this model is not measured by the type of activi­ties undertaken or time occupied, but the extent to which lives are transformed.
The group is relationship centered instead of activity oriented. All the time and expense spent in preparing for a function at a foreign embassy - the cocktail parties, din­ner receptions and endless teas - are for one purpose: to build relation­ships.
Similarly, the goal of the group should be to build solid con­sistent relationships with God (through prayer and the sacraments especially the Eucharist) and with their neighbour (through brotherly love and meaningful community life). The overriding consideration in making any decision in a youth group should be "Does this help me love my God or my neighbor more completely and selflessly?"
Note: there is a difference between a relationship centered group and a fellowship oriented one. Groups that emphasise fellow­ships by focusing primarily on building friendships can easily turn into cliques as petty biases and prej­udices arise.
Members are equipped instead of entertained
Exterior activities cannot hide an impoverished interior life. By encouraging members in the gift of prayer and devotion to sacred scrip­ture, the youth group equips them for real life - when the relationships and support network formed in the youth group may no longer exist.
If a measure of the 'success' of a youth group must be taken, then it is probably best taken not when a person is in the group, but when he leaves. Ideally, the young man or woman should leave not just with fond memories of fun activities but with solid principles and spiritual habits that last a life­time.
We believe that the key to the revitalisation of parish youth ministry lies more in the proper formation of leaders of great quali­ty and character than in the metic­ulous planning of the right pro­gram. For the past 5 years in our ministry, we have been working to build these young leaders on 6 core principles: Being sound in the Word, committed to prayer, excel­lent in lifestyle, passionate in love, filled with the Spirit and account­able to one another before Christ. We are very encouraged by the results thus far.

Adrian Khoo has 8 years involve­ment in BEC youth groups, parish youth ministry and as full-time co­ordinator of Lifeline College & Young Adults Ministry, Church of St Francis Xavier, Petalingjaya

CANews April 2002

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