ARCHBISHOP’S DREAM FOR THE CATHEDRAL
Let me begin by thanking both the organizers and all of you for attending this fund raising dinner in aid of the restoration of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. I am grateful to you all for your love and support for the ‘mother church’. Perhaps, partly because of the lack of outreach, such as formation activities and pastoral care, the reality of the Cathedral as the mother church of the archdiocese has lost its meaning and significance over the years. Indeed, I am speaking of my own experience. Before I entered the seminary, the Cathedral, because of its age and size, had been for me a monument of the sacred. It was like a sanctuary to me. I would take refuge occasionally to pray in the silence and tranquility of the church. I would also be filled with awe and reverence when I thought of our forefathers before us who had brought the faith to Singapore. But I could never really identify with the Cathedral as the mother church; perhaps only as the venue for archdiocesan liturgical celebrations. Other than that, the church remained alien to me. It seemed cold and unwelcoming. With the sanctuary so far away, and people seated in pockets, it did not exude a sense of community.
How did the renovation of this church come about? In truth, it was not because the hierarchy of the Church felt the need to upgrade the Cathedral. It was forced upon us by exigencies. The digging of the tunnels for the MRT lines, compounded by the development of SMU, affected the Cathedral’s building structure, causing crack lines to appear on the walls and pillars. Not only was it unsightly-looking – as if the Church suffered an earthquake – but more importantly, the safety of the public was at stake. So it was a blessing in disguise that we were left with little option but to restore the Cathedral; hence this undertaking came about. And since we were restoring the Cathedral, we might as well think long term and renovate the Rectory and the office buildings as well, so that the Cathedral could accommodate and undertake more activities. Thus, a new annex was built and underground facilities added, leading to both the Cathedral and the rectory buildings undergoing radical refurbishment and change.
Now that the Rectory is almost ready and the main church due for completion next year, we must plan ahead and establish the vision for a resurrected Cathedral. Thanks to all those involved, we are going to benefit not just from the beauty of this Cathedral but the facilities that will be made available. Yet, the truth remains that we are still short of funds. We still need to raise another $5 million. Then there are the worrisome operational costs to take care of once the building is completed. With more facilities and an air-conditioned cathedral, the operational costs would be staggering. How will we fund all these activities and facilities? The fact is that although the Cathedral is the mother church, this mother has been left behind after giving birth to offsprings in the new churches built around Singapore. This mother is now left to fend for herself!
But with no parishioners, only a transient population comprising the occasional tourist, migrant workers and expatriates, a handful of helpers from all over the island, poor attendance at services and even poorer collections, how is the mother Church ever going to be able to sustain the operational costs? How could the Cathedral be seen as a mother church, a model church for the archdiocese, without the vibrancy of an evangelizing community and the attendant activities that goes with it? Indeed, a building without a soul or souls is useless! These are just some of our concerns.
What is the solution to this dilemma? We are called to trust in the Lord and do His work of proclaiming the gospel to all of humanity. If we are diligent in laboring in the vineyard of the Lord in reaching out to Catholics, lapsed and weak Catholics, non-Catholics the young, the poor and inquirers, then we can be certain that God will bless us with whatever finances that are needed. He will not delegate us work without providing the needed resources. But the point is that we must first be willing to do our work if we want Him to provide!
Hence, our focus should be on how we should maximize the use of the Cathedral, the annex building and Rectory. The most important consideration is how we can regain the Cathedral’s status as the mother, teacher and heart of the church’s work of evangelization and liturgical celebrations. Right from the outset, we must remember that this Cathedral is named the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Therefore, in every way, everything and every activity in this restored Cathedral must reflect and radiate Christ as the Good Shepherd of all. What does the Good Shepherd do?
Firstly, we must take our direction from Pope Francis and his predecessors. All the recent popes speak of the need for the New Evangelization, not just to renew and rediscover the faith for our Catholics but also the work of evangelizing the world at large. The Good Shepherd must reach out. We are called to make Christ known and loved in the world. The Cathedral must be, and seen to be, a welcoming place for everyone. In the work of the New Evangelization, we must find ways to renew the spiritual life and doctrinal faith of our Catholics and to welcome home those who have left the Church for one reason or another. This would require us to be welcoming both to Catholics, non-Catholics alike, young and old, rich and poor. The Church as the teacher must therefore offer catechesis, formation, information, guidance and counselling to those who need help and advice and instructions.
We need to have more devotional and liturgical celebrations to enhance and reinvigorate the spiritual life of our people. The Cathedral as the heart of worship and liturgical celebrations must ensure that our Masses are celebrated with solemnity, vibrancy, fervor and with full participation of the faithful. We want to reclaim its place as the venue for all archdiocesan liturgical celebrations so that the universality of the Catholic Church is seen. We would want all the sacraments to be celebrated occasionally at the Cathedral, the mother church.
Beyond the liturgical celebrations, we should prolong the liturgy in devotions, like Holy Hour, Adoration, Praise and Worship meetings, and those other popular devotions that bring our people to love the Lord personally, besides being enlightened and fed by Him in the Word of God. We must not despise those authentic devotions that flow out of the liturgy because they help our Catholics to experience Christ’s love in an incarnational way.
I would like to see the Cathedral too, as a mother of mercy for those who want to be healed and be consoled or forgiven of their sins. I hope that we can provide regular confessions throughout the day for those who need to be freed of their sins and guilt. We would want to recruit priests who have the gift of compassion, wisdom and discernment to spend time at the confessional.
The Cathedral must also be a sign of the vibrancy of the Church and her youthfulness, ever old and yet ever young, ever ancient and yet ever new. I would like to see this place vibrant with activities for youths. Being at the center of the city and situated at the node of youth activities, including the university, we are well placed to reach out to them. Many of them are like those labourers in the gospel, idling but looking for work and meaning in the vineyard of the Lord. It is our task to call them to labor in the house of the Lord. Of course, we must not forget the elderly as well. It would be good to find a place where they can gather for fellowship.
But we cannot be inward-looking. We also need to reach out, to be in the battlefields to tend to the wounds of our fellowmen. We need to offer this place also to the migrants and the expatriates working in Singapore. Our migrants must feel welcomed, and experience a sense of place in our local church so that they in turn can look after their own people from a different culture and language. In reaching out to those who are ignorant of our faith and Church history, I would also envisage the Cathedral to be the starting point for a pilgrimage in our backyard. Organized mini walking tours could be conducted to showcase the heritage and beauty of the Church and her history, taking in the Cathedral, Sts Peter and Paul, St Joseph’s Church and other places of significance in the history of the missionary activities of the early Church. Finally, it should also be a place where the poor are being tended to as well. Without some outreach to the poor, we would fail in showing the Church to be a mother of mercy. We could work with some established institutions to provide such a service.
This, then, is my dream for our mother church, the Seat of the Archbishop and the archdiocese. This is your Cathedral too. It is a home for all young and old, Catholics and non-Catholics, rich and poor, Singaporean and other nationalities. I would want this Cathedral to reflect the universality of the Catholic Church, an all embracing mother and teacher.
So please help me and help us to fulfill this dream for the archdiocese. We need finance, manpower and volunteers. Most of all, we need your prayers and intercession to the Lord to send labourers and resources for the work of His vineyard. All of you have benefitted much from the Cathedral through your parishes. You must not forget your mother church that fed you and continue to nurture you. Give back to the Church what you have received. It is not enough to take care of your parochial church because we are one Catholic Church, one body in Christ.
All Catholics from better off parishes have a duty to help other Catholic communities, especially the poorer parishes. More so, when the mother church needs your support! Failure to support the Cathedral is an indictment of all Catholics because when others see how the mother church is neglected and abandoned, they would think that we are all very individualistic and lack love for the mother church, and it only demonstrates the lack of unity among Catholics, symbolized by the Cathedral. So we rely on your assistance and your generosity to help to rebuild the Cathedral, both structurally and the spiritually.
Thank you to one and all. All of you have in different ways and in different capacities given your time, resources and energy to help in the restoration of the Cathedral. We are grateful to all of you. The Church is indebted to you. Mother church is proud of you for you have shown yourself to be filial children. God bless you all.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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