By Joyce Gan
SINGAPORE - Parishes in Singapore are either renewing their Small Christian Communities (SCC) or starting them, spurred partly by the establishment of Parish Pastoral Councils in parishes, and SCC Day was held to celebrate and affirm this movement, said Wendy Louis, Director of the Singapore Pastoral Institute which organized the event.
About 140 people from 17 parishes attended the SCC Day held at the Catholic Archdiocesan Education Centre from 10am-4pm on Saturday Oct 13. Ms Louis said the purpose of SCC Day was to raise awareness of existing SCC and to show that SCC is an international way of being church.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia described the event as a "wonderful day of fellowship and formation", and he shared his "dream to have families gathering in the neighbourhood, sharing faith and Gospel and serving their neighbours, as recharged by the Holy Spirit".
"This event will show us that the SCC is an effective way to live our commission and mission to the world," he continued. "From our community, we witness to the active love of God to serve the poorest and most in need in our community, reaching out to one and all."
Msgr Sebastian Francis, Vicar General of Melaka-Johor diocese, explained that SCC is not merely about getting together and enjoying fellowship, and he advised that SCC be kept small. "Always keep in mind the evangelizing aspect," he advised. "It's okay to start with gatherings and fellowships but there must be a vision in mind" and that vision should lead to a mission of evangelizing to non-Christians even and ministering to the needy, he added. "If we don't reach out beyond our small groups, then the SCC becomes merely a club."
Msgr Sebastian Francis cautions that building community is a tough job but SCC is needed to combat the culture of individualism. Jesuit Father Tom Michel, Ecumenical Secretary of Federation of Asian Bishops Conference and the Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue for the Jesuits, and an Islamic scholar, emphasized the importance for laypeople to be in the forefront of SCC. They are the ones to first engage in dialogue with peoples of different faiths in their neighbourhood and, from there, to build up this relationship to the level of the religious and clergy.
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He illustrated the importance of lay participation in dialogue with a sharing of a personal experience during the six months he spent teaching Christianity in a university in Turkey.
The apartment he rented, though cheap at $50 a month, was unfurnished. On the day he went searching for a bed from the university, a Muslim he passed on the street greeted him and they chatted. By the time he had brought his bed back to his apartment, most of the people on the street knew he was a priest who had come to Turkey to teach Christianity.
Father Tom Michel related how during his stay there, he regularly found his apartment swept and laundry washed; and dinner and supper mysteriously appeared on his table. The Muslim people in the neighbourhood knew he was a "monk" (priest) and had made the effort to take care of him. When he requested to meet those women who had been so helpful, he was told: "You don't have to thank them. They didn't do this for you. They did this for God. And God who sees what they do in secret will thank them."
"This is what the church talks about dialogue - the dialogue of daily life," he said. "Make hospitality a concern." He asked, "Do we take the initiative to be hospitable? Do people think of Christians like that?"
This is very applicable to multicultural and multi-religious Singapore. There is room for inter-religious relationships to thrive here, he added. Father Tom Michel suggested that SCC here make an effort to break fast together with Muslim neighbours during Ramadan, or make home visits during cultural celebrations of different faiths. "When we eat together, it changes our perceptions of how we look at one another," he said.
Mark Ortega, who belongs to the Lucky Heights/Sennett Estate SCC, was glad he came. "I had hoped to be inspired by the speakers and to learn new ideas to put to use in my SCC," he said. "It was very encouraging to see such a big turnout and it made me realize that the SCC idea is really taking root all over Singaporeâ€¦ and the speakers had many ideas to share to energize each and every SCC."
Mark realizes there will always remain people within the community who are unconvinced of the benefits of being a part of an SCC. To this, he said, "It is the responsibility of the community, not just the leaders, to reach out to them, to teach them that we are really all part of one big family and to embrace them into the fold."
Malvin Poh from Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea was struck by the speakers' sharing of how tiring it can be to get an SCC moving - something he feels too. But he is motivated by the encouragement to persevere and "to let the Holy Spirit guide us in promoting the SCC".
A survey conducted last year indicated that there were approximately 3,000 people involved in SCCs in the archdiocese.