On November 8, Fr Christopher Soh SJ officially becomes Regional Superior of the Malaysia-Singapore Jesuit Region (MAS), taking over from Fr Colin Tan SJ who has completed his six-year term.
Fr Soh was ordained on July 30, 2005 and professed his final vows on July 4, 2011. He is a popular homilist, and his blog, “Breaking The Word”, began as a response to people asking for a copy of his homilies.
It is not surprising then that, when he was considering the priesthood, he was initially attracted to the Redemptorists, whose ministry of preaching and hearing confessions inspired him. “I liked the work they were doing and could see myself doing it,” he said.
Although he had been educated in Catholic schools – St Michael’s School, St Joseph’s Institution and Catholic Junior College – it was only when he was studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) that Fr Soh seriously considered the call to become a priest. At NUS, he became actively involved in the Legion of Mary, the Charismatic Prayer Group and the Catholic Students Society.
A vocation exhibition at St Ignatius Church led him to consider joining the Society of Jesus. He found out that many of the priests ministering to the Catholic community at NUS were Jesuits. For example, Fr Gerry Keane and the late Father Liam Egan and Fr John Wood. Many of the books on prayer he had read were also written by Jesuits such as Thomas Green. But it was not until 1994, after he had graduated from NUS and worked for a year, that he entered the Society.
After his noviciate in Singapore, he was sent to the Philippines to study philosophy. The poverty he saw there confronted him with challenges and questions. “There was such a drastic contrast – the rich living in private housing estates protected by high walls and security guards and the poor living in slums, in horrendous conditions. Yet when I went to assist at weekend Masses at the squatter colony, the people were filled with joy, and offered such warm hospitality,” he recalled.
He returned to Singapore in 1999 for his Regency during which he taught philosophy at the major seminary. Then he was sent to Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for theology.
He arrived in the United States at a time of great turmoil in the world and in the Church.
“The day we registered for classes was September 11, 2001! It was quite an experience (New York is only a few hours’ drive from Cambridge). Then there was the paedophilia scandal that rocked the Catholic Church. Daily you could read in the Boston Globe various sordid details involving the Church. There was also the controversy surrounding the Iraq War. It was a society that was polarised. I felt the tension. It was tough being in a place where the church was in so much pain.”
Fr Soh is trained in spiritual direction and served as director of Kingsmead Centre for Ignatian Spirituality and Counselling in Singapore, from 2012 to 2015. From October 2015 until the end of September this year, he served as Parish Priest of the Church of St Ignatius.