Encountering God in School: Natalie Chong, SJI and Joanna Ong, CJC

Archbishop Most Rev. William Goh’s pastoral letter on “Finding Alignment in Catholic Education” emphasises that a Catholic Education seeks to enable every young person to live a vibrant life and be the glory of God. This thus calls for inclusivity to love, dignify, serve, and lead, even as each school celebrates the richness of its own charism.

In this feature, Natalie Chong, a cradle Catholic from Saint Joseph’s Institution shares how having a regular prayer life in SJI has grounded her faith.

Similarly, Joanna Ong, who has been in the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) since she was 7 years old, sheds light on how being in a Catholic school has deeply rooted her faith, and strengthened her resolve to pay it forward as she steps into the next phase in life.

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Natalie Chong, Saint Joseph’s Institution

What I enjoy about school:

In SJI, I am blessed to be able to have morning prayers, celebrate mass and gather as a community in fellowship to worship God. As part of the Legion of Mary (LOM), I find it spiritually-nourishing when I pray together with like-minded friends. We meditate on the word and think of what or whom we would need to pray for collectively; even a simple prayer like ‘Hail Mary’ becomes more meaningful and intentional.

 

A test of my faith and values:

Having gone through dry seasons during Covid-19 where I could not reach out to my community, it has taught me to keep on persevering in my faith journey. My Catholic environment both at home and school has taught me the most important thing is to have the desire to experience and encounter Christ, and He will make things work for His glory.  I feel that as long as we open our hearts to accept His graces, be vulnerable and keep trying to be a better Catholic, He will always welcome us at any point in our lives.

In fact, looking back, there was once when I had to train very hard to be able to get into the Softball team during my Secondary school days. It was a new sport to me, and my coaches were very encouraging. Unfortunately, during the time when I was about to go for selection trials prior to a competition, I got quite badly injured and had to undergo surgery for my foot.

At that time, I did not know how to move forward and questioned God why He would allow such a freak accident to happen to me. Yet through my fears and disappointments, and prayers from my mum, I felt that God was watching over me, and that He had a greater plan for me. Eventually when I recovered, I worked even harder to make it to the team. So long as I keep trying, and trust in God, He has indeed proven to make things work for me in the end.

Subsequently in SJI, I joined a group of friends whom I can pray with and relate to in my faith journey. In my own little ways- such as treating others well, and in making the right though not easiest decisions- I can practise my faith and bring Christ closer especially to my non-Catholic friends.

For example, when I know some of them are tempted to cheat during tests, I do not agree to collaborate with them, but instead, encourage them to study together with me.  On other occasions if my friend comes to me with a difficulty, I try to remain objective and guide them towards making a sound decision. Had it not been how my Catholic education has molded me, I would not have the courage to engage and reach out to my fellow schoolmates of different backgrounds.

 

Passing on my faith to love, dignify, serve and lead:

Some of the key values I take along from my leadership roles in school will be to influence others in a patient manner. Through my upbringing and personal experiences in a Catholic school, I also hope to allow my friends of different faith to witness God’s love. Knowing that conflicting views will occur, I pray for the grace to be open to listen, take feedback constructively, and agree to disagree.

As I reflect on the Bible verses, one of the poignant takeaways is to trust in God and follow His plan. Hence, in the same way, my prayer for our Catholic200SG community is – “Amidst all these problems in our secular world, help us to be able to grow together as a church and a faith community, as much as we will blossom individually. May we overcome such tough situations and learn to show love and kindness as what we have been taught by Jesus.”

 

Joanna Ong, Catholic Junior College

Being a Catholic in a Catholic school:

Being in a Catholic school for 12 years thus far, I find it special as the culture of care has been very prominent. Teachers will have sessions where we mutually affirm each other about God’s presence in our life’s journey. Being surrounded by such positive influence helps me to be open and cope better in stressful times.

On days when we have masses, even my Non-Catholic friends are receptive to it. They are curious to find out more and be part of the school’s culture and practices. While they may not be of the same religion, they are able to see Christ through me.

In being vulnerable, and through talking to them about my personal experiences, I also seek to understand their issues and continue to extend my care and concern for them. These are examples of how having a Catholic education has made me more welcoming of others, and at the same time, pious and steadfast.

I am also involved in the Catholic Activities (“Genesis”) team in CJC, which has helped me to stay connected to God. In preparing for events for the community, we have our own retreats to grow deeper in our faith, so that we can reach out to the cohort more purposefully.

 

On Key values:

One of the key values I have been imparted from my education is honesty and trust. Being in a secular world with peer pressure, it is not always easy. Yet, in my open communication with my friends and beyond the challenges faced, I often journal and talk to God at night. I take comfort and trust in His greater plans for us because He knows best.

The other value that is intrinsic in me is to love others for who they are, despite their shortcomings and notwithstanding their actions which we may not agree with. I imagine myself to be in Jesus’ shoes, where I would ask, “What would Jesus do?”, and this helps me to accept and love my friends for who they are.

Through all the hurts and disappointments in life, I know that forgiveness is challenging, but not impossible by the grace of God. I recognise each of their individual struggles, yet also continue to be present for them subtly as an act of love. This would not have been possible had it not been for the nurturing Catholic environment in school.

 

Graces amidst the bumpy road:

Because of the expectations to do well academically, there are days when I do feel overwhelmed. Yet, I choose to entrust my stress upon God, even though it does not seem optimistic. I know that He has planted seeds of blessings around me. For example, in gifting me my family and friends who will constantly encourage me to press on.

Similarly, when Covid-19 struck last year, a lot of our planning for the community seemed to be wasted. Yet, the teachers were reassuring and helped me along the way. My loved ones were encouraging and prayed for me too.

Through such small acts in school and at home, I am able to envisage the Lord’s plans as proclaimed in Jeremiah 29:11 : “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” There is indeed no better way to keep going, except to trust in our Lord.

The battle of Jericho in the Book of Joshua also affirms how God is with us in fighting our battles. In the same way when our battles in life are chaotic and messy, we should surrender to God knowing that He is in control and will not fail us.

 

Sharing my faith beyond my Catholic education:

As part of my parish’s Music Ministry, I hope to continue to bring music and cheer to the youths through praise and worship. Before the Covid-19 pandemic when our ministry was involved at retreats, I realised that I can be God’s instrument to the (younger) retreatants. They remember our presence, my sharing, and often find themselves centred in Christ through the songs we play and sing.

In continuing to contribute in ways that I can, my prayer for all would be to seek God and trust in Him despite life’s challenges. As our faith strengthens, so will the Church, as a beacon of hope and light to all.

 

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