The College General feast day celebrates the memory of those who died for their faith.
IT was 4pm. I felt like I was being baked alive by the scorching sun as I sat in my car, even though the air-conditioner was turned on full blast. I was going to take my mother to a Catholic seminary training institute known in Penang as College General.
I was playing the organ for a celebration that day. It was the College General’s feast day, a day for remembering the students of the College from the 1800s, specifically those who gave up their lives for their faith. They were martyred for their belief overseas.
While I was driving, I remembered how years ago when I was a child, my mum would be the one driving and I was a little boy tagging along with her. As she was a language teacher there (and still is today), I knew of the activities run by the College quite well.
It would get very busy, organising the yearly special day with a special feast day Mass, and a gathering after that. Some years, I remember they would come up with dramas and plays about the history of the College, and also about their cherished saints.
During the course of the feast day, I would see the seminarians (students who are studying to be priests) working hard. Over the years, I’ve met some of the seminarians who had graduated, returning to celebrate Mass during the College feast day. In fact, the current Rector of the College, Father Gerard Theravium, was a seminarian when I attended Mass years ago. I have since made friends with the community of priests and seminarians along the way.
Although I was not a student there, for many of the people in Penang, the College had a special connection with us.
Established since 1665 after relocating several times in a few Asian countries, the College was finally set up in Penang in 1808. As a child, when I walked through the huge College General site at Kelawei Road, the buildings seemed like passageways of history. Seeing those huge arches made me think that the early seminarians were very tall! There wasn’t any information on the walls, but the old building made me imagine the various people who had walked in this seminary years ago.
I’m not a child anymore, and with age, my size has expanded horizontally over the years. The only thing that has receded is my hair line. As I was helping my mother get down from the car, I realised we had switched roles as she used to be the one who would make sure that I got down safely from the car when I was a kid.
This was my first time back, attending the celebration after 10 years. When we reached the College, I saw a new batch of seminarians busy preparing for the Mass which was to be celebrated outdoors. They had done a wonderful job transforming the garden into a lovely outdoor sanctuary.
The seminarians had the same serious look as the ones I saw years ago during the College feast day. In a few years time, they would be priests and another new batch of students would be busy preparing for this occasion. Amongst them was the physically towering Father Gerard who was busy checking to ensure everything was in order.
The various hymns and prayers said in the Mass, as always, enriched my soul. It was truly a meaningful feast day for me. Right behind me where I was playing the organ were the statues of the martyrs. In our fast paced world, today’s advanced technology becomes tomorrow’s obsolete technology. Yet when I looked at the statues, I felt glad.
I had the privilege of participating in the yearly celebration that was based on the selfless dedication of the College General martyrs, who gave up their lives for their faith more than a century ago. Their actions were not considered obsolete by today’s standard, but absolute for us to remember, so that we may treasure God’s love and share it with others, just like how they did.
As the Mass ended, I saw the bigger picture of how the seminary appeared as a passage way for all of us to pass through in life. We may not be around for eternity, but the College General will stand the test of time as the next round of seminarians and priests choose their vocation in time to come. And just like the specks of light bursting through the seams of the puffed clouds that evening, we are also little specks of light called to illuminate the world with God’s love.