I came from a very poor family. My parents had eight children, seven daughters and one son. I was the second child and at the age of 15 my father left us and was never seen again. My mother then had to go out and work to support us.
We could only afford to rent a room in a dilapidated timber house, where five other families were also living. We ate and slept in the tiny room and did our cooking in the communal kitchen.
My mother’s wages could hardly make ends meet. Many of the older children, including me, had to do odd jobs to help supplement the income to pay for rent, food, school books, fees and other necessities.
My mother sought welfare assistance from the government, as well as from the St Vincent de Paul Society. Relatives and friends donated provisions and second hand clothing to us. Even then we struggled to get enough food on the table each day.
Our plight was so obvious to others that they passed on to us any left-over food – a real treat as we got to eat meat and vegetables, not just plain rice with soy sauce or some dried shrimps.
My sisters and I attended the convent school each day without breakfast but the nuns offered us lunch in the orphanage after school.
We looked forward to festivals, Christmas and New Year celebrations when we were invited by relatives and friends to sumptuous meals, and received confectionery and pocket money.
My family’s religion was a combination of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. I learnt about Christianity from the nuns, from my Catholic relatives and from the Young Christian Workers (YCW) Movement. Through these contacts I started to reject superstitious and idolatrous practices and hungered for knowledge of the true God.
At catechumen classes I was fascinated by stories of the life of Jesus. The nuns taught us to sing hymns and encouraged us to pray in the chapel for petitions. Attending First Friday Masses at the cathedral was a good excuse to skip classes. When I stayed with my cousin, she taught me to pray before meals and before going to bed.
At a YCW camp, all of us were given a packet of fried rice, and I accidentally dropped mine on the ground. I was devastated because I was very hungry and the rice was cooked with all the ingredients we could never afford back home. A YCW leader offered me hers. I was greatly relieved that I got another portion and I did not even consider this person had gone without, nor did I think of sharing with her, only of satisfying my own hunger.
As I learned more of the gospels and applied them to my life, with the guidance of the YCW chaplain, I began to seek the presence of God at Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament. I was suffering from the growing pains of adolescence, as well as a massive inferiority complex, plus the humiliation of being a charity case. There was desperation in my prayers for the protection of my family and survival from poverty. I escaped often into the quiet of an empty church with nebulous thoughts to find peace, solace and strength. I believed it was those times which I spent with God that sustained me through a life of turbulence which engulfed me in later years.
The generosity and charity which we received from relatives, friends, neighbours and organisations were indeed the life of sharing that Jesus had taught. He touched the hearts of many people to provide for my family in our time of need. In doing so Jesus is God’s food for a hungry creation.
I was baptised in 1963 by my spiritual director upon my insistence, despite having only a rudimentary knowledge of the catechism. Receiving Holy Communion at the Eucharist had satisfied my hunger to be in union with God. I needed that nourishment from the body and blood of Christ to grow in faith and to do the will of God.