According to Fr Hans-Joachim Fogl, Singapore has the biggest active German-speaking Catholic community in Asia.
Fr Hans, 53, who came to Singapore in September 2004, is currently the chaplain of the German Catholic community here.
Together with one of the main coordinators Ms Susanne Greiner, 47, Fr Hans told CatholicNews about their community in a recent interview.
The German Catholic community in Singapore was started in 1981, with only about 30 people attending the monthly German Mass then.
Today, it has expanded to about 280 families, or approximately 900 people.
There are about 250 people who attend the German Mass at Maris Stella Chapel at Holland Road every Sunday at 10.30am, except during the summer holidays in mid-June to mid-August, when they will then join their local parishes for Mass.
Ms Greiner said that the people in the community are German-speaking and include Austrians, Swiss and people from Liechtenstein.
“One unique thing I have to mention is that we have altar girls,” Fr Hans said with a grin. “It’s our tradition.”
In 2013, Fr Hans conducted two marriages in German. To qualify, the couple have to have at least one member who can speak German.
Last year, the community had seven baptisms, 28 confirmands and 41 First Holy Communion children. This year’s, only 25 children had their First Holy Communion.
Fr Hans explained that they will try to send those wishing to be baptised to Germany to be baptised rather than being baptised here. It would be a hassle if they were back in their country and they wish to get married but require the baptism certificate, he said.
In the German international school here, the children are already taking catechism as part of their curriculum – and there are exams too! Fr Hans, who teaches religion in the German-European School, explained that teaching religion is part of his parish work, and all priests in Germany have to do so.
Therefore for these students, they just need to take a one-year preparatory class where they are guided by catechists weekly to have their First Holy Communion.
The community’s events
The community here tries “to keep our traditions according to our home country”, said Fr Hans. For example, they celebrate the feast days of St Martin with a lantern procession and of St Nicholas where the children will receive little gift bags of apples and oranges and chocolates.
Their community feast is also an annual gathering for the members, and it is usually held in November to coincide with the feast day of their patron saint, St Elizabeth of Thuringia, Fr Hans said. However, they held the community feast on May 1 in the Church of St Ignatius this year.
Challenges they face
The number of members fluctuate greatly, Fr Hans said. “Many families are leaving this year, especially during the summer break, either to go back home or to go to other countries.”
Therefore, when current members see new faces, they will “contact them fast and make them feel at home”, Ms Greiner said. They would also then have to “make the community more open towards having new people”, she added.
In Germany, the parish activities are supported by mandatory Church taxes. But for the community here, their events are funded by collections and donations from people.
This creates a challenge, because as Ms Greiner puts it, “people are not used to giving so much to the Church”.
The community’s projects
The community has been supporting an orphanage in Cambodia for nine years by financially sponsoring 80 children in education and healthcare.
They also go there regularly with the Confirmands to interact with the children.
Fr Hans added that each year, the Grade 10 students in his school will go to India for a two-week community project where they will help by building houses or water tanks.
Both projects are financially supported by the German Catholic community when the students have fundraisers at the Maris Stella Chapel.
Ms Greiner also said that every Tuesday morning, the women in the community will go to the Missionaries of Charity’s Gift of Love Home to interact with the residents by playing jigsaw puzzles and singing with them, among other activities.
But could there be more collaboration between the community and the local Church?
Fr Hans said that perhaps for the community feast in future, “we can invite parishioners in all the local parishes to join”.
He added that there are plans to organise a concert in March next year, which they will try to link with Singapore’s 50th birthday so that it would be their present for the country. Both Fr Hans and Ms Greiner also agreed that they hope this concert will bring more collaboration between their community and the local Church.
By Clara Lai