Building Bridges

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This is a very divisive world we live in. There is so much disagreement on all fronts – economic, political, religious, moral, ethical and social. We have extreme religious fundamentalism at one end, and hostile secularism at the other. The latter is supposed to safeguard extremism by being neutral to all religions, but it has become an enemy of religion! This has given the fundamentalists further grounds to fight a secularism that is anti-religion and hence perceived as an enemy.

We are also divided along the lines of ideology. The modern world favours the rights of the individual over the community. Protection of individual rights is often so over exaggerated that the greater good of society has become suppressed. Freedom and democracy is abused when the rights of the larger interest of the community is violated. Relativism has upstaged objective judgement to become the norm and absolute measure of judgement. This explains why it is impossible for anyone to say something is right or wrong, moral or immoral. Truth has been reduced to consensus. Governments today no longer see themselves as the moral conscience of the people. It is left to the individual to decide, based on his whims and fancies.

Indeed, this is the fragile world we are living in. Peace and unity are fragile and volatile. We are constantly reminded by the government not to take the peace and harmony of Singapore for granted. All it takes is for some slight misunderstanding to blow things out of proportion. We must therefore always be on the alert for possible incidences that could destroy our racial and religious unity. Singapore needs to be united to withstand the onslaughts of those unhealthy ideologies, political, social, religious and moral values imported into Singapore that are alien to our culture and social fabric. We thank God that we have a wise government who sees the importance of religion in the lives of her people.   Although we have a secular government that is neutral to all religions, she supports religions and sees religion as partners in the development and growth of her peoples.

How do we as Church add value to the government’s responsibility to maintain unity and peace among our peoples? What contributions can we make as Church to promote unity, mutual respect and understanding, peace and harmony among all peoples and not just among Catholics? We have a special responsibility and mission because as Church we are called to be the Sacrament of unity and love, the sign of unity in the world. We are leaders in promoting peace and unity.

We must begin from ourselves. We must begin from our own homes and our Catholic community. Unless we are united, we are not in a position to be an example of unity among others who are not of the same religion. If we are divided, we cannot be a principle of unity for others. Let us as Catholics, learn to accept each other, appreciate each other and accept each other’s differences; if we are to be able to accept others who do not share our faith, our values, and our culture. This is what it means to be Catholic, which is to be universal, embracing all values that are universal for humanity, namely, that of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22)

Unity must be fostered not just within the Church but with the larger community. The Church cannot afford to be inward-looking and exclusive. We must reach out and share the love of Christ with others beyond our confines. We must reach out to those of different religions, cultures and races. We need to strengthen ties with them. God loves us all and we are all His children.   This calls for dialogue with them so that we can deepen our respect and appreciation for their beliefs and practices. We must build bridges, not walls.   We must stress on what is common and not what divides us. Most of all, we should become friends first, before we can engage in spiritual or even theological dialogue. It would be appropriate to invite each other to one another’s celebrations.   Another area in which we can build unity is to work together in social projects, especially for the poor. Finally, we must be supportive of each each other in crises, rather than paint those from other religions as being ‘of the same kind’. All of us have an active part to play in protecting the peace, security and harmony of our nation.

In this way, we learn to appreciate the richness and colours of each culture, religion and race.   Indeed, to be Catholic is to accept all peoples and promote unity in diversity, even with people whose values are different from ours. In this way, we show the richness of the peoples of this earth and we can enjoy each other’s diversity. There can be no peace unless there is mutual respect, appreciation and support of each other in our belief, culture and in charity.

Majulah Singapura!

Devotedly in Christ,

Archbishop William Goh

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