Opening Address at Social Mission Conference 2018

/Opening Address at Social Mission Conference 2018

Opening Address at Social Mission Conference 2018

THEME:    INTEGRAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARCHDIOCESE

This morning I have been asked to share about integral development in the Archdiocese.  But before I share with you what the archdiocese is doing in the work of human development, I need to lay down the theological foundations for the thrust the archdiocese is taking.  In Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI wrote, that “in the design of God, every man is called upon to develop and fulfil himself, for every life is a vocation.”  Indeed, it is in the DNA of every human to develop himself or herself.

To say that life is a vocation means firstly, that this call is derived from God.  This common call is the journey that man takes in solidarity with his fellow human beings and indeed the whole of creation to arrive at its ultimate goal, which is to be with God.  Our life on earth is but a pilgrimage, as St Paul tells us.  (cf Phil 3:20f)

Precisely, for this reason, man cannot make progress in development unless he is open to the divine vocation to which he is called.  True development of the human person must consider the whole man, every man and all men if we were to be truly complete.  We cannot speak of self-fulfillment without finding it in God who is the highest and the ultimate goal of human development.  Without God, man and creation are inexplicable and there is no goal to attain or arrive at.  Indeed, man is not a lost atom in a random universe but he is God’s creature, created in His image and likeness, with an immortal soul, and not just made of matter. He has not just a physical life but an emotional, spiritual and supernatural life as well.  This is why, when the State promotes, teaches or imposes forms of practical atheism, and not just theoretical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength necessary to attain integral human development.

Therefore, it would be a disaster to allow scientific and technological progress to make advancements without taking into consideration the ethical, human, social and religious dimensions of humanity.  Relegating the entire process of development to science and technology alone would endanger and jeopardize the well-being of humanity, as technology is amoral and does not have a conscience.   It is a serious mistake to hand over the future of humanity to technology without the moral guidance of man.  Instead of helping man to achieve its final goal, it dehumanizes man, destroys the fabric of society, the dignity of human life, not least the openness to the transcendent.  This is particularly so in the way science blatantly disregards the dignity of the unborn child and the elderly by advocating abortion and euthanasia, by using embryos for research, cloning, in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood without considering the social, ethical, psychological and emotional long term implications for the child.  We need to stand up against the hypocrisy of the world where on one hand, it expounds the dignity of the human person, justice, honesty and peace, but on the other hand, acts to the contrary by allowing science and technology to devalue and violate the dignity of life, especially the weak and the vulnerable.

Secondly, on its own, humanity cannot supply the ultimate meaning of his existence on earth.  What is man?  What is the meaning of life?  Where did He come from and where is he going at the end of his life’s journey?  Why is there suffering?  In the promotion of integral development, the gospel is fundamental because Christ is the true man and the true God.  Christ, who is the revealer of the Father, the Origin of life and creation, reveals to us our final calling and what it means to be a true man. “The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” (GS, No 1)

Thus, the proclamation of the Gospel would not be complete unless it touches on every aspect of human life, personal, social, cultural, religious, political, economic and ecological life.  Integral development therefore seeks to develop the human person in its entirety, body, soul, spirit, in relationship with the rest of humanity and creation within the ambit of science, technological and economic development.  It is concerned with the advancement of the individual in society and the whole of creation. This is rooted in our theology of the incarnation because in becoming man, God has assumed all that is human into Himself, sanctifying glorifying it.

This explains why the work of justice, peace and development is integral to the work of evangelization.   It forms also the basis for the social doctrines of the Church, which is an essential element of evangelization.  Social doctrines of the Church are derived from the theological doctrines taught by Christ and His Church about God and humanity.   In our efforts to grow, make progress in knowledge, in science and technology, in social and human development, we must be clear of the meaning of progress.   Authentic development therefore must be integral.  It promotes the well-being and good of every man, the whole man, and his fellowmen, the whole of humanity and indeed, the whole of creation.

Indeed, we cannot speak of human development without underscoring the importance of fraternal charity.  The causes of under-development are not just of the material order but injustices and in the failure to preserve our solidarity with our fellowmen.  It is the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples that hinders development.  It is ironical that as society becomes more globalized and makes us neighbours, it does not tantamount to making us brothers and sisters. The inequality in the distribution of resources is due to injustice and selfishness.  Whilst we all know from reason that we must live peaceably with each other, reason alone cannot establish brotherhood unless we believe that we belong to one human family with God as our Father; and that only because God first loved us in Christ Jesus that we have the capacity to love each other in His Spirit as He has loved us.

In the light of what we have said about integral development, this is indeed the thrust of the archdiocese in its 10-Year pastoral plan.  When I assumed this office five years ago, we set as our vision to be a vibrant, evangelistic, and missionary Church.  For this to happen, we spoke of the need to hold in balance the two lungs of the Church, namely, deepening and renewing our faith on one hand, and demonstrating our love for God in works of charity and social involvement.  Faith without good works is dead.  But good works alone does not indicate faith.  We promote the integral development of the human person as an individual and as a member of society.  But more than just supplying the material and physical needs of people, we seek to give every person a holistic development including their spiritual hunger for God, without which life has no meaning and purpose.

From the perspective of developing the human person, the Church is committed to the spiritual and doctrinal formation of our faithful.  We believe that unless we are first rooted in God and in the gospel values, we will lack the right orientation and motivation in the service of selfless love and service.  We made it clear that all works of charity must not be reduced to mere humanitarian works.  We must establish our works of charity in our love for Christ and the gospel.  To this end, we formed the Office of the New Evangelization to promote a deeper appreciation of the missionary and evangelistic dimension of the individual Catholic.  We asked the Catholic Spirituality Center to organize more spiritual programs that caters to their spiritual life, especially their prayer life.  We also established the Catholic Theological Institute to ensure that our Catholics are well formed in Catholic doctrines and theology and in Sacred Scriptures so that they can live their faith more fully, intelligently and with utter conviction.

Recognizing the importance of human formation, the Church also set up the Office of Young People to reach out to them as they are the future leaders of society and Church.  We invest much in the Office of Young People because we see them as critical to the further growth of the Church and the country.  Unless our people are well formed and grounded in the faith, not only will we lack religious leaders to serve the Church in the future, but we will also lack good leaders to lead the country, whether in the political or economic arena.  So the Office of Young People seek to give them a deep encounter with Christ and build communities where they can find support and Catholic fellowship in faith, studies and life.

We have also invested resources in the Archdiocesan Commission For Catholic Schools.   This is an important aspect of our social mission in sharing the Good News with the majority of non-Catholics in our schools and at the same time ensuring that our own Catholic students are given proper Catholic Ethos in their curriculum, not just to excel intellectually but also become people of faith and service to humanity, promoting justice, progress, peace and unity.

Equally important is the state of our family.  The Church also set up the Archdiocesan Family Commission, comprising many organizations and movements related to the family.   We have movements such as Christian Family Social Movement, Couple Empowerment Program, Couple Mentor Program, Couples for Christ, Family Life Society, Choice, Catholic Engaged Encounter, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Marriage Preparation Course, Marriage Retorno, Beginning Experience, Natural Family Planning, Pieta and Retrouvaille.

But the Church is not only inward-looking, Ad Intra, but also Ad Extra.  The Church does not exist for herself but for society and the world.  In the area of outreach, we are happy to say that we as Church are committed to society at large.  Our social services are many and varied, serving all kinds of people.  There are altogether 25 organizations that are affiliated to Caritas, serving the poor and the underprivileged in Singapore and another 20 Organizations affiliated to Charis, serving the poor in the third world countries.  In our parishes, we have the household name of St Vincent De Paul society that reaches out personally to the poor living around and within the parishes.  In the archdiocese, we have the Archdiocesan Commission for Migrants and Itinerants that serve primarily the migrant workers in Singapore.  We have five nursing homes for the sick and the poor, a hospital and more than 35 Catholic primary and secondary schools, excluding pre-schools, serving the public at large.

Besides extending help to the poor, the Church is very much involved in the promotion of inter-religious dialogue and cultures.  We are fortunate to have the Inter-Religious Organization in Singapore.  Our religious leaders know each other personally and we invite each other to our respective social and religious celebrations.  There is a growing friendship among the leaders and adherents of different religions as they come together to share their faith and their practices, both on the personal level and in seminars and conferences, and celebrate with each other in their festivities.  The mutual support and sincere respect among religions certainly is the key to promoting religious harmony in Singapore. The 2014 Pew Research found Singapore to be the most religiously diverse country in the world, yet we are able to enjoy religious harmony, all because of the dialogue and constant engagement among religions, promoting trust that goes beyond tolerance to appreciation.

Finally, the Church is equally committed to be partners of the government in the development of peoples.  Our government, although secular, is not secularistic.  The government recognizes the spiritual aspirations of her people.  It not only tolerates religions but sees them as partners in the development of the people.  So much so, the government makes it a point to participate in the activities of the different religions, supporting them not just morally but whenever possible. The government engages religious leaders in dialogue, especially in areas that concern justice, morality and religion.  The different ministries of the government, particularly MCCY, MSF and MHA, regularly consult us on issues related to security, harmony, justice and morality.

Religions are represented in two Presidential Councils.  In the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, there are four religious members represented; myself, a representative from Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism.  It shows the seriousness the government has towards the contribution of religions to the growth of the country.  The government seeks to be just and fair in her actions and policies so that no minority, whether of race, language or religion, will be marginalized or discriminated because we believe in meritocracy and inclusivity.  To strengthen religious harmony, the government has also set up the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony of which I am also a member, together with representatives from the main religions and some government officials.  This council ensures that no one insults another religion or says words that cause religious division and hostility, whether in preaching, teaching or in social media.

Indeed, in terms of integral development, especially human development, the Church has done well.  We have contributed much to the growth of our Catholics and the people at large.  We have done our part in fostering integral development on every aspect, whether it be human, spiritual, intellectual or social formation.

What about the weaknesses of the Church in Singapore with respect to integral development? Firstly, although our people are very much into social and humanitarian works of mercy, some lack a real spiritual and theological foundation for the works they do.  It is simply a human response to the sufferings of humanity, but it is not motivated by the love of Christ and the desire to consciously bring Christ’s love to those whom they serve so that they would one day come to know their Lord and Saviour and find fullness of life here on earth and in heaven.  Unless our good works spring from faith in Christ, it can end up in despair and frustration when we find the demands of the poor beyond our capacity to fulfill.

The second weakness is in the area of alignment.  Whilst each organization is doing very well on its own, there is a lack of collaboration and mutual support for each other.  We must be careful that we do not work in silo, because we are all in the one mission.  Every organization is contributing to the integral development of humanity, whether it is in education, formation, spirituality, family or in social work.

Finally, when it comes to ecological commitment, many of us are indifferent.   Perhaps it is because Singaporeans at large are so dependent on a comfortable life that they cannot do without the convenience of a modern lifestyle.  It is a difficult process because we are not used to recycling our rubbish, turning up the temperature of our air-conditioners, not wasting food, etc. We have contributed to global warming and climate change because of the abuse of nature, through pollution, destruction of nature and depletion of non-renewable resources.   This is where more conscientization is needed because as the Holy Father in his encyclical Laudato Sii reminds us, we have a shared responsibility towards the environment and the future of our planet.

So let us thank God for what He is doing in and through us in fostering integral development both for ourselves and for humanity.  What we do well, we need to improve and be more focused.  What we are weak at, we need to strengthen and see how we can better collaborate with each other in fostering integral development, first for ourselves and then for others.  Charity begins at home, but it does not end there.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved
2018-07-23T03:52:23+00:00