Making a difference: Praise for a good habit

Published: Monday 6th June 2016

Brisbane Campus chaplain Father Harry Chan's Franciscan habit is talking point for students. "They ask questions about my work and life. I get involved in people's lives. I journey with them in their happy and sad moments, successes and disappointments, even sometimes in life and death situations.  It is a privilege and blessing to be working at ACU."

Fr Chan shares his ACU story.

"I was born in a large family in Hong Kong. I have three brothers and four sisters. When I was small, my parents used to bring me and siblings to Church on Sundays. Once I asked my Dad, 'What do the priests do during weekdays?'  Since I only saw them on Sundays in the Church. My dad couldn't answer my question.  As a little kid, I thought that the priests must be very free during weekdays.  They only had to work one day a week.  Of course, that was not the reason I became a Franciscan Friar and priest.

Now I know what I do during weekdays.  I go to ACU Brisbane Campus from Monday to Thursday.  As a chaplain, one of my roles is to celebrate Mass and Sacraments.  We organise activities for students and staff such as random acts of kindness, sunset sessions, connect groups, prayer and liturgy, retreats, and World Youth Day.  It is also a privilege to work with four other staff in the Campus Ministry in Brisbane. They are friendly, talented and spiritual.  We start the day with prayer.  That is our source of strength and power in our ministries.

We have a beautiful campus in Brisbane and it used to be the old diocesan seminary.  I am always fascinated by the beauty, historical and spiritual aspects of it.  I love working in a youthful environment, full of life, creativity, energy and ideas. The university is a microcosm where you meet people with different religions, races, cultural and family backgrounds.

The Campus Ministry exists to support students and staff in many different ways.  The nature of our ministry is relational.  We are encouraged to spend most of our time outside of our office to meet students and staff.  Students are always busy with their study, work and social life.

We have to find ways to engage with them. Sometimes I play pool, ping pong, basketball with the students.  Every day after the midday Mass, I go to the common room or canteen to meet students and staff there.

It is good to hear their stories, big and small things in daily life.  At times, they would come to me with their problems and ask for a chat or a prayer.  Most of the times I can't offer a lot of practical assistance to their problems but I assure them that I keep them in my prayers. It is a humbling experience.

I wear my Franciscan habit to work every day.  This is our Franciscan tradition and a visible sign of our presence.  It generates a lot of conversations.  Once a student approached me and said, 'did you just go to a costume party?' Another time a student asked, 'are you for real?'

The most frequent asked question is,'Father Harry, don't you feel hot wearing your habit?' In Australia, spirituality and religion tend to be private matters for a lot of people.  People don't usually talk about it in our everyday life.  Sometimes when they see me in my Franciscan habit, they ask questions about my work and life, who I am and what I do.

The theme of our Campus Ministry for this year is 'to see and experience life differently'.  We hope to make a difference on the Campus. As Christians, our life, belief and value are formed by the gospel message which is Jesus Christ.  At the end of the day, perhaps we may not be able to change the world and people very much.  However, we can change ourselves.  When we are changed, the world will change and the people around us will change as well.

It is a privilege and blessing to be working at ACU. I get involved in people's lives. I journey with them in their happy and sad moments, successes and disappointments, even sometimes in life and death situations. This is how I live out my vocation as a Christian, a Catholic priest and a Franciscan friar."