Dear Buddhist friends,
It is with great rejoicing that we, on behalf of all Catholics, send you our warmest greetings and heartfelt best wishes as you celebrate the sacred feast of Vesak in commemoration of the three great events in the Buddha’s life – his birth, enlightenment and his final nirvana. May your celebration be filled with peace and joy!
During his apostolic journey to Myanmar, Pope Francis met with the Supreme Sangha Council of Buddhist Monks in Yangon on 29 November 2017. There, he emphasised the need for religious leaders to give a common witness to all peoples by affirming with one voice “the timeless values of justice, peace and the fundamental dignity of each human person.” He said:
“If we are to be united, as is our purpose, we need to surmount all forms of misunderstanding, intolerance, prejudice and hatred. How can we do this? The words of the Buddha offer each of us a guide: ‘Overcome the angry by non-anger; overcome the wicked by goodness; overcome the miser by generosity; overcome the liar by truth.’ (Dhammapada, XVII, 223). Similar sentiments are voiced in a prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me bring pardon… Where there is darkness, let me bring light, and where there is sadness, joy’.”
The Interreligious Organization, Singapore (IRO) celebrated its 70th anniversary on 18 March, 2019. Since its founding in 1949, Catholic and Buddhist religious leaders, together with the leaders of the other 8 major religions under the IRO umbrella, have worked hard and closely together with the government to maintain multi-religious harmony and social cohesion in Singapore. However, as ESM Goh Chok Tong, patron of the IRO, pointed out at the launch of the IRO’s 70th anniversary exhibition, Singapore’s situation is “an exception rather than the norm in the world… The [recent] heinous acts committed at two mosques in Christchurch are a sad reminder that the peace we enjoy is both precious and fragile, and cannot be taken for granted… Generations of Singaporeans and Singaporean governments have worked hard to make religious diversity our strength, not our weakness. And future generations must continue to do so.”
The need to work hard without ceasing in mutual solidarity to maintain and enhance religious harmony and social cohesion at every level in Singapore is underscored by the latest acts of terrorism that shook Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019, where many Catholics fell victim to suicide bombings as they celebrated Easter Sunday in packed churches. Notwithstanding that this is a predominantly Buddhist nation, where compassion and peaceful co-existence is espoused, still, many innocent people lost their lives or their loved ones in the attacks because not all have heeded the message.
Jesus and Buddha were both great prophetic peacemakers, filled with mercy, love and compassion, especially for the poor, regardless of religion or race. As faithful Buddhists and Catholics, let us all renew our commitment to be inspirational witnesses of mutual respect and lasting peace to everyone. Through interfaith dialogue in the IRO, in our places of worship or in the common space, let us walk and work hand-in-hand with our fellow Singaporeans and all others to ensure lasting peace and justice in our nation for the generations to come.
On behalf of all members of our Catholic community, we thank you for your invaluable contributions and commitment to interfaith dialogue and collaboration in our country. Wishing you a wonderful and spiritually revitalising Vesak Day!
Most Rev William Goh, D. D., STL
Archbishop of Singapore
Msgr Philip Heng, S. J.
Vicar General (Interreligious Relations)