RAISING UP A NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we celebrate Singapore’s 54th National Day, we are called to give praise and thanks to God for guiding and protecting our nation all these years through her trials and challenges.   However, we must not take our nation for granted, much less the peace, unity, harmony, security and prosperity we are enjoying.  All these have been achieved through the sacrifices of our forefathers.  Our Pioneer generation of leaders had laid the foundation for the growth of Singapore.  The values are enshrined in our National Pledge, which is to commit ourselves as “One united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”  The Merdeka leaders have continued to build Singapore based on these values.  As a result, Singapore today has earned a place in the international arena for our amazing achievements and success despite all the odds against us.

But today, we are facing new challenges that our Pioneer leaders did not face.  The values of the world are changing rapidly, to the extent that those of us who belong to the Pioneer and Merdeka generation are bewildered at how much the values of society have evolved.  From a world that placed religion at the centre of public life, it has become a world devoid of the presence of the Sacred.  From a stable world where perennial values of truth, love, fidelity, hard work, honesty, integrity, traditional understanding of marriage and family, the sacredness of life are accepted norms and traditions; we have now replaced these with moral relativism, a confusion of values, leading to pragmatism, individualism, materialism, despair and a culture of death, without any concern for the future of humanity and creation.   How can we respond as a community, as Catholic Singaporeans, to stand up for the eternal values of truth and justice, love and compassion so that we can collectively build a gracious society?

The biggest challenge for our leaders, whether, political, corporate or religious, is to seek a way to build a nation where we are united, regardless of race, language or religion, given the diversity of views which are often irreconcilable.  The reality is that we all come from quite different world views.  The Baby Boomers, the current generation of leaders, are transiting out of leadership and passing the baton to the Generation X leaders.  Their world views are different, even though there would be some continuity.  But it is critical for Merdeka leaders to be gracious in handing over the leadership to the Generation X leaders as they are more in touch with the Y and Z generations, especially when their values, interests, concerns and passions in life may differ much from the older generation.  Indeed, the Generation Y, a.k.a. “the Millennials”, born after 1980, grew up at a time when Singapore was becoming more prosperous and the internet and digital world had just begun, whilst the Generation Z, born after 1995, were raised with either a mobile phone or a tablet in their hands.  These generations are formed not by their parents but by the internet, digital and social media.  They may often be confused as they cannot make out what is right or wrong, true or false.  They may come from affluent families where everything is provided for.  The concern, therefore, is not security but in finding meaning and purpose in life.  Truly, the younger generations of Singaporeans have ideals and aspirations which are very different from the older generations.

What is said of the political and corporate leadership is equally true for the Church as well, in terms of grooming a new generation of leaders.  Most of our priests currently belong to the Merdeka and Pioneer generations.  Only a small percentage belong to the Generation X,  and maybe a few belong to the Generation Y.  This is not a good sign for the local Church.  As it is, we are being replaced with more and more migrant priests to help in our parishes because we have not enough local priests, and many of them are elderly.   When there is no renewal in Church leadership, eventually, or rather it has already begun, we will lose connection with the Generation Y and Z believers.  We are not addressing their aspirations and challenges in life in a way that they can understand, accept and be convicted.  The Church is in the process of becoming an aged Church, redundant to society.  We must not allow the Church to die because the future generations will then be raised in a godless society.

What must we do to renew Church leadership?  We need to promote priestly and religious vocations!  But this is not as easy as before because the evangelical counsels, such as simplicity, poverty, obedience and chastity, are not appreciated by the Y and Z Generations. The young generation is brought up in an affluent society that is individualistic, self-centered and promiscuous.  Priestly and religious life are not attractive to our young people unless they have fallen in love with Jesus.  Otherwise, priestly and religious life will be in danger of becoming another career option, an iron rice bowl for the lazy and complacent, a bachelor life of freedom, without commitment to selfless service of the gospel and the poor.

This is why, the Archdiocese must invest more of our funds to empower and form the faith of our younger generations, especially those from the Y and Z Generations so that they will remain passionate for the gospel because they have encountered the love of Jesus in a radical and personal way.   Only Jesus can call them to be labourers in His vineyard, whether as priests, religious or lay leaders.  The Church will always need priests to celebrate the sacraments and so it is not enough to depend on lay leaders alone.  To this end, the Church must commit more resources to the Office of Young People, and parish councils must commit more funds to raise full time youth leaders to initiate programs to empower our young people and form them to be people fired with faith and love for the Lord.  It is not enough to get them to be active in Church, but they must be formed into living and vibrant communities of faith.  Only from a community of living faith, can vocations be born!

Finally, we must pray that the Church is ready to adjust to the changing times instead of being rigid and fossilizing our time immemorial traditions which had served the Church well in the past but can no longer speak to our present generation of believers.   The structure of the Church needs an overhaul to include more lay people, men and women, old and young in Church leadership, governance and decision-making.  Those of us who are leaders must be courageous to support change and be humble enough to accept the advice of the young.  There is an increasing need to engage our young who desire to see a Church that is connected to and in touch with the deeper issues facing the world today. The Church, in the final analysis, needs to grow and be ready to embrace change. The choice is ours, flight or fight.

On our part, those who belong to the Pioneer and the Baby-boomer generations must be gracious enough to let go of our leadership gradually and allow the younger X and Y generations to take over.   They must learn to trust them even when they disagree with them.  This is because for those who belong to the older generations, their work is done.  We must believe that the present generation will be best placed to deal with the changing times.  Let us be humble and avoid thinking that we know better than the younger generation.  We must let go of our attachments, our offices, and our pride, thinking that we have all the answers.  We must go with the flow of nature, to let go so that the young might take over.  But it does not mean that we have nothing to offer.  Our role is to make disciples of and mentor young people to be the great leaders of tomorrow.  They need our guidance and advice, but they have to make their own decisions for their generations.  So let us all be gracious as we let the younger generations take the lead.

Happy National Day!

Devotedly in Christ,

Archbishop William Goh