Angkong Ben

The title of “Father” embodies Benjamin Sim, pastor to parishioners in Mary the Queen Parish, where he had served from the 1990s to 2004 and Sacred Heart Parish in Cebu City.

He is fondly called Angkong by his many parishioners, people who had served and are still part of his staff and members of communities whose lives he had touched.

Sim was instrumental in instituting the Christian Life Community of the Philippines and the Chinese Catholic Youth, forerunner of the Filipino-Chinese Catholic Youth.

Soft-spoken, he nevertheless packs high-powered messages of love from the Gospel through the Ignatian Spiritual formation which had given many the opportunity to become today’s “agents of change.”

Sim’s pastoral influence is felt from the north in Baguio City to the deep south in Zamboanga City.

As a former CLCP ecclesiastical assistant, he has friends in almost every continent – Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, Australia, Africa – where the CLC is found.

It is rare to find someone from a middle class traditional Chinese family in Manila who heeds the call of priesthood.

Indeed, the Sim patriarch had wanted his heir to succeed him and enter the small department store family business on Escolta St., considered the upmarket shopping district in the 1950s and 1960s in Sta. Cruz. But God’s calling was more powerful than filial obedience.

Sim thinks with “out of the box” discernment.

While dedicated to, and passionate about, his chosen vocation, he uses non-traditional methods to teach.

He has a university degree in animal husbandry; his love for animals soon spread to love of neighbors. Friendship is his top priority.

He never hesitates to help his friends as much as he can. He shares materials with them; books (oftentimes not returned for years), articles, music, movies, musical recordings, food and his favorite imported coffee.

He even shares his Sunday homily in advance for people to collect. He likes being treated to meals and having good conversations with friends and occasionally cracks witty anecdotes.

He is canny in spotting timid people who, like him, are not outspoken. He helps people open up by exposing them to key experiences, and encourages them to take action. He usually invites and brings protégés to leadership training seminars, retreats, and even to Jesuit conferences.

Thus, he helps forge lay participation and partnership.

Once, there was a family who had suffered a financial crisis. Sim helped by allowing them to set up a small bibingka, puto bungbong and palitaw stand on Sundays at the parish to augment their income, in spite of strong protests from some parishioners who feared the parish would turn into a marketplace.

Father Ben Sim with graduates from the MTQ Pre-school Program.

But the spirit of charity prevailed. Eventually, the family’s fortune reversed. Today, these native treats are also enjoyed by locals at Cebu’s Sacred Heart Parish.

There is much to say about Sim, but the easiest way to describe him is how he sees himself.

He regards himself as a night street lamplighter during the era before the days of electricity. When darkness comes, the streetlamps are lighted one by one. A trail of light is visible but not the one who lights them.

The Scriptures say, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16)

Indeed, we come to know Angkong best by seeing the bountiful fruit from his love and labor. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 27, no. 3 (July 8-21, 2014): 9.