Celebrating Church and Country
Estimated reading time: 5 mins
More than 10,000 Catholics and guests gathered at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Saturday, 4 July, for a spirit-filled thanksgiving Eucharistic celebration to commemorate the nation’s 50th birthday.
Truly living up to the theme of the event, Joy, the thanksgiving Mass was accompanied by two stage productions celebrating the history and future of the Catholic Church in Singapore. The event was put together by a team of 1,187 volunteer helpers and performers, backed up by two different 100-strong combined choirs, and supported by a 60-member full orchestra.
The event was graced by Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean, who are both alumnus of Catholic schools, as well as papal nuncio, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, who delivered a message from Pope Francis written specially for the occasion.
Leaders from other religions were also present, including Master Chung Kwang Tong, Secretary General of the Taoist Federation Youth Group, and Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, Mufti of Singapore.
The day was truly a celebration of how far the nation has come, a commemoration of the Church’s loving dedication to the common good, and an appreciation of the unique religious landscape which Singapore enjoys. In his opening address, Archbishop William Goh expressed gratitude to the government for recognising the value of religion in Singapore’s society.
“Singapore is blessed, in that we have a supportive and responsible government. One that is not only visionary, but determined and collaborative. We have a government that is secular, but not secularised, as it recognises the important role that religions play in the moral development of our peoples. We are truly grateful to her, for championing religious harmony, which is especially crucial in a time when religious extremism is threatening the peaceful coexistence of our peoples,” Archbishop William describes.
Remembering the past
The event started with a special segment to commemorate the history of the Catholic Church in Singapore, as well as to honour the pioneer leaders of the Church. A special documentary was screened, detailing the accounts of missionary priests, nuns, and faithful laity who sacrificed much to contribute to the education and healthcare sectors of early Singapore.
Younger participants of the event were particularly moved by the video, sharing that, “Knowing the history really enriches my Catholic faith,” said Lionel Yap, a parishioner from Church of the Risen Christ. His friend from the same parish, Joyce Mun, also expressed, “In our generation, we don’t know much about the past, like way back in the 1800s and 1900s. The event really allowed us to connect with our roots and identity.”
Church and state as partners
A visibly moved PM Lee spoke of the many contributions of the Church to the country, and expressed heartfelt gratitude. “The Catholic Church has walked this journey with Singapore, contributed to the nation, and served our community well for many years. It has brought light and hope to many.”
He further elaborated, “You do it by helping the last, the lost, and the least. Through Caritas, which supports more than 20 charities, extending a helping hand to 50,000 beneficiaries. You do it with dads and moms of vulnerable families, who find jobs through your employment centres. Because of you, children from poor homes can get school uniforms, textbooks, stationeries, and scholarships. Migrant workers receive legal help from the Catholic Lawyers Guild. Terminal patients, in their last days on earth, find care and respite at the Assisi hospice. You do very good work, thank you very much.”
The segment remembering the Church’s history concluded with a specially written song by Corrine May, “Bless our Singapore”.
Consecrating the present
The highlight of the event was Holy Mass, celebrated by Archbishop William Goh, together with Archbishop Girelli, Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia, and nearly all the Catholic priests of Singapore, who were seated by the side of the altar.
“Singapore is really a miraculous nation. Because 50 years ago, where was Singapore? We were just like the Israelites in the desert. We had nothing, no resources. The only resources we had are the people. And that’s the reason why, we want to give praise and thanks to God,” Archbishop William started his homily with thanksgiving.
He highlighted four pillars he thinks had helped build Singapore; self-sacrifice, justice and equality, economic development, and moral and spiritual development.
He explains, “What we are today, is the result of the selfless sacrifice that our leaders have made for Singapore. Whether political or religious leaders. They put the country before themselves, the nation before their ambition, and the people before their own interests.”
Archbishop William drew a parallel between these qualities in the pioneer leaders of the country, with the importance of the fourth and most significant pillar. “For us as Church, we are not only concerned with economic development. We are concerned with integral development. Integral development means economic, but it also means the human formation, the moral formation, the spiritual formation.”
(Read Archbishop William’s homily here.)
After the mass, the atmosphere went from a peaceful adoration and reverence to a celebration of the joyous hope that the Church has for the future of the nation.
This segment featured performances from local Catholic schools such as Canossa Convent Primary who put up an exciting percussion set, and a charming choir from CHIJ Kellock Primary.
The highlight for many however, was witnessing a refreshing side to the various religious men and women who took to the stage to sing, dance, and play instruments, all while in their habits and religious clothing.
Fr Derrick revealed that the entire event was put together only roughly four to five months ago, and acknowledged, “God is amazing. Because there was just so many loose ends, and He tied everything together. It was just amazing.”
He relates, “I think when hearts for Jesus comes together, amazing things happen. I hope that for the next 50 years, we will be proud to be Catholics; that God has called us to be His children and to belong to this beautiful Church”.