In today’s Gospel, we hear of how Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be His disciples. In calling them Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Do we all believe that today here in this very Mass Jesus is calling us to be “fishers of men” too? In simpler terms, this means, “Do we believe that Jesus is calling each of us to make Him and the Good News of salvation known to people in our lives?” I believe all of us know that our answer has to be a “yes” if we are to continue to be Christians. There is no question about this because we all know that we cannot be Christians if we do not want to make Christ known. At this moment, perhaps some of us may be feeling: “Yes Lord, I want to be your disciple and make you known but, I don’t know how.” or “Lord I want to be your disciple but, I don’t have the time, or I don’t think I am that religious to get involved.”
To illustrate this, we could look at the life of how one Singaporean Catholic Christian, Paul Chin, lived his life. Our brother, Paul Chin, passed away many years ago. Like many of you, he was a businessman who had a family to feed. Like many of us, he was determined to succeed in life. He had dreams for his family and he wanted the best for them. So, (as one of Paul’s daughters confirmed,) in the early 70’s Paul went over to Australia with his wife and three daughters. He intended to set up or perhaps even build a business empire there. But, all he got, after investing huge sums of money was constant heartaches from the Australian government. They truly felt like second-class citizens. After six months, the pain was unbearable. They simply had to leave.
When Paul returned, it suddenly dawned on him that, if he, as a businessman of means had to go through torments such as being treated like a second class citizen, would not a refugee or a simple construction worker feel even much worse? Realizing this, Paul did not waste time. Even though he had to re-establish his business here in Singapore, he immediately offered to serve the needs of the refugees at Hawkin’s camp.
While trying to run his business at the same time, Paul would some how find time to visit the camp regularly with truckloads of vegetables and other needs for the refugees. He would often even cook the food he brought to the camp. If he could not collect food from donors and friends he would buy them with his own money.
Paul continued to serve the refugees for more than twenty years in this manner. When our former International Director of Jesuit Refugee Services, Fr Mark Raper,S.J. heard of Paul’s death, he sent a fax saying, “For me, (Paul) was a true saint. He was selfless, generous, humble, kind.”
Our Jesuit Refugee representative for South Asia, Fr C. Amalraj,S.J. of India also faxed and said, “When I heard of Paul’s sudden death, I broke down and cried.” He added, “When I took Paul to visit the untouchables in India, he went into their huts and hugged the dirty children and ate with them. I was shocked; even we Indians do not usually do such things. In fact, Paul was so moved by the plight of these children that he wept. So, when he returned to Singapore, he sent us enough help to benefit 200 children.
When Paul eventually retired from his business, he spent his time serving the migrant workers of Singapore - the poorest of the poor from Bangladesh, Thailand, Philippines, India, Myamar and Malaysia. In all those years of service, Paul would drive his van in his daily unending rounds of collecting food and distributing them. In all those years, Paul would neither utter a word of complaint, nor tell anyone including his family how much he was doing for the migrant workers. What counted for Paul was that God’s helpless children are cared for and not abandoned.
This was not all. His concern reached out to abused maids living in centres and the lepers of Singapore Lepers’ home. Not satisfied with the local scene, Paul would also raise funds to restore churches in Vietnam. He had also sent food and clothing on his friend’s barge to the needy in Indonesia. When, TCS’s “Extraordinary People” programme wanted to feature him, Paul humbly and politely declined.
In one of the wake services, a former Vietnamese refugee, now resettled in the States, shared movingly how much Paul had helped the Vietnamese refugees over the years. And so, at the end of the service, on behalf of the Vietnamese refugees, she bowed deeply before Paul’s body, knelt down, and kissed the ground on which the coffin of Paul laid, (as a symbol of reverence and honour to him,) for to her the ground on which Paul’s body lay, was holy ground.
Michelle, Paul’s daughter told me, “Dad, had a heart condition six years ago, yet he was always working and rushing all the time, for the migrant workers. When asked, he would always reassure us that he was well. We were very concerned about his health, yet we knew he was doing God’s work. So we did not want to be in his way. It is strange, in all this work, dad somehow still made sure he always had time for the family. He would even visit my sister in Australia twice yearly.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, there are other stories told, and testimonies and tributes made to Paul, which cannot be included here for lack of time. But, in all that I have said about Paul, I am sure all of us here would agree with me that Paul had lived a truly edifying Catholic Christian life. We are all proud to call him our brother in the Lord. And rightly so, we should all salute him for showing us how to live our life with more compassion and love, and for showing the world of the poor what being a true disciple of Jesus means.
Paul must have touched the hearts of thousands of people and have drawn them closer to God. Someone told me recently, that in India, many of the migrant workers who have returned would keep a picture of Paul in their homes. The reasons are obvious: they would all want to remember him. They would want to feel his compassion. They would also want to know that the world has people who still love and respect them even though they are “nobody” in society.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, while we are moved and edified by our brother Paul Chin’s life, we have to admit that very few or none of us can do what he has done; many different groups have to get together and indeed many are trying to continue the work of this one man.
If I were to try to put together what I am trying to say, and point out one important lesson we can learn from Paul’s life, then the lesson is that when it comes to love, -- more so as a Christian -- there should be no limits, no boundaries, and no class distinctions. This is precisely how Paul had shown each of us through his life. The one big difference between Paul and many of us is that his heart was bigger and his faith deeper than ours. His heart was big enough to love and care for everyone. And his faith was deep enough to trust that God would somehow give Him the strength he needed in his work. Paul dared to venture; he dared to act; he dared to love beyond what he knew and experienced. Thus, with regard to today’s Gospel of St Matthew, we could say that Paul dared to be a true disciple of Christ.
Coming back to ourselves, I believe, we too are each challenged to take up what God is posing to each of us regardless of who we are. This is because God too would want us to venture beyond what we have experienced – in terms of love and care for people. This may likely not be as dramatic and demanding as Paul. All God wants of us, at least for a start, is to love our families, friends, and particularly the strangers and the poor with a bigger heart and a deeper faith – as Paul has shown us. And if we dare to love with a bigger heart and trust God with a deeper faith then, we will begin to experience anew the deeper meaning of what the Gospel is trying to tell us today when Jesus said, “Come, I will make you fishers of men.”
Philip Heng, S.J.
Footnote: Paul Chin introduced his work and inspired members of St Vincent de Paul Society, St Ignatius Church to continue his ministry to migrant workers. Today the St Vincent de Paul Society of St Ignatius Church severs several hundred migrant workers free hot curry meal every Friday, at Norris Road at around 8.30pm. They also distribute dry food (e.g. rice, eggs etc) to another group of about 2000 migrant workers in Jurong East weekly.