Catholic News 12-Nov-2023
CTIS: Forming the laity to evangelise
In 2013, a number of Archdiocesan Organisations were set up to serve the local Church. CATHOLIC NEWS catches up with some of them to find out how they have evolved in the past 10 years.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Singapore’s first institution devoted to systematic theological formation – the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS). In its academic prospectus of 2017, Archbishop William Goh explained that CTIS was the fulfilment of “a dream of our Church in Singapore; a dream born out of necessity to equip our lay leaders with the necessary knowledge of the Church’s teachings so that they can collaborate with our priests and religious in the work of the New Evangelisation.”
Standing up for Jesus
The Archbishop encouraged “those of you who have a role in imparting the faith in one way or another especially those serving in the Church ministries (ministry leaders, catechists, co-ordinators, RCIA/RCIY sponsors, youth leaders) and those who desire to seriously live out their Christian calling to make Christ known to the world, to enrol for courses at CTIS.”
“You need to seriously arm yourself with the knowledge of the truth if you are going to stand up for your faith, for the Church, and for Jesus”, he said.
The Archbishop’s call did not go unheeded. Since its formation, CTIS has since seen more than 1,000 students from across the Archdiocese enrol in its English- and Mandarin-language theology programmes. In addition to their work and family commitments, these lay students attended regular classes, worked on both individual and group assignments and presentations, and studied for examinations that led to certificates and diplomas in theology awarded by CTIS. The Institute also welcomes audit students – those who wish to attend lectures without sitting for examinations. However, they are not offered any certification.
Sharing premises with the Saint Francis Xavier Major Seminary at Upper Bukit Timah Road, CTIS classes are usually held in the evenings, and students have the option of attending either online (via the Zoom platform) or in person.
Since 2016, both seminarians and lay students have shared a common academic programme, which, in addition to optimising resources, exposes both to a more diverse learning environment, with greater opportunities for the exchange of ideas in classroom discussions.
“In these past 10 years, not counting the present cohort of 300 students, more than 564 Catholics from all walks of life have graduated from CTIS,” said its Rector, Monsignor James Yeo. “In addition to being better equipped to participate in the mission of the Church, it is also important, in the Singaporean context where Catholics live and work side-by-side with people of other faiths, that they stand ready to give an account of their beliefs to others. In a pluralistic society, this theological formation will be most necessary in providing and clarifying the reasons for our faith and discipleship in Jesus Christ.”
Msgr Yeo is assisted by CTIS Vice-Rector Father John Chen, the assistant priest of the Church of the Risen Christ, who oversees CTIS’ Mandarin Department. The CTIS Board of Management also advises the Rector on legal, social, cultural, and academic matters as well as those pertaining to finance and funding.
Empowering the faithful
CTIS graduate Mr Christopher Yu, 41, a catechist at the Church of the Holy Trinity, shared, “CTIS formation has empowered me to be a more effective instrument of the Holy Spirit when engaging with my teen students. It also allows me to see how God spoke to the Church Fathers (the pastors and theologians of the early Church), and through them, how He speaks to us today.” Although most CTIS students and graduates are Singaporean, there are some who hail from other parts of the region. Lillian Law, in her 30s, a teacher at St Joseph’s Private School in Kuching, Sarawak, is one such example. Working in her parish youth ministry before taking up the Certificate in Theology at CTIS, she found the studies helped to change the way she approached the formation of the young.
Like Mr Yu, she appreciated the “bigger picture” that the CTIS formation provided. “It deepened my understanding of the teachings of our Church, especially in the interconnectedness of our faith with other religions, history, and communities. This appreciation is what continues to inspire me to share what I have learnt with our young Catholics today,” she said.
One graduate who has gone even further afield in mission is Ms Olivia Vong, 32, a former Ministry of Education educator who now serves as a youth minister in the Archdiocese of Glasgow, Scotland. “I found the [CTIS] material useful as I was able to take my time to process it and later teach it in a way that makes sense to young people today,” she said, noting her appreciation for the Institute’s faculty who “gave her the independence and support” to explore areas of academic interest within theology.
Drawing closer to God
The two most-represented parish ministries among CTIS graduates are those from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and the catechists, since formation of the intellect is most explicitly carried out within the ambit of these ministries. The largest percentage of graduates, however, are laity who are not involved in any ministry work, but who simply desire to learn more about their faith.
Whether inspired by ministry work or intellectual curiosity, those who study at CTIS invariably come to a greater understanding of the Church they belong to and the God whom they worship. Mr Arthur Goh, CTIS academic director, sees this as the fulfilment of the Institute’s aim. “What makes me most appreciative of the work we do is when students realise a broader appreciation of the Church and God’s plan than the one they received in their earlier years – and when they express the desire to live up to their vocations,” he said.
Passing on the flame
In keeping with that desire, CTIS graduates have come together in recent years to set up the CTIS Alumni Association. Ms Peggy Lee, the first elected chairperson of the Association, shared that the aim of the group is to maintain connections, support CTIS, and continue in theological pursuits as a community. “We want to evangelise and bring Christ to others, and others to Christ,” she said.
To this end, the Alumni Association organises roadshows around the Archdiocese to encourage new sign-ups, thus continuing the fulfilment of the CTIS dream of forming more missionary disciples and witnesses of Christ. The Association also organises talks on topics such as Catholic Social Teaching for the continuing education of CTIS alumni.
For those considering CTIS as part of their intellectual formation, Ms Vong counsels that “the study of theology is not something purely academic or intellectual. It is something that should be lived, going hand-in-hand with your own faith journey. How can this knowledge of God and His Church, make me a better person, a better Catholic, or better child of God?”