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St Ignatius Church in Petaling Jaya. Photo taken earlier in Feb 2020 from its Costantini Community Centre.

Things of the earth will grow strangely dim

OCT 3, 2020. This personal reflection was written by Journey With Us in April for Catholic Asian News but publication was not possible due to MCO. This article now appears in its September issue and is republished here with permission.

The monstrance stood on the light gray altar under the dim lights at St Ignatius Church in Petaling Jaya. The ornate vessel in deep gold sparkled as light reflected on every small detail of its design, making it the brightest of objects in the church.

I was looking at the monstrance but found it hard to rein in my wandering mind and to focus on God. The nightmare called coronavirus was weighing heavily on me and my heart was soaked with anger and fear. How many people will be affected, how badly would it cripple the healthcare system and the economy, and how both apathy and panic-buying were making the situation worse.

The monstrance on the altar at St Ignatius Church in Petaling Jaya. Photo taken on March 16, 2020, hours before the announcement declaring MCO was to be enforced on March 18.

All these thoughts and worries were supposed to have been left at the door when entering the church. But I brought them all with me as I genuflected and sat at the pew making sure I kept a decent distance from the rest. I knelt to pray and they were still with me.

Try as I may but I just could not shake off all the negative emotions that had clogged up my heart. Just then I heard someone singing softly at the back. It was too faint to make out what he was singing but my heart went quiet and all that negativity started to slip away.  

I looked up at the monstrance again and only then realised that behind all that glittering gold was the body of the most powerful Person in the world – the Risen Christ, our Redeemer.

Just then an old song dropped into my heart:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

I sang it to myself ever so softly over and over again until like a lullaby it calmed me. Until He calmed me. My eyes lifted up above the monstrance to the cross mounted on what looked like silver-grey pearl wall under the dim lights. On that wall was a dark wooden cruficied Jesus held up by a cross. The one act that saved humanity, given us hope and restored our relationship with God, the Father.

It was the morning of March 16 and there were a few of us in the church. We were all sitting far apart, each in our quiet little space facing the altar and talking to Him in our own way.

An empty church

The monstrance was brought out for those in the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration group and others to pray before the Holy Sacrament when the spread of the Covid-19 got wider and it started eating up lives by the hundreds.

The adorers usually prayed in the prayer room but because it was a tiny air-conditioned room, the church decided to bring  the monstrance out to a more spacious place, which was the church and with the windows and doors open. This was so we could adhere to physical distancing.

That night there was a government announcement saying the Movement Control Order was to be enforced on March 18. My husband and I decided to go back to church again on March 17, to spend quiet time before God. For me, it was to look at the monstrance again and tell myself that this was the Body of Jesus Christ who performed many great miracles when He was on earth and when He was resurrected He said we would see greater miracles. To ask Him for a miracle at a time when we were all scared and lost.

When I left that day, I kept trying to pacify myself that God can be worshipped anywhere. For now, corporate worship, that builds us as a community of believers, will need to be on hold.

St Ignatius Church is where we have been coming for mass and formation classes for the past few years. It was hard to see it all empty now that the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur had the previous week said that all masses would be suspended.

The church is always overflowing with people during weekend masses with its almost 5,000 parishioners. She stands right next to the Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong in Petaling Jaya, has the statue of Jesus in a carve-out in the multipurpose building next to the church, which is the Costantini Community Centre. You’ll be able to see this from the LDP when heading towards Puchong.

Church’s history

The St Ignatius Church started in the 1960s in a newly-opened village called Sungei Way. A wooden house was turned into a chapel by a Jesuit priest, Fr Edmund Sullivan, who was sent there to minister to the Catholics living in the village. This chapel was the original church, according to the church website.

With time the congregation grew and the tiny chapel became a hub of activity from prayer sessions to catechism classes, coffee mornings and such. It was also bursting at its seems and so in the early 1970s, it was decided that a new and bigger church was needed and a fundraising was initiated to get the resources to embark on this project.

In 1973, the Congregation of the Disciples of the Lord (also known as Congregatio Discipulorum Domini in Latin or CDD) donated a parcel of their land in Taman Plaza for the new church. This is the church’s present location. Since then the St Ignatius Church has been served by the CDD priests. This is a Catholic religious institute founded by Cardinal Celso Costantini in 1927 at Xuanhua of Hebei Province in China.

Building works only started in 1987 once the church had gotten approvals to convert the status of the land from agricultural land and to construct a church. The new church, along with the Training Centre and Parochial House, was completed in August 1988. In 1994, the Training Centre was expanded to hold more halls and rooms and it was called the Constantini Community Centre.

The church is still a hub of activity, at least up to the time before masses and activities were suspended. There will be women rushing for exercise or yoga classes on Monday mornings. The prayer room would see constant movement of people, coming to say a quick prayer or staying on for long hours of adoration. The evenings would see groups of people chatting with one another and cackling away before the start of a formation class or at the end of it.

Sunday mornings were always the busiest, with three masses in the first half of the day and one in the evening and different ministries setting up tables at the entrance to the church, encouraging parishioners to join the formation or participate in an activity. Children running back and forth, and parents trying to control them.   

This year there was no penitential service and no long queues of people snaking all around the church grounds and leading into the church for people to be directed to the many priests waiting to hear confessions. There will be no Palm Sunday procession and no masses during Holy Week. Easter will be a quiet affair at home. There has never been a Lent like this for any one of us and I believe we will never be the same after this.

I look forward to seeing everyone soon, and standing before the Holy Eucharist once again. I would probably get all emotional when we come to the part during mass when we turn to one another and say “Peace be with you”, knowing that we all made it through this harrowing experience and we did it because of Jesus, our Savior.  

St Ignatius Church in Petaling Jaya