Why do our young men choose to go overseas to become priests?

Nelsoh Quah, in the Sept 3rd issue of the Catholic News asks:

... Some pertinent questions which have been recurring in the minds of many Catholics are: Why do our young men today choose to make personal sacrifices to go overseas and become religious society priests? Why are they not interested in going to the local seminary and becoming diocesan priests?

Perhaps, it is time for the local chuch authority and some relevant organization to do some soul-searching to search for the right answers. Catholics should pray that the Lord of the Harvest will reveal the answers to them.
Of course, a very easy answer would be that God is calling them overseas and not here, and maybe because they feel blessed to live in Singapore and want to serve elsewhere. However, Mr Quah is not really hiding the fact that he knows what the real reason is. It is that the archodiocese is not being professional enough and thus not attracting the right people...

Please do not respond if you don't know the meaning of constructive criticism.


Anonymous said...

My experience of studying, living and working overseas in many different places is that going overseas, especially when you are from a small country, gives you exposure to different views of life and the different challenges people have to live out their faith. I've been to mass in some tough parts of the world- the Chad border with Sudan, Iran, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia... all this has added to my experience of my Catholic faith, and helped me learn about other people as well as about myself. I may go back to my home country sometime, I may not. But wherever I go, I am truly aware of being a part of the worldwide Church. Just because young Singaporeans are leaving for a different experience does not mean they are leaving for good. They may come back, enriched by their experience.

Norman said...

This article might shed light on the issue of attracting vocations. http://thewandererpress.com/c10-20-2005.htm.

I have many thoughts on this issue, need to sort them out before posting.

Norman said...

Firstly, we should not view vocations to religious orders as "competition" with the local diocesan priesthood. The Church is bigger than this small island. Whatever benefits one part of the Church benefits the whole church. After all, not all religious orders have a presence in Singapore. Therefore it is a cause for rejoicing that we have men sufficiently interested in a religious vocation to give up so much and go overseas.

Secondly, it is a massive task to build up a seminary and find qualified faculty to teach. It would have been better if there was a strong regional seminary. Unfortuntely, circumstances dictate otherwise. Mr Wijeysingha's book on the history of the local church says that we had no choice but to have our own seminary because of the difficulty in obtaining visas to go to Malaysia. Our prayers should therefore be for the seminary to improve.

Thirdly, if the documents in Vatican II call for Latin and Gregorian Chant to have pride of place, then it is only logical that men who wish to foster these (amidst their task of saving souls) in their religious vocations go to the places where they can get it, eg the Oratorians, the Fraternity of St Peter etc etc. As such, this is another reason why men going overseas will benefit the local diocese too (if the diocese cares enough for them). The experience and knowledge gained can only be an asset to the local Church.

Fourthly, it is not enough to pray for vocations if the local Church is not an excellent example for the young. Hence I posted the article in the previous comment. It says a lot, so I won't elaborate here. This is perhaps a fundamental reason.

God help us if we introduce female altar servers, or have more clueless choir "directors" who choose heretical hymns, "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs, and pooh-pooh Latin, priests who add words to the Mass, more and more Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (as though its a "ministry" for the laity) and so on.

If one has to give up so much for a religious vocation, it is only logical that he seeks the best formation possible. It is a real tragedy if one turns out to be "bo-chup" (could not care less) or "chin-chye" (easy going)after giving up so much.

Finally, to set things in their proper context, St Teresa of Lisieux said it is even more important to pray for priests of lukewarm virtue. How true! Let us always remember to pray for our priests, religious and seminarians!

Anonymous said...

oh guys... you soooooooooo need to take a reality check. Try living in places where there aren't any priests and where mass is a several hour journey each way. Then say that "extraordinary ministers of HC" are not appropriate for liturgy of the word and HC when the priest cannot visit the community. HC is HC no matter whether a trained monkey or a priest adminsisters it- it is not affected by the giver. As for pooh pooh Latin, I've heard some pretty bad Latin in Singapore. Do you really think God is bothered about female altar servers in the great scheme of things? You have to get out there and live life away from the bubble of easy Catholicism and get faced with some of the issues that fellow Catholics round the world are struggling with - HIV+ spouses, children whose parents have died of AIDS, trying to live as a Catholic in countries where Christianity is a minority...

Norman said...

thanks for your comments, anonymous. The reality here is simply that the mind of the Church on the following are:

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion: The word "Extraordinary" here is to be read as "Not of the Ordinary". Priests are the "Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion". EMHCs are there simply to assist the priests when there are too many communicants at Mass. There are not there to be routine as a "ministry" for the laity. See Redepmtionis Sacramentum. The only reason why they are routine now is that they are too few priests and so they have to be routinely employed. On weekday Masses the congregation is simply small enough for one priest to handle all of them. Therefore the danger here is in the laity thinking it is a proper "ministry" for them. No, it is the primary job of the Priest to administer the sacraments. The faithful have to see that in order to gain a proper understanding of what the role of the priest is.

Latin: Latin remains the liturgical language of the Church, reiterated many many times from Vatican II till today.

Female altar servers: See this website http://www.ewtn.com/library/Liturgy/zlitur19.htm and I quote: "It will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue."

Finally, "Does God care?" is perhaps not the best question to ask. Perhaps it is better to ask, "What is the best that we can give God?".

Anonymous said...

The best we can give God is ourselves- male, female, English, Latin, Swahili, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin etc. Communion with God is not language dependent. Mass in the vernacular is not better, or worse, than mass in Latin, but it can bring people to a different level of communion with God. I suspect the numbers of people who can understand the subtleties (can't spell in English) of gerunds, gerundives, ablative absolutes (et al) and the ecclesiastical vocabulary in Singapore alone would probably not fill a very large church.

Altar boys and girls by all means.

In order to increase reception of and access to the sacraments, in many cases the laity are absolutely crucial. Don't consider Singaporean Catholic Church as an island, it is part of a worldwide church where many, many countries do not have access to sufficient priests.

video melior proboque, deteriora sequor.

Anonymous said...


(to all anonymous posters, pls leave a name, thank you!)

I suppose that there will exist different opinions regarding Church and some issues are quite touchy. The purpose of this blog is not simply to disagree with one another, but to show in a rationale and reasonable way the truthfulness and worthiness of one's views, for the sake of greater understanding leading to the building of God's kindgdom.

My purpose of this post is simply to say that the local archdiocese has not done enough to attract and retain new priests to the archdiocesan ministry.

Norman therefore raises valid points when he talks about how the mindset of the local archdiocese needs to be focused and clear.

To anonymous, I am in disagreement of the perceived dismissiveness and arrongance in your comments. They are not very Christ-like. Perhaps they were not meant; please be careful in the future. They do very little to advance the understanding of the issues, or change the mind of other readers.

Real teaching, and real change, requires tremendous patience. I myself would like to apologise for losing patience : If I did not apologise yet to you in person, Daniel, I would like to do so now. Please accept my apologies.

Let us pray that we all have the patience and perserverance to share our views sincerely in the spirit of seeking understanding, and to be able to act upon our knowledge to affect change in the world.


Anonymous said...

If this is truly a board for young Singaporean Catholics, then that includes a wide spectrum of views and backgrounds.

It seems that truthfulness and worthiness only apply to those who want to adhere to what could be seen as conservative views.

I'm sorry if you believe my views are not Christ like, arrogant and dismissive. Those who know me would be absolutely astonished at that view.

I would like you to visit some of my friends round the world and talk to them about the realities of being a Christian in the wider world. Then perhaps you will see life from a different angle, and the issues of faith in a different context.

Here's an interesting one to start with:

As for leaving my name, I don't have a blooger account so no choice! Sorry!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

No,no, sorry for the misunderstanding. I'm sure you're a nice person. I'm just pointing out that your comments are a little too derisive of the conservative view, do not really serve to increase understanding, and do not really address the relevant issues of this post. The issues of latin, HC ministers, and altar servers have been discussed before and are perhaps tangential. You also sound offended that people hold conservative views, and seem to think that we in Singapore are quite stupid for not seeing reality.

Or perhaps there is a misunderstanding. The reason why we want to ask why priests are leaving is not to say that people are wrong to leave the country. The Church is much bigger than our little island. The reason we are raising this question is because some believe that the local archdiocese is not doing the right things to attract the right people. We want to address this issue.

Your views are most welcome. In fact, I agree with you, but I don't see how they connect to the question I was asking, which was whether the local archdiocese is doing enough to attract the right people.

So, if I may try to address your points, are you trying to tell us that we are too cloistered, and that we should not even be bothered at all with the question of why people are not joining the archdiocese? After all, we are in agreement that we do still have many priests compared to other countries, and are blessed in many ways. Maybe it's just a dumb question, and I fully appreciate that others tell me so. However, I don't think that the question of why people are not joining the archdiocesan priesthood is insignificant just because other countries are much poorer off.

You also say that "in order to increase reception of and access to the sacraments, in many cases the laity are absolutely crucial".
Yes, the laity can do much, but can you elaborate?


p.s. You can add your name to a comment while still using the anonymous function.

Daniel said...

I'm not sure "attracting" young men to the priesthood is such a good word to use. It makes it seem like we're selling the vocation. I'm also not sure that we should focus only on the potential priests and forget all the other young people.

What's important, I feel, is that our young people need to firstly develop a personal relationship with God; and secondly, to see where God is calling them to serve in life. This is applicable to all peoples, especially the young who are just starting out of the rest of their lives.

One experience I've had while journeying towards the priesthood in Singapore is that once you decide that priesthood is not for you, the people making the vocation "attractive" lose all interest in you and move on to new targets... and you are left hanging with no idea of where God is calling you to serve.

The priesthood is just on expression of our personal relationship with God. That personal relationship needs to be cultivated in as many people as possible. That's where, I feel, the emphasis should be on.

[No hard feelings, Chris. And thanks for sharing with me the other day.]

Daniel said...

A question occurred to me the other day when I thought about one of Norman's comments regarding Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. He wrote that "the danger here is in the laity thinking it is a proper 'ministry' for them."

That got me asking: If it's not a proper ministry, why are they called 'ministers'?

Incidentally, I was not the 'anonymous' that's been posting on this blog. You might have realised this when s/he said that s/he doesn't have a blooger account. S/he can still leave a name at the end of the post, like Chris does, i.e.:

- chrisyeo

It certainly is hard dealing with an anonymous, because there might be more than one anonymous persons out there.

In any case, while I don't agree with the tone s/he used, s/he does raise some important points, such as the need to look beyond the borders of the island and see the needs of the Church at large. When we focus too much on the Church in Singapore, we tend to get caught up in all the nitty-gritties that end up in us squabbling over petty issues that Jesus frequently reprimanded the Pharisees of his time for.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, let me explain.

EMHCs are not a proper, permanent ministry for the laity because they are substitutes for priests in the very specific situation of not having enough priests to distribute holy communion at Mass. They are "Extra-Ordinary Ministers" - ie "Not An Ordinary Minister". The Priest is the Ordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

I have no problems with calling EMHCs "ministers". I have problems with people (and EMHCs themselves) not being aware that they are merely substitutes in the specific situation mentioned above.

For example, you have 4 priests and 10 EMHCs distributing HC at Mass. Should 2 more priests turn up, at least two of the EMHCs will have to make way. If there is one priest and 1 EMHC and only 50 people in the congregation, then the EMHC will have to excuse himself. Another excellent example is that at the Cathedral, should the queue to the Priest dwindle, the other EMHCs will stop distributing and direct people to the priest.


Anonymous said...

Well the central problem is that the queue to the Priest more often than not is the last one to finish, so it is unlikely that EHMCs would be able to stop distributing and direct people to the Priest.

That the using of EHMCs as 'topping up' where there are not enough should really be the norm. During Communion, it really should be every available Priest that is distributing, not just the one who is celebrating or the con-celebrants. If this simple matter has to be enshrined in Canon Law and strictly enforced before it happens, then so be it.

Further there are EHMCs who are apprehensive about Communion on the tongue. What's there to be apprehensive about, Communion on the tongue is the norm, Communion on the hand is the indult. If one is not comfortable with it then dont be an EHMC.

ChrisYeo said...


I think this discussion on Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion seems to be quite far from my original intent. Perhaps one of you wish to begin a new post on it?

Anyway, back to the issue of priestly vocation in Singapore, I actually find it hard to understand the link between this paragraph and the other points in Norman's 3rd comment:

God help us if we introduce female altar servers, or have more clueless choir "directors" who choose heretical hymns, "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs, and pooh-pooh Latin, priests who add words to the Mass, more and more Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (as though its a "ministry" for the laity) and so on.

I must confess that the linked article was a little too lengthy to read, but my guess is that Norman was alluding to the need to understand and take Mass and the Eucharist much more seriously. By 'diluting' the nature of the Holy Mass, we are in danger of losing sight of its true significance. Perhaps that is part of the reason why priestly vocation is dwindling in Singapore.

So for me, this discussion of EMHCs is perhaps a reminder of how extraordinary the gift of Communion is, and that having Mass function like clockwork on the hour is not the way to go. Like anon. said, perhaps we need a reality check.

Anonymous said...

"I must confess that the linked article was a little too lengthy to read, but my guess is that Norman was alluding to the need to understand and take Mass and the Eucharist much more seriously. By 'diluting' the nature of the Holy Mass, we are in danger of losing sight of its true significance. Perhaps that is part of the reason why priestly vocation is dwindling in Singapore."

This I would fully agree with, but its not only 'diluting' the nature of the Holy Mass it is also the loss of the sense of sacred. The Mass and the Eucharist cannot be stripped of all mystery.