Archbishop William Goh of Singapore expressed gratitude over the continuing growth of the faith in the city-state as the Catholic Church marks its 200th anniversary in the Southeast Asian country this year.
“In spite of a downward trend in many countries where people are losing faith in God, the recent census shows that we have grown in strength over the last five years,” said the prelate in his homily during Mass on Saturday, December 11.
The Church in Singapore marked the end of its year-long celebrations with the Mass and the ringing of church bells in 32 parishes across the island over the weekend.
In his homily, Archbishop Goh said that although the government of Singapore is secular, it maintains neutrality and encourages cooperation among religions in the development of the social, moral and spiritual values of the people.
“Religions here in Singapore are respectful and supportive of each other,” he said, adding that various faith in the city-state “have very strong inter-religious harmony … something painstakingly built over many generations.”
The archbishop noted that the Church has grown “internally” over the last eight years in terms of archdiocesan offices, reinforcement and new movements. He said new ones were added and some were expanded.
“Did you hear church bells ringing this evening? You probably caught the closing celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Catholic Church here,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a post on social media over the weekend.
A Buddhist by birth, the prime minister graced the celebration by attending the Mass in Singapore’s cathedral with other civil and religious leaders.
“In our multi-religious society, Catholics thrive and co-exist in harmony with the other religions,” said the government leader in a Facebook post.
He admitted that it was through a video that he came to know about the Catholic Church’s contribution to Singapore in the past two centuries, “through education, healthcare and social welfare.”
The first Mass in Singapore was supposed to have been celebrated by French Saint Laurent Imbert, a member of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, who landed on Singapore on Dec 11, 1821.
In a letter to Bishop Esprit Marie Joseph Florens, apostolic vicar of Siam who had commissioned him, the priest said: “I have reached Singapore on 11th instant, and have visited according to your Lordship’s request the Catholics of this new settlement.”
“There are only 12 or 13 in number and seem to lead a wretched life,” he added.
From Singapore, Father Imbert proceeded to Korea, where he was appointed vicar apostolic in 1836. He was martyred there on Sept. 21, 1839, at the age of 43. He is among the 301 martyrs of Korea who were declared saints by Pope John Paul in 1984.
Today, Catholics in Singapore number about 300,000 and have made their presence and contributions felt in the city-state.
“We are called to give thanks for what the Lord is doing through our Church,” said Archbishop Goh said in his homily.
Archbishop Goh expressed satisfaction that the celebrations, which started in December 2020, brought Catholics together in “creative ways.”
The online events and videos notched up over one million views during the year, while from December 4 to 11, the festival saw 12,000 Catholics attend the various events and activities in the archdiocese, and another 6,000 attended the concluding Masses in churches.