A MILD mannered and soft-spoken Franciscan Friar had firm words for the pandemic – “do not let the fear stop you serving God and the Church and the people”.
Franciscan Father Harry Chan likened the COVID-19 pandemic to the rampant spates of leprosy in the days of his order’s founder, St Francis of Assisi.
“Still, St Francis and the early friars, they devoted themselves to serve the lepers,” Fr Chan said.
“So, they wouldn’t let the fear stop them serving the people.”
St Francis’ courage had never steered Fr Chan wrong, having just celebrated 10 years since his solemn profession at St Mary of the Angels Church, Singapore, on August 2, 2010.
Fr Chan said the vows he took 10 years ago had set him free.
He said lots of people saw vows as “things you can’t do”.
It was quite the opposite, he said.
“Poverty – you live a simple life,” he said.
“Chastity – you’re not just loving one person, you love all people.
“Obedience – you try to be attentive to the voice of God through obeying your religious superiors and the people around you.”
These were not restrictions “like what we have experienced in COVID-19 lockdown” because if you think deeper, “it’s all about freedom”.
Living in a religious community had freed him to a deeper joy, he said.
“I remember before I joined the Franciscan order, my spiritual director told me to live in a community life is like sandpaper – all of us are like sandpaper – we’re all trying to polish each other to become a better person,” he said.
He said when he first started to discern his vocational calling, all he could think about was getting ordained to become a priest.
But that flipped when he discovered the friars – his primary vocation became being a friar and secondary was priesthood.
And now, a decade on, Fr Chan was the guardian of the Kedron Friary.
By name, he was the leader of the friary; in reality, he served and looked after his fellow brothers.
Beyond the friary, Fr Chan could be found talking to students and blessing animals – or talking to animals and blessing students – in his role as Australian Catholic University Banyo Campus chaplain.
Being with people – in community at the friary or at ACU – was central to his vocation, which he said came from his big Catholic family in Hong Kong.
Fr Chan had three brothers and four sisters, and Sunday Masses were a must.
While he did not get to see his family as often anymore, he said they had always been a “great support” to his vocation.
“Every now and then, they give me comments like when they attend my Mass – they often give comments about my homilies,” he said with a laugh.
It was the joy his family brought him that drew him to living in a religious community over the diocesan path.
“I often say to people, those that are discerning their vocations, you’ve got to find joy in whatever you do – whether it’s married life, religious life, priesthood, consecrated life,” Fr Chan said.
“This is a joy that I’ve been experiencing in the Franciscan Order, in religious life.
“Sometimes it can be painful and disappointing, but you still are be able to find a joy if you have the right relationship with God.”