Archbishop William Goh was appointed head of the S’pore Church a year ago. We speak to him one year on and get comments from various Catholics on what he has done.
Almost on time, he walks into the meeting room at the Archbishop’s House where the interview with CatholicNews is to be held.
“Do you want a drink? Coffee? Tea?” he asks me. I decline.
Heading to his seat, he is about to sit down when he decides that he should still get a drink for me and goes to the pantry.
“Ah, this bishop…” his personal assistant murmurs in mild amusement.
Throughout the hour-long interview (with a cup of tea for each of us now), it became obvious that Archbishop Goh, who took charge of the Singapore archdiocese a year ago on May 18, is confident of his plans for the Singapore Church.
Yet at the same time, he exudes humility when he speaks of these, insisting that he is “still the same person, the same priest, the same Fr William Goh”.
When asked about what he thinks he achieved over the past year, Archbishop Goh, who turns 57 in June, said, “I don’t quite like the word ‘achievements’. I think that being a bishop is not an ambition.”
So we discuss what he has done over the past year, which he says has “given everyone a clear vision and mission [that] cannot be compromised. I have my plans [but the] methods and approach can be discussed.”
He goes on to credit his vicars general, Msgr Philip Heng and Msgr Ambrose Vaz, who he says are “capable, hardworking, resourceful and dynamic”.
He also mentions chancellor Fr John-Paul Tan, judicial vicar Fr Terence Pereira, episcopal vicar Fr Erbin Fernandez, executive secretary Fr Ignatius Yeo and financial administrator Deacon Clement Chen, saying that he is “happy with the team I have chosen”.
After these positions were filled, he then shifted his focus to the various offices in the archdiocese.
The Office for New Evangelisation (ONE) was set up to “promote, foster, steer the work of new evangelisation across the diocese”, said Archbishop Goh. “It is not a standalone thing, the whole Church is involved…[and] ONE is a catalyst to ensure that the spirit of new evangelisation is adopted.”
He then mentions the new Office for Young People (OYP), and his appointment of Fr Jude David to assist archdiocesan youth chaplain Fr Brian D’Souza. The young people “are a necessary component of the Church with so much ideas and energy,” he stressed.
Archbishop Goh said he has asked Msgr Ambrose Vaz to coordinate all movements promoting family life in the archdiocese.
Listing a few family-focused organisations such as Family Life Society, Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Retrouvaille and CHOICE, Archbishop Goh said, “There are so many groups, so I feel that there should be a greater coordination, especially in terms of resources.”
On foreign Catholics living in Singapore, Archbishop Goh said that “more should be done to coordinate” foreign communities, rather than just serving them on a “social level”.
He also shared that as a bishop, he now has fewer opportunities for “interpersonal relationships” and “individual ministering”, but has to spend more time in board meetings that help to “put structures in place”.
Archbishop Goh has also made pastoral visits to various parishes in the past six months, as he feels this will help him to “know the ground”. He added that he hopes to visit all the local Catholic churches by next year, and “bring different pastoral structures for other parishes to learn”.
“There should be more sharing [among churches],” Archbishop Goh said. “Every parish must help each other to grow.”
He is also working towards setting up a diocesan pastoral council and a diocesan synod, as he feels these will “empower diocesan organisations”. Right now, he said, “most of the steering is still done by the priests”. “It’s like only using one lung to breathe,” he added.
Since January, Archbishop Goh has been helping priests, Religious and lay leaders get to “know each other personally” through informal monthly dinner meetings with them.
“Friendship is important,” said Archbishop Goh.
On his working relations with his office staff at the Archbishop’s House, he said that the “emphasis is not on success, [but] helping a person to grow”. To him, “people are more important than efficiency”.
Speaking about the changes he has made in the archdiocese, Archbishop Goh said, “Generally, I think people are happy. There is this new spirit in the Church that is moving, [and] I think people are excited about the new evangelisation.”
However, he acknowledged that “people are wondering how my vision and mission can translate into concrete projects”. It is a “new style of leadership”, he said, adding that “I believe in compassion and personal authority”.
“Some people may think I’m going too fast, some just cannot accept changes,” he said. “Those who are still sceptical, we’ll slowly convince them.”
He added, “Hopefully, this new bishop can also imitate Pope Francis to make radical changes, for the good of course.”
Nevertheless, some projects he has in mind have to be put on hold because of insufficient funds.
“But if this is God’s plan, He will provide somehow”, he said.
These projects include a retirement house for priests and Religious, and a centre for Church organisations that currently have no place to house them.
Finally, Archbishop Goh stressed the importance of community life in the Church.
There are “too many individual Catholics who have no sense of belonging, no community. Every Catholic must belong to a Catholic community”, Archbishop Goh said.
People should be “sharing the faith before serving together”, he said in his parting words.
By Clara Lai
Thumbs up for what His Grace has done
‘He has brought a certain freshness to the archdiocese with his friendly and easy style. Things are more relaxed in the good sense of the word. He trusts in the goodness and ability of his people. Recognising the gifts of each individual, he allows them to use their gifts in such a way as to achieve great things for God and for the Church.
Borrowing the words of Pope Francis, I hope Archbishop Goh will take the local Church to the peripheries whether it is in the area of mission work, evangelisation formation of laity, social involvement in society or any other area. The Church needs to be seen as relevant both by society and by Catholics.’
– Fr James Yeo, Rector, Catholic
Theological Institute of Singapore
‘I appreciate His Grace taking the occasion of celebration to meet the Religious and people. It create a bond between him and the local Church. He consults especially in areas that he is not familiar with e.g. interreligious dialogue. He doesn’t turn down requests for dialogue with him.
It is easy to read the direction he is leading the archdiocese and helpful for us as Religious to align our mission with that of the archbishop.
[On what direction it is hoped he will lead the local Church:] A concerted effort at evangelising the entire archdiocese ... Encourage strong partnership between Religious and the priests in the diocese and building trust between laypeople and priests.
The archdiocese and Religious can collaborate more to meet the needs of both sides especially in seeing to the needs of the elderly priests and Religious. I hope to see an improvement in the partnership style among all that is built on mutual trust and respect.’
– Sr Theresa Seow,
Canossian Provincial Leader
‘I find that the archbishop has managed to capture the hearts and minds of the flock. I find this is particularly important, as it is indeed a turning point for us, the laypeople to be renewed and re-evangelised. His communication style serves as an easy conduit for laypeople to be moved towards Christ.
At least for me as a lapsed Catholic, I find the Church more passionate and now find it is leading me back to home. The direction I’d like to possibly see is for the different parishes to be a unified as one Church with communion as mission.’
– Kevin Goh, polytechnic lecturer
‘I believe he has reached out to many of his brother clergy and affirmed the gifts of each of them. He has also shared his vision for renewing the pastoral life of the archdiocese for the next 10 years and this has led to a lot of reflection by clergy and laypeople about what needs to happen for the New Evangelisation.
His working style is very collaborative. And once he has tasked persons with a job, he trusts them to do it with lots of input and encouragement from his part. I hope that we will experience a renewed participation of the laity in the mission of the Church. And we will see an increase in the exercise of charisms in the Church by both laity and clergy.’
– Fr Erbin Fernandez, Episcopal Vicar,
Office for the New Evangelisation
‘Archbishop Goh in his first year has done very well in giving the Catholic Church in Singapore the impetus for change. As much as he is addressing necessary structural changes, his most valuable work in our opinion, has been in revitalising the Church’s sense of purpose, as well as recovering her source of power, namely prayer.
[His working style is] empowering, encouraging, consultative and with a clear dependence on God. While possessing incredible focus and fortitude, Archbishop Goh is also a man with a great sense of humour, which makes working with him both a stretching and joyful experience.
[On what direction it is hoped he will lead the local Church:] That the Church in Singapore will fully embrace the spirit of the New Evangelisation and become who she is meant to be: a united force for spiritual awakening and societal transformation.’
– Leonard Koh and Cassilda Lim,
Youth Directors, Amplify Ministry
‘He is a man of collaboration and communion. A compassionate leader who leads by example and tries his best to appreciate the good in people. His Grace has a clear vision of wanting an evangelical and missionary Church ... I believe he will help our Church face the challenges of the ever changing world that we live in.’
– Fr Jude David, Asst Youth Chaplain,
Office for Young People
‘In the short year that he has become the archbishop, he has touched us with his humility and compassion. We are inspired and moved by his affirmation of the clergy, and his trust and belief in the gifts of the laity and their empowerment.’
– Fr Stephen Yim, Chairman,
City District, Senate of Priests
‘His decision, despite his busy schedule, to continue with his Conversion Retreats at CSC [Catholic Spirituality Centre} as well as his personal invitations to priests and lay leaders from the different organisations and parishes for occasional meals at the Archbishop’s House shows that he is not a leader who operates from the ivory tower but one who sincerely wants to keep abreast of what goes on at the ground level – something that augurs well for the Church.’
– Andrew Low
‘What Archbishop Goh has done is a breath of fresh air. What I think he has achieved is looking at how things are done and have taken a positive step towards being more transparent. I am hopeful that he will bring us all together as one church ... in sharing his pastoral vision.’
– Deacon Clement Chen,
Archdiocesan Financial Administrator
‘He delegates and works on the principle of subsidiarity. A person-oriented leader that fosters good team work. [On what direction it is hoped he will lead the local Church:] A collaborative Church that has a heart for the poor, needy and underprivileged with particular attention towards the migrant workers.’
– Sr Agnes Lee, Provincial,
Sisters of the Infant Jesus
– George Lim, Chairman,
‘He has brought about a renewed sense of dynamism to the Church, a rediscovery of our purpose. My hope for the Church is for a true sense of mission to be kindled again, that with His Grace’s leadership a focus on what it means to be truly Church can begin in earnest.’
– Alex Yam, Parishioner, Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour