Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Friars of Hillview (2)


In an earlier blog, I introduced the Franciscan Friars who live at the hilltop of what is now the Church of St Mary of the Angels at Bukit Batok.

Historically, there were 2 different groups of Franciscan friars who worked at Bukit Batok.
The 1st group arrived in 1958. This group was the international chinese scholars whose given task was to produce anti-communist literature to counter the threat of communism in the region.

This group of friars was more reclusive as their priority was not directly to the catholics living in the district. They stayed from 1958 till 1970 when when they moved their Studium Sociologicum to Taiwan.

The 2nd group of Franciscan Friars were from Australia.
They came after the Archbishop of Singapore requested for their assistance in running a new parish. This new parish, or church administrative district, was carved out of the huge domain of St Joseph Bukit Timah.
This later group of 4 Friars were tasked to look after the welfare of the Catholics living in an area marked out in Bukit Batok, Jurong East and parts of Bukit Timah area.

Catholics living at Hillview and Princess Elizabeth Estate were in a quandary.
The new Franciscan parish church was at their doorstep, just a short distance away down Hillview Avenue. It was easier to get to St Mary than their own parish church St Joseph at Upper Bukit Timah.
But 'technically', they were still within the boundary of St Joseph's.
Should they 'defect' and join the new church out of convenience?
It was left to the Catholics themselves to decide which church to attend.
So, many like myself, found ourselves shuttling between the two but most eventually settled for one or the other.

The Australian friars slowly built up the community from an initial 20 rural families to today's congregation of over 7,000. The Australian friars have now been replaced by local friars whom they had trained up over the years.

The Christian faith calls for all believers to be saints, i.e. to be holy.
The honorific 'St.' conferred by the Catholic Church goes beyond this call.
Among the millions of believers over the centuries, occasionally one or two individuals pops up who, by their lives or work, exemplifies holiness beyond the norm.

It is not easy at all for a Catholic to be a Saint.
Firstly, you got be be dead!
Then, whilst being dead, you have to perform two verified miracles.
How is this so? Like I said, it is not easy.

If Singapore were to lay claim on anyone who might possibly be a Saint, the nearest candidate would be someone very few would have heard of. He lived and worked at St Anthony Friary located at Old Jurong Road for two and half years as part of the team fighting communism in S.E.Asia.
His name is Friar Gabriel Allegra, originally from Sicily, Italy. He lived in Singapore from 1961 to 1963.

Fra Gabriel Allegra OFM.
Unlike other 'famous' personalities who may, or may not, eventually be called Saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Pope John Paul II who visited Singapore,  Friar Allegra actually lived in Singapore and would have moved all around the Bukit Batok area.

Friar Gabriel Allegra was the first person to translate the entire Bible into Chinese. His translation is still used as the definitive translation in the Catholic Church today. His cause for promotion to Sainthood is being actively promoted by the church in Hong Kong where he spent the last days of his life. He died in 1976.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II pronounced Gabriel Allegra as "Blessed', passing the 1st stage in the long process in gaining Sainthood. And yes, one miracle has been attributed to him. The Church needs another to qualify him as an official 'Saint'.

I recall speaking to another friar around 1990, Fr Fulgence Gross, who was one of the original chinese scholars and I asked him about Friar Allegra. "Oh, I couldn't stand that guy!", he exclaimed, "He was too good!"

I have never met Friar Allegra but I hope that one day he will be officially named a Saint, so that we can claim him as one of our our own.

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