WHEN GREGORY YONG became Archbishop of Singapore, his main task was to set up the infrastructure for the archdiocese required by the Second Vatican Council.
"It was not easy to start but fortunately the priests were responsive," he said in an interview with CatholicNews on his 80th birthday.
On the agenda was the establishment of different commissions. He recalled, "One of the first things to set up was the Priestly Life Commission so that there’s better communication between priests and bishop. The Senate of Priests was not so well set up so it had to be updated and better organized."
Another area that Archbishop Yong felt he was able to contribute
to the church in Singapore was the promotion of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). With new converts to the faith came the challenge of getting more
priests. The ratio in the 1980s was one priest to 1000 Catholics.
"I told the priests the way the church was growing in Singapore – an average of 3,500 baptisms a year – every year we must have three new priests. I told them we must pray for vocations" so that even if they were not forthcoming from the diocese, God would still provide, he said.
"And they came! Young men joining the Franciscans, the Carmelites – all part of the Kingdom of God that we are building here in Singapore. So the ratio is still the same today. We must always trust in providence!"
Besides building the community of faith, there was also the toil to build or renovate church buildings.
Archbishop Yong empathised with those who were involved. Securing the land and raising the money was a lot of hard work, he stressed. The first church he directly helped to build was the Church of the Holy Cross. "I am grateful to the priests who helped to build the churches around the island and for the generous response of the people," he told CatholicNews.
Summing up his tenure as Archbishop of Singapore, he said he had quite a pleasant and rewarding time running the Archdiocese of Singapore which included welcoming many congregations to the diocese.
The congregations that came here during his term include the Brothers of Mercy, Carmelite Fathers, Daughters of St. Paul, Dominican Friars, Missionaries of Charity, Religious of the Cenacle, Verbum Dei Missionaries and Opus Dei.
As for the laity, he expressed gratitude for their generosity. "Our local Catholics are very cooperative. If they see that you are doing a good job they will help with their time, energy, and expertise, provided the priest is there to welcome them." All parishes can have the same kind of co-workers, or lay-workers, ever ready to come forth, he added.
Asked what made him happy,
he replied, "Happiness is doing the will of God though this is not
always easy. But you will discover
his will through everyday circumstances and events."
On the other hand, sadness for him was "when I see people not living up to the Lord’s expectations."
"They want happiness but are not prepared to pay the price of happiness (which is to act according to the will of God, like promotion of family life)."
Archbishop Yong kept himself up to date with current affairs even in retirement.
"All this casino business is meant to make Singaporeans happy but will they be happy?" he commented.
"Many look for happiness in the wrong places – birth control, divorce, affluence," he noted.
Singapore Catholics now benefit from the many institutions and processes initiated and encouraged by Archbishop Yong and decisions made by him which have been fruitful over the years.
Among these are: establishment
of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Commission; Singapore Pastoral Institute; building of the Major Seminary; increased distribution of CatholicNews; supporting lay organisations like Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, Natural Family Planning; introducing Marriage Encounter, Choice, Engaged Encounter, Family Life Society, New Evangelization Team, AWARE; encouraging the formation of the Mandarin speaking community; use of Mandarin in the liturgy; outreach to the Chinese in China; and distributing the Life Application Bibles to bishops, priests, religious and lay people from Myanmar, India, Africa and Indonesia who came here to attend retreats to help them understand and apply the Word of God where God has placed them.
There are many other achievements not mentioned here.
The most important is a vibrant, growing and faith-filled Catholic community in Singapore. This is evident in the packed and lively churches at weekend Masses.
Creating new parishes, building churches
FROM 1975, A number of new towns were built, among them Clementi, Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Woodlands. This created the need for churches to be built and new parishes to be established. Among them are: • 1978 – Church of St. Stephen.
FROM 1975, A number of new towns were built, among them Clementi, Ang Mo Kio, Tampines and Woodlands. This created the need for churches to be built and new parishes to be established. Among them are:
• 1978 – Church of St. Stephen.
• 1980 – Church of the Holy Cross in Clementi.
• 1982 – Church of Christ the King in Ang Mo Kio.
• 1990 – Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines.
• 1992 – Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea was relocated to larger premises in Yishun.• 1994 – St. Anthony’s was relocated to Woodlands and the new building of St. Michael’s was taking shape.
• 1979 – Church of the Holy Spirit. A further extension was added in 1988.
• 1987 – The old trade school built by the Catholic Welfare Services was renovated.
• 1982 – Damien Centre was built at
Church of the Blessed Sacrament
• 1999 – Church of the Holy Family in Katong was rebuilt.
• 1999 – Church of Christ the King was rebuilt.
• 2000 – Church of St. Francis Xavier was upgraded.• 2001 – New Church of St. Anne was completed.
One reason for the upgradings was that congregations had not only
increased in size but also more significantly, the rather elaborate ancillary facilities reflected the trend for the church to assume a larger community role. This also meant greater involvement of the
laity in a variety of activities and
programmes. The churches were
no longer just houses of worship
but had developed into complexes
providing education, catechism for children, faith formation, social and recreational facilities, family and social programmes, meeting rooms and libraries.