Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez's 40th Sacerdotal Ordination Jubilee

Some time ago, a priest from Malaysia went on retreat at a centre in the US. At the beginning of the week long retreat, each participant introduced themselves simply by name and their country of origin. No titles and job descriptions were permitted to allow for a better exchange of ideas and to emphasize fraternity for the duration of the retreat.

When he introduced himself as a priest from Malaysia, the priest was greeted by thundering applause and was treated with respect and deference. This puzzled him greatly so the Fathers enlightened him with this story.

One of the rules of the house is that a roster is drawn up and all the participants are assigned duties such as sweeping the floors, washing the dishes, setting the table and the like. Perhaps the most unpopular of these duties was of course, cleaning the toilets.

The person in charge starts asking for volunteers. First, Monday, sweeping the floors, and some hands go up. Setting the table, and more hands go up and so on. But when it comes to toilet duty, there are no volunteers until one solitary hand pops up in the back. Then Tuesday comes, and they go through the same drill until a volunteer is again needed for toilet duty. Still no other volunteers and again the same hand goes up. This continued for the duration of the week long retreat on the theme humility and discipleship.

Finally, at the conclusion, each participant was asked to describe his title and responsibilities and provide a full introduction. The participants introduced themselves as Vicars General and Monsignori and other religious and diocesan priests. They went round the room until they reach the toilet cleaner who was of course none other then Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur. =)

This revelation was a great shock, to say the least, to the Fathers and participants who expected the little Indian priest with a knack for cleaning toilets to be a simple vicar of a far off parish and not a Metropolitan Archbishop. It was by his example and deeds that Archbishop Soter taught them more about the retreat theme of humility and discipleship than everything else they picked up during the course.

And it was because of Archbishop Soter that the Malaysian priest received a thunderous ovation and perhaps garnered an expectation to clean the toilets as well? =)

Archbishop Soter Fernandez is one of the most humble and Christ-like of anyone I know as the anecdote above illustrated.

Here, the Archbishop graciously consented to wear the pectoral cross I presented him.

On Sunday, December 10th 2006, Archbishop Emeritus Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the Catholic Priesthood. In thanksgiving for this occasion, a Mass was held in the College General Seminarty Chapel of the Sacred Heart on Monday to enable his fellow jubilarian and classmate Rev. Fr. Francis Anthony to join in.

Fr. Francis Anthony was ordained together with Archbishop Soter, and had previously served for many years as Rector of the Seminary and is currently Rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. His busy schedule only permitted him to join in the celebrations on Monday.

To commemorate this occasion, Mark(the altar server) and myself presented the Archbishop with a gift of an inscribed pectoral cross. Mark(in Ireland) bought this in Singapore for me some time back. It just goes to show that it helps to have pectoral crosses lying around cos you never know when one might come in handy. =)


Archbishop Soter was the main celebrant.

The Archbishop before Jesus His Lord.

Fr. Francis Anthony was a concelebrant and the homilist. In his homily Fr. Francis, who used to teach Scripture at the Seminary when he was Rector, gave the seminarians an exposition of the meaning of priesthhood. 'When I was young, I decided where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. Now that I am old, I am told where to go and what to do. I was the Bishop's[refering to Bishop Antony Selvanayagam of Penang] senior and gave him orders. Now I take orders from him.' With this introduction, Fr. went to stress to them the importance of obedience in the life of a priest.

Using his schedule of 3 Masses, numerous meetings and simultaneous lunch and dinner appointments on the anniversary of his ordination on Sunday as an example, Fr. also highlighted the importance of fidelity. Fidelity, Fr. says, is not merely not having sexual relations and the big things like that. Citing the fact that he was a Chelsea fan, Fr. noted that he had to give up watching the game against Arsenal because he had to celebrate Mass the next day and that fidelity is displayed in the small things and everyday sacrifices that a priest has to undertake in carrying out his mission. Citing his busy Sunday schedule, Fr. also said that he had to sacrifice commemorating his anniversary because of his pastoral duties.

Fr. also stressed the importance of joy and laughter in the priesthood and how joy must permeate our lives if we want to bring others to Christ.

If you note the photo above and the one below, you'll note that when Fr. FA started his homily, it was still bright and the sun was still up. The photos below show that by the offertory, the sun had set.


Bishop Antony of Penang concelebrated the Mass. The current Rector, Fr. Edwin Paul and Fr. Gerard Theraviam also concelebrated.

The celebrants after the Mass.
At the recessional, singing the hymn "Follow Christ".
Archbishop Soter, in his concluding remarks, noted that not a single relative of his or Fr. Francis Anthony's were present to celebrate this anniversary with them. This made him realize more than the seminary community and those present there were now his family in Christ.

Everyone then took a group photo to commemorate the occasion.

When I took the opportunity to wish Fr. Francis Anthony many more years, he quickly quipped "No, no, not too many more. 40 is enough" =))

Well, thats just too bad cos here's wishing Archbishop Soter and Fr. FA many many more faithful years of service in the Lord's vineyard.

Ad multos annos!

3 comments:

Mark said...

ad multos annos indeed....i remember that cross... hehe... anyway, it's nice to see 3 chasubles... and also that the liturgy in the seminary is stil under the guidance of the Archbishop Emeritus... and that not much hanky panky is allowed with the liturgy by Malaysian standards...

Andrew said...

"We come to you Father with praise and thanksgiving".

When I heard Archbishop Soter start it off, I was thinking how appropriate it was indeed. Glad that the Roman Canon was used.

They do have the chasubles you know. Its just that they choose not to use them.

How's the Irish pics coming?

Wendy said...

Archbishop Soter used to work with my grandfather, William Dielenberg when he was a hospital assistant in the 1950's.