The Custody of the Holy Land today: Fr. Matthias, from Hong Kong to the SBF

800 years have passed since the friars arrived in the Middle East, and many things have changed since the beginning of this adventure. However, the commitment and dedication with which, for 800 years, the friars have guarded the holy places and have worked to serve the local people have not changed. For this reason, in order to understand what the Custody of the Holy Land is today, we must begin with them and their stories: they come from all over the world and from different countries and each of them has a specific mission.

Fr. Matthias Choi Chun Yuen is a young friar student, originally from Hong Kong, who has been living at St. Savior’s Monastery since 2014. Three years ago, his superiors told him: “We need a friar to study biblical theology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Do you want to go?” And Fr. Matthias agreed to go.

Why did you become a friar?
Because, after a pilgrimage to Assisi, I had a [pressing] question in my heart and mind: “What can I do for God?” I worked for four years as a lawyer and I saw good things, but also so many injustices. Money is not eternal, I realized. I had money and lived well, but I told myself I could not throw away my life like that. And [then] there was this pilgrimage with the Franciscan friars that touched me and convinced me [that I was called to be a friar]. And to think that I had gone on pilgrimage by chance… and I then started on my journey of vocational discernment.

What was your spiritual journey like and how did your family react?
I studied at Catholic school, but I was baptized when I was 21. I am the first Catholic in my family. Their religion was between Buddhism and Taoism.
China does not receive or accept Christians, because they are afraid of their influence. Instead, I studied in Hong Kong, which does not have the same rules as China because it was a British colony before. So, I was able to wear my habit and celebrate mass, whereas in China that was impossible.
My family had so many doubts about my vocation, because before becoming a friar, I had a good job. At that time, I wrote them letters to better explain [my decision]. I wrote [them] my thoughts about my work, my life [and] about what I wanted to become in the future. But they were worried. My father was especially worried about my life, about what I would become as a senior, without a wife or children. In fact, he had had a brutal experience while he was alone in the hospital and that was what made him fear for me. There was also the problem of the family surname, which, without having any children, would not be passed on.
Eventually, though, my dad came to accept [my choice]. Now, the situation is very good, because my parents have become Catholic, thanks to my little sister, who became Catholic through me. Her role in talking to my parents about Jesus was important.

How did you come to know the Custody of the Holy Land?
I have always been interested in the Holy Land, because the liturgy is beautiful. I had the dream of going at least once in my life and one day my superiors asked me if I was available to study biblical theology at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. In the end, I’ve been here for three years.

What is your mission in the Holy Land?
I am here to study the Bible, and I work every Saturday at the Holy Sepulcher hearing confessions and leading pilgrimages. After my studies, my mission will be to become a professor for the seminary.

How do you combine your mission with being a Franciscan?
Two people are examples for me in the Franciscan life and in my mission to the Holy Land: St. Francis and Bl. Gabriele Maria Allegra. The first because he reminds me that the Word of God is so important that it pushes us to respect everyone and to get closer to every creature. The second, Bl. Gabriele Maria Allegra, was an important Franciscan missionary who loved so much and who lived in Hong Kong at the same monastery that I lived in. I am a Franciscan thanks to his example.

What motivates you in your mission and spiritual life in the Holy Land?
In this land that Jesus touched, I find myself in a more intimate relationship with Him. I have to go through the Way of the Cross when I go to class at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and this is very special [to me].

Has living in the Holy Land has changed your relationship with religion?
Yes, my heart is more open now because I have met Muslims, Jews and people of different cultures. Everyone here is different from what I used to believe: they are nice [and] their culture is beautiful. My horizons have opened up.

What are the obstacles that you have encountered on your journey as a friar?
Firstly, the language. Chinese and Italian are very different, though [I am getting] a little bit better now. Secondly, it was difficult to get used to this kind of fraternity. In Hong Kong, there were 11 or 12 friars, mainly older friars, and so I used to speak with them most of the time and not so much with those of my generation. Here at St. Savior’s, there are so many young men and they tell a lot of jokes; so, it is different for me.

[Do you have a] message for a young man in discernment?
Do not be afraid; be close to Jesus in confession.

N.S. – B.G.

» custodia.org
© 2011 Terra Sancta blog   |   privacy policy
custodia.org    proterrasancta.org    cmc-terrasanta.com    terrasanta.net    edizioniterrasanta.it    pellegrinaggicustodia.it