My Mum and Dad were so delighted with the birth of “Bonny Marguerite” on the day I was born in February 1938. On my Baptism day my mother refused to stay at home. She was way ahead of her time. Today in the ceremony of the new Rite of Baptism, mothers carry their babies. She knew my Godmother would not be able to carry such a heavy baby and she was right. She had to take me from Godmother who could not hold on to me. She caught me before I dropped.
Today 75 years on I experience a deep loving friendship with my God. I believe what His plans were for me in the call of Jeremiah 1:5
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.
I especially feel my mother’s desires for me to serve the Lord were formed when she was carrying me in her womb.
I come from a happy family of ten. Mum and Dad bequeathed our Faith to us and called forth the wonderful talents that we all had for music. We sang, played different instruments and our Sunday gatherings were fun-filled evenings. Three of us are religious lovingly sent forth by our parents to serve in the Franciscan and Good Shepherd families.
I hold prisoners in my heart. The compassion of Jesus Good Shepherd enfolds my ministry with them. During more than 35 years I have spent visiting prison the most special time was journeying with Death Row inmates here in our Changi Prison in Singapore. God’s love for us is beyond comprehension. In Jeremiah 29:11,
“For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord.
"They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
This is how I see it. Van and Robin, Catherine and Geraldine, Kumar and Henry and all my Death Row friends thwarted God’s plans for good for them and made a disaster of their young lives. Because of Jesus, God changed his plan for them at this last stage of their lives and they experienced the miracle of conversion and transformation. The Good Shepherd found them. And I felt privileged to be with them in their last moments.
While I abhor the Death penalty, the taking of a life, I realize God’s call to me to walk with these vulnerable people is for me to remember that “He loved us first,” and allow them to experience healing and forgiveness through my love for them. They are precious moments when a man who has committed murder says to me the day before he is hanged, “Don’t worry Sister. I know God loves me! Tomorrow morning I will see him face to face.” They are so convinced of Jesus’ promise: Luke 23:43
“This day you will be with in paradise.”
The highlight of my Ministry to people on Death Row was the courageous stand that we Good Shepherd Sisters made through our dear Sister Susan Chia (RIP).
That early dawn of the 2nd December 2005 was closely watched by the whole world. Drug trafficker Van Tuong Nguyen Caleb walked to the gallows to the strains of the hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’. One precious moment stands out. The Superintendent comes forward embraces Van and then leads him to his execution. He does his duty as a uniformed officer but with such care for this young man, whom he looked upon as a human person.
In my silent prayer I asked the Lord, Why? In this place we kill a person and yet there is so much peace, even joy. A priest friend gave me this answer: Why? ‘Because good has triumphed over evil.’
I must quote the statement made by Sr. Susan Chia, the Province Leader of the Province of Singapore/Malaysia at that time.
"As we try desperately to soften a mother's pain at the loss of her son, we grapple with the reality of the death penalty.
"The death penalty is cruel, inhumane and it violates the right to life.
"Each life is always precious, even when punishment is required.
"While we want to make our streets drug-free and safe for our children, should it be at the expense of terminating the life of a person? Punishment and justice must always include mercy.
"We join the many voices throughout the world in appealing to our leaders to search for alternatives to the death penalty." Reported in ‘The Age’, Australia.
Today, our prayer has been heard. There is a review of the Death Penalty in Singapore and a number of Death Row inmates have been given a reprieve from their sentences.
The very first Death Row inmate I walked with was a girl from our Vocational Home. We taught her about St. Mary Euphrasia. Her words to me, “Thank you for making me feel so precious in my sad situation.” I visited her every week for 7 years.
How very true are our Foundress’ words,
“One person is more precious than the whole world.”
St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier.
Click here to read more - 2015 Article in SG50 Home Affairs 'Our Guardians' magazine
Short film 'Sister' by Chai Yee Whei depicts the ministry of Sr Gerard Fernandez, offering spiritual and pastoral care to people awaiting execution on death row
Comprehensive overview from the GSAPP team - how Good Shepherd Partnership for Mission is developing in this region