Speaking at a parish mission, Father Francis Ching delivers account after account of seemingly miraculous incidents he has personally been involved with. Among the most memorable, the case of a couple who were long unable to conceive a child. Just weeks after Father Ching prayed with them, the woman became pregnant.
Such miraculous outcomes are certainly cause for celebration, the Toronto priest tells some 125 faithful listening intently at St. Joseph’s Church in Port Moody. But God’s most powerful miracles don’t involve physical healing, he is quick to point out. As a blind priest he’s a textbook example.
A member of the Companions of the Cross order, Father Ching centred his engaging discourse on God’s healing power, in particular when it comes to spiritual healing. Despite countless prayers and petition, God never healed the 49-year-old priest of his physical disability.
God did, however, heal him from within. “There is no greater miracle,” Father Ching said, “than a conversion of the heart … The true healer is Christ and he has a plan, and you have to give him permission.”
Born into a Catholic family in Hong Kong, he endured eye problems from early childhood. The Ching family moved to Canada in 1986 and, despite constant medical attention, glaucoma inexorably robbed him of his sight.
It was while he was enrolled in undergraduate studies in Waterloo, Ont., that he experienced a “personal conversion to Christ.”
“Shortly after, people began to notice in me a possible vocation to the priesthood and encouraged me to pursue it,” he says in a statement published on the Companions website. “A confirming sign came in 1997 at World Youth Day, and I decided to begin seminary in preparation in 1998.”
He joined the Companions of the Cross after reading a book written by its founder, Father Bob Bedard. “Everything said in it was exactly what the Lord had been placing on my heart over the years.”
Despite his worsening vision, he could still read enlarged texts when he was ordained in 2005. Within four years, however, he lost all ability to read. He retained some peripheral vision until a year-and-a-half ago, but now even that is gone.
Father Ching is able to fulfill his priestly duties thanks to some technological marvels: an app called iBreviary and an iPhone that he holds while at the altar or pulpit. The app stores and converts text to voice, and then transmits the recordings to an earpiece he wears, which then allows him to recite the proper prayers or Mass parts.
Father Ching said in an interview that his blindness has certainly challenged him, but it also made him a better person and brought him closer to God.
He said that he is, by nature, restless and independent, and that if he had never suffered vision problems, he would likely be hooked on travel, “personal pilgrimages or whatever. I am addicted to that kind of thing … I don’t think I would be able to overcome a lot of my vices. It would be like, poof, I would be gone somewhere.”
Father Ching also admitted to being impatient and “kind of grumbling inside.” But “the Lord has kind of tailored me, and said, ‘Look, I’m saving you from your views, from your impatience, from your need to be in control, from your dependence on these things.’”
To be able to embrace all this is “both a surrender and a healing at the same time,” he said.
But challenges persist, he said, and being blind is certainly “a privation,” as he puts it. “I can’t even begin to explain how frustrating it is when I drop something in my own room and then, maybe three times, laying flat on the floor, trying to comb out every single square centimeter, and I couldn’t find it.”
It is particularly frustrating when the lost item is one of his two most essential items: “my phone or my earbuds. Without them, I am fully disabled.”
But any disability or ability is, as Father Ching said during his opening-night presentation, merely a secondary characteristic of God’s children.
“We are called human beings, not human doings, for a reason,” he said. Since we’re created in God’s image, our essential being is what’s important, he said. God’s love for us is not conditional on what we do.
It’s an uplifting message, one that is buoyed by Father Ching’s humour. While introducing himself to the congregation at Sunday morning Mass, he acknowledged his blindness and then quipped, “but with a cane I am able.” He paused for his punchline to land and then said, “Cain. Abel. Get it?”
The congregation burst into appreciative laughter as a blind priest gave them a new vision of God.
Click here to see the article on B.C. Catholic.