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VATICAN CITY – In this third installment of the interview, Archbishop William Goh of Singapore recounts the experience and the witness of the Catholic Church in the city-state. He was with the Malaysian and Brunei bishops in their ad limina visit to the Holy See on 4-9 Feb 2018. This interview took place on Feb 9.
A large part of the Singaporean population identifies with a religious faith. Buddhists are about 40% and Christianity is the second largest group. Thanks also to Western influence, the number of Christians in the country (local and permanent residents) are growing and the approximately 383 thousand Catholics make up 11% of the population, while Protestants are 14%. Next in line is Islam at 18% and Taoism at 14%.
According to Abp Goh: However, and this is a concern for us, there is an increasing number of people who claim not to belong to any confession. This is an important group that we must try to approach as a possibility of evangelisation.
The archbishop of Singapore believes social outreach is “the main missionary front for the local Church.”
We have many organisations that assist people in need, such as Caritas Singapore, which leads other 25 associations. In Singapore, the funds and donations collected by our initiatives cannot by law be allocated to foreign projects, unless this is specified before to interested donors. For humanitarian initiatives outside the national borders (Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar), the Archdiocese has established the Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives (Charis). The faithful are very involved and offer great support, witnessing their faith among those most in need.”
Another focus area for the Singapore Church is interreligious dialogue and the promotion of harmony among the various confessions.
We organise many initiatives to share our experiences of faith without proselytising. We bear witness to what Jesus did in our lives, how he changed them and made the difference.
The archdiocese pays particular attention to the education of young people. In this regard, Abp Goh states:
In each of the over 35 Catholic schools we form the heart of the boys, even before their intellect. We do not want leaders who live for themselves, but people who care about their neighbour. The Christian schools, Catholic and Protestant, have worked hard on this and it is a precious legacy that they leave to the ruling class of the country.
If Singapore is a successful nation today, it is also because most of our rulers have attended missionary schools, even though many of them are not Christians. It is also thanks to the teaching of the values of the Gospel that Singapore pays special attention to policies in favour of life and the family, resisting the pressure of the West for the implementation of laws such as those on homosexual unions. Honesty and integrity are virtues that are very close to the Singaporeans.
Every year, the Church of Singapore welcomes about 3,000 new baptised, but conversions are not the sole purpose of the initiatives of the Catholic community.
Our goal is to build a Church that is vibrant, evangelical and missionary. This is also the decree of the archdiocese. My commitment is to make Catholics more aware, not only in Singapore but also abroad. To this end, we created the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS), to prepare students for the new evangelisation among the many cultures and religions of our continent, since the formation of the laity is fundamental to mission. The faith of the Catholic community in Singapore is truly surprising, for example the lunchtime mass we organise for workers. The cathedral is always crowded and the participation is remarkable in all the 33 parishes of the archdiocese, where every day there are about 300-400 faithful. They seek peace, comfort in a everyday life in Singapore, which can be quite stressful.
Having a high level of education, the Singaporean Catholics are quite demanding. So our priests have to give good homilies. The faithful crave the Word of God and feel the need to find a link between faith and their lives, which is why they know how to be critical of pastors whose sermons are lacking. Fortunately, we have good priests, who through the Word are able to touch hearts.
The decline in priestly vocations is a great concern for Abp Goh, who says increased lay participation in pastoral works a way to counteract the negative effects of the phenomenon.
It is more important than ever to involve the laity in the life of the Church, because in the end it is to them that it belongs. Our schools are directed above all by non-consecrated persons, since the average age of the clergy is always higher. In parishes serving about 6 thousand faithful, we consider a 40-year-old priest to be ‘young.’
In every community there is always a lot of work to do and the time we dedicate to young people is always too little. Added to this is the great difference in age between the young people and the pastors, which affects dialogue between them. The risk is that there is no one to respond to the numerous and increasingly demanding questions of adolescents. To find a solution to the problem and provide for the pastoral care of young people, we have set up the Office for Young People (YOP). This initiative assists the youngsters in the search for Jesus and the answers they need. – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews