“Faith Has To Be Experienced”: Joesen Francis Wong found God through a painful encounter and is now discovering the joy of serving

It all began with an ear infection. Having seen the doctor and taken medication without much improvement, I muttered one night, “Dear Lord, if you can take away this pain, I will follow you, I will trust you and I will go to your Church.”

The infection gradually took a turn for the better. My grandmother thought it was the medication. Yet, I knew it was Christ who made things well.

I started researching on the church nearest to my home, and lo and behold, the bells of Saint Mary’s of the Angels (SMOTA) rang at that instant. I resolved to head down. What greeted me, however, was an unpleasant sight – a funeral; I was scared and walked away.

I called a non-Catholic friend to join me in exploring the church again the next day. We saw the façade, and how beautiful it was. The peace and serenity that I was craving for, was somehow found there.

Upon exiting the church, I bumped into a guy walking from the parish office and was prompted to reach out. I told him that I was interested in knowing more about the church and Christ. He turned out to be a Catechist and brought me to the Youth Catechist Office.

“What am I supposed to do, Lord?”

Serving Our Lord

Fast forward two years later, I became a Catholic. The first question I asked was, “What am I supposed to do, Lord?” He gave me an answer in a way that I had not imagined.

Having attended mass at various churches, I had felt drawn to altar-serving – the way the altar servers held themselves and assisted the Priest, but most of all, the proximity to Christ. No one else, besides the priest, can be so closely connected to God, physically and spiritually.

However, the altar-servers at SMOTA were generally young. I felt overaged and did not think I would fit in with them.

Months went by, I received a call from a friend who told me that the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (CGS) was looking for volunteers, including that of altar-servers. I felt that it was an opportunity to serve God, and told my friend to sign me up immediately.

I was introduced to the head server and joined them a few months prior to the Cathedral’s re-opening on 20 November 2016. I started by serving at St. Joseph’s Church, and even had a sneak peak of the renovations.

By the time the first mass could be celebrated at the Cathedral in December 2016, we were ready to head back to our Mother Church (CSG).  In the weeks that followed, there was much excitement adapting to our new home.

 

Venturing Further to Serve

Though my home is at Bukit Batok, I did not mind travelling every weekend to City Hall to serve.

“the journey felt like a weekly pilgrimage”

I love the church and its people especially those serving alongside me. I cherish this commitment even more, because unlike the proximity of SMOTA, the journey to the Cathedral felt like a weekly pilgrimage. The fellowship and friendship after each mass further brought us to grow as a faith community.

As I progressed, I got to know the team at the Cathedral office, and a few other volunteers in the Archdiocese Communications Productions (ArchProductions) team, like Linus and Michelle.

Our paths crossed each time there was a live stream session; the team would be setting up the equipment while the altar servers were preparing the altar for mass. We exchanged contacts and within 3 months, I was recruited into the ArchProductions team. I felt edified in being able to contribute in a media-related arena.

Having graduated with a Diploma in Industrial Design which I did not feel acquainted to, I felt that God was showing me a path that I am interested in, and can be called to, which in this instance, is Videography. It has indeed been an honour to serve the Archdiocese and our Archbishop.

“I felt that God was showing me a path”

The Next Phase – Perugia, Italy

In early 2020, after completing my national service, I wanted to embark on a new journey to  further my studies. I made the decision to pursue my tertiary education in Italy as the courses are accessible and affordable.

Around October 2020, I started studying the language and culture at Perugia. In the process, I realise how different the faith, the churches, and the people here are.

Though I chose to attend mass at the Church of San Filippo Neri, I did not want to rush to join a ministry without understanding their language and background. I did, however, indicate my willingness to serve as an altar-server. The Priest was ever-ready to take me in, and on the next day, I was happily celebrating mass and serving as an altar-server.

Yet, I struggle with the aging population here, because the youth in Italy have a different concept about spirituality and religion. They are not motivated to attend mass, let alone serve and understand more about their faith.

This was evident when I served at my first mass, as after that, a group of older Catholics rushed to the sacristy to inquire about me- this young Asian Catholic serving mass with reverence. I was in shock, but it was also then that I found out that the priest whom I was serving alongside at this parish is a Monsignor, a Vicar-General!

I am glad that masses are celebrated here daily, be it live or online. Some churches are also open for private worship and adoration. My journey in Italy thus far has been fulfilling. I will continue to immerse myself in this parish and community, while seeking to understand them better, in a gentler fashion.

In the near future, I would like to use the media knowledge that I have acquired in Singapore to bring good-quality videos and livestream sessions to those attending mass at home in Italy. This might appeal to the younger generation and perhaps revive the Catholic community, and hopefully more pews in the churches will be filled.

———

Till my return to Singapore, my prayer for the Catholic Church’s 200th anniversary

Dear Lord, I thank you for the experience that you are giving me in Italy, in this Church of San Filippo Neri, which is so beautiful and that I am excited about. For those who are not inclined to the faith, nor believe in you, please touch the hearts of these individuals in a very special way, in your time.

I also pray for the Archdiocese of Singapore, the Archbishop, that this community will continue to grow. Lastly, I also offer up those who are suffering, and those who need you. Mother Mary, please continue to pray on our behalf. Amen.

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