After my schooling at St Joseph’s Institution in the late 1960’s, I worked as a Research Officer in a government office along Robinson Road. I was considered well paid in those days. I could afford a car and later a 650 Kawasaki motorcycle, which I treasured. But after some time, I was unhappy. As a young boy, I was always interested in nature and wildlife. I was also a member of the World wildlife Fund (WWF).
So, when the Singapore Zoological Gardens, as it was then called, opened in 1973, I jumped at the chance to join the zoo as a zoo-keeper. It was a big risk. For one thing, I had no idea what I was in for and I was paid peanuts, for ‘working with monkeys’, pardon the pun.
But, against the odds some friends thought I was crazy, maybe I was. But I began to enjoy the work, like cleaning the dens, feeding the animals and learning about their behavior. I traveled to other zoos around the region, including Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, staying there for four months, with another keeper, learning how to train marine mammals like sealions and dolphins and to Sri Lanka working with ‘mahouts’ (elephant keepers).
Caring for Animals
I returned to Singapore with six African fur seals from Hong Kong, to open the sealion exhibit at the zoo. Besides working with fur seals, I worked with other animals, especially with the polar bears, and gave the name Sheba to one of them and briefly with Ah Meng the well-known celebrity Orang Utan. After some time, I began to read and learn more about evolution, ecology and the delicate web of life.
Fr Glenn with Orang Utan and friends
“The work of the church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time “she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.” (Laudato Si, 79)
Although I was a cradle Catholic, I was not a practicing catholic, and knew little about Christianity. And after observing the whole of creation, I went through an ‘ecological conversion’ and then it hit me, that there is a spirituality to creation and that there is a creator and this creator is God.
“Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationships with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered.” (Laudato Si, 70)
After about seven years working in the zoo, I felt that this was a stepping stone to do something more spiritually, not only for the conservation of wildlife and wild places, but also for human beings, who are mammals, and to be more aware that our existence depends on the preservation and conservation of nature and the environment.
“All Christians communities have an important role to play in ecological education… an education in responsible simplicity of life, in grateful contemplation of God’s world, and in concern for the needs of the poor and the protection of the environment.” (Laudato Si, 214)
“Protect creation…protect all creation, the beauty of the created world…respect each of God’s creatures and respect the environment in which we live…care for creation and for our brothers and sisters… Protect the whole of creation, protect each person, especially the poorest… Let us protect with love all that God has given us!” (Pope Francis, in his Augural Mass, March 19, 2013)
Turning to God
Eventually, after much discernment, I left the zoo with a heavy heart and joined the Redemptorists, in 1980 because I was attracted to their community life, their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, but most importantly their charism to preach the good news to the most abandoned, realising that the earth could be one of the abandoned if not cared for and looked after. In fact, you could say the zoo rekindled my faith in a merciful and compassionate God for all of life.
Everything is Connected
The rest is history as one would say. So, when Pope Francis wrote the encyclical “Laudato Si’” in 2015 I was delighted and happy that at last a papal letter that refers to the care of our common home, the Earth. The papal letter re-emphasises that everything is connected, including the economy and the spiritual perspective is now part of the discussion on the environment.
One of the greatest contributions of Laudato Si is that Pope Francis links all of us to creation: “We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it.” (Laudato Si, 139)
Stroking a leopard
A Moral and Spiritual Issue
Humanity is the only species with the free will and physical ability to either continue to abuse the earth for profit and greed, or to alter our living environment on a large scale. To do so would require a Change of Heart. The world belongs to God and is not ours to abuse and destroy.
“Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations we look at things differently, we realise that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.” (Laudato Si, 159)
Fr Glenn de Cruz, CSsR