Seminarian Matthew Sim Tzong Haur

Pastoral Formation in Chicago

matthew1This is my second year in formation with Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers as a seminarian in Chicago. I am currently doing my philosophy and theology pre-requisites at Catholic Theological Union. 

Besides intellectual formation, Maryknoll also forms us in many other areas. One of these areas is pastoral formation through ministerial involvement in the local community. Here at Chicago Initial Formation House, the formation team believes that missions begin even at home – that we must be ready to cross over into the diversity of cultures already existing in the United States. 

For my first year in formation, I managed to find ministerial work as a teacher assistant, at San Miguel School at the Back of the Yards. This middle school hosts students mainly of hispanic background. It was my first time serving in a Hispanic community and it was a period of growth for me while journeying with them. The culture of this community has similarities with my Asian background in that they hold on to a very strong communal spirit. Yet, there are differences such as,  they are very personal and they are very warm in their greetings. 

One of the enriching experiences I had was how the learning community reacted after some announcements of policies changes regarding immigration were made earlier this year. There was great solidarity among the people, and the teachers encouraged the students to reflect on the sacred Scriptures to find peace and guidance in dealing with the situation. It was for me, an eye-opening, to how an institute can change the outlook of the challenges of life in the light of the Gospel, when the student-made banners started appearing along the hallways.

Now, in my second year of formation, I am serving the Chicago community in two different capacities. Through the St. Thomas the Apostle parish, matthew2I have been trained as a Minister of Care. In this role, I visit the Univeristy of Chicago Hospital twice a week to offer companionship, prayers and communion services. On the weekends, I serve as a youth minister at the Korean Martyrs Catholic Church. Here, I accompany the youths in their journey of faith through reflecting on the scriptures and developing projects for community service learning.

As a Minister of Care, I meet a great diversity of people at the hospital. People from different ethnic backgrounds, social standings and occupations all have their identities erased temporarily as they assume the role as a patient. Some of them have been there for a long time, others just for a couple of days for a check-up. In meeting these people, I am offered an opportunity to share the Eucharist with them. In our prayers together, we find peace in that Jesus accompanies us even when we are unable to attend Mass. 

With the people I visit, I have experienced with them, their anxiety when they await a procedure, or the results of their recent tests. I am included in their joy when I visit people who have received news that they are ready to be discharged. But out of all these experiences, I enjoy most the peacefulness after they and their family receive communion and pray in silence in thanksgiving. 

matthew4On Sundays, I accompany Korean-American youths in their journey of faith. It is a privilege for me to be welcomed into a culture that is different from my Chinese-Singaporean background. Through this opportunity to serve them, I am given the chance to experience the great hospitality of the Korean culture. I learnt from them, a more solemn and serene manner of encountering the liturgy. I encounter familiar presentation symbols in their worship that I can identify with, deep bows, longer silent pauses in the transitions during the liturgy and holding of hands during prayers.

The Korean-American youths are very inclusive. They guide me in understanding their cultural practices and spirituality, while I share my experiences in hope that they will enrich their perspectives. This is the first time I am working with this age grade (grade 9 – 12). Our interaction is refreshing for me as they explain to me their experiences in the American middle and high school system. matthew3I also recently learnt from them, the anxiety of college application. These mature youths share their perspectives of how the Scriptures can advise our day-to-day encounters. During our envisioning activity, their desire to enter into a deeper relationship with God, and at the same time, to develop deeper bonds within their community gave me great joy in the knowledge that even at their age, they understood the Golden Rule

(Mark 12: 30 – 31) of our faith.

I pray daily for God’s continual inspiration to accompany the people in my ministries. I humbly ask for your prayers, for the different groups of people that I am acommpanying, and I especially ask for your prayers that the Holy Spirit will guide me to be a impactful instrument of God, for these people I meet in my ministry.