Anticipating this autumn’s 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence from Malaysia, the nation’s Catholics gathered earlier this month to celebrate a Mass pledging the Church’s support for the city-state.
While Singapore achieved independence from Great Britain in 1963, it was first a state of Malaysia. It achieved full independence in 1965, when it was expelled following political turmoil and troubled race relations.
“It is the jubilee year, it is a year of rejoicing because God is restoring all to wholeness,” Fr. Derrick Yap, OFM, chairman of the Singapore 50 celebration committee, told CNA.
Fr. Yap said: “We are called to sanctify the nation and this event is to celebrate what we have done but to propel into the future with a renewed vigour and hope – Let the light of Christ shine forth to the nations!”
Some 10,000 people gathered at the Singapore Indoor Stadium July 4 for a Mass of thanksgiving, joined by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli; the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong; and representatives of other religions.
The Mass paid tribute to the missionaries who first brought the faith to Singapore and who sacrificed their lives serving the people and building the nation.
Fr. Yap said, “Joy captures all the dynamics of the occasion as we celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary,” the priest reflected. “As a Church, it is also an event for rejuvenation, restoration, and healing, where needed, and of looking forward with hope. The occasion not only serves as a platform for the Church to celebrate her share in nation-building, but also to bring together Catholics here to forge stronger bonds with each other.”
Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye of Singapore in his opening address praised the untiring zeal of the pioneer missionaries in proclaiming Christ and stressed that “they have been true to their mission.”
The prelate, noting the Church’s distinctive pastoral role in the areas of education, healthcare, social services, and integral human development, said, “The Church had always stood as a voice of the poor, the marginalized, and those who are very close to the heart of God.”
He further added, “She continues in the mission to unity to recognize the new poor in our midst who are vulnerable to … relativism , individualism, materialism, consumerism, and the negative impact of the internet and social media, particularly youth and families, which form the building blocks of society.”
Archbishop Goh’s homily also echoed Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si’ and he urged: “We need to care for the environment so that generations to come can continue to enjoy the fruits of the earth.”
Archbishop Goh emphasized that the Church will work closely with the Singaporean government “to prevent moral decadence, to strengthen institution of marriage, to promote justice, peace, and harmony … and to form us as responsible citizens.”
Prime minister Lee addressed the faithful, lauding the Church’s immense pastoral work and saying, “the Church has been a responsible, reliable, and sensitive partner, helping us to strengthen our multiracial and multireligious society.”
Lee went to a secondary Catholic school, and added a word of “thanks to the pioneers who secured our future, including the pioneers in the Church who built it up.”
He noted that Church has been a “light and hope nurturing the young, moulding people into upright citizens, uplifting the downtrodden, succoring the needy, ministering to the sick … building a community with sound values and a sense of social responsibility, duty, and obligation to one another.”
In his homily, Archbishop Goh noted the “greater need for formation” of the laity, adding that “until the laity takes part in the mission of the Church, we have not grown.”
He urged the faithful to promote s culture of life from conception to natural death, especially through a strengthening of marriage and the family.
Archbishop Goh also examined four pillars which brought Singapore from the third to the first world, enumerating self sacrifice; justice and equality; economic development; and moral and spiritual development.
Among its preparations for the jubilee, the Archdiocese of Singapore encouraged the faithful to offer five pledges of faith and works for the intentions of the nation – to attend a daily Mass, to recite the rosary, to offer a fast, to share a meal with the poor, and to partake in Eucharistic adoration.
Fr. Yap explained that “the five pledges were meant to provide some challenge for the pledgers, because a rosary or a weekday mass just doesn’t seem challenging enough; so we invite Catholics to perform five different acts of love and hope that they will actively pursue feeding the poor … this is catechesis and faith formation in action.”
“This event for me is to help build bridges within the various organisations of the archdiocese. Relationships are very important … if the Church is to move forward in Singapore for the next 50 years and beyond, we will all need work together.”
“If we are united with one heart, and united with the Lord, we can bring the Gospel farther than we’d ever imagined,” Fr. Yap said.