A member of the audience at the Social Mission Conference asking a question. Photo: Martin YongA member of the audience at the Social Mission Conference asking a question. Photo: Martin Yong
The Social Mission Conference discussed ways that Catholics can serve the needy

Participants who attended the recent Social Mission Conference organised by Caritas Singapore say it has inspired them to help the poor in society.

“It’s enlightening,” said Mr Vinod Savio, 34. “My charity work before was about donations. This conference was a good avenue for me to discover on a deeper level what it means to give back.”

Another participant, Ms Lina Rawung, 50, said the event “has nourished my faith and encouraged me to move forward to help the poor”.

Mr Savio and Ms Rawung were among about 750 people who attended the fourth social mission conference held at Catholic Junior College on Aug 23.

The event aimed to deepen Catholics’ understanding of the Church’s social mission and to reflect on the theme, “A Church which is poor and for the poor”, which is from one of Pope Francis’ statements.

In his opening address, Archbishop William Goh told the crowd, “If you want to reach out to the poor, then you must experience what it means to be poor.”

He added, “If you know what is suffering, you will learn compassion. God’s love is always concrete.”

Before the conference speakers gave their presentations, two women, speaking in dialect, shared about their lives and families.
 
One of them, speaking in Cantonese, gave a gritty account of growing up poverty-stricken in post-war Singapore. In addition to working in various jobs such as running food stalls and being a part-time cleaner, she had to look after her husband and grandson.

The woman, speaking in Hokkien, shared that she was devastated when her son died in an accident some 20 years ago.
Locals ‘do have some compassion’ when it came to poverty. – Assoc Prof Irene NgLocals ‘do have some compassion’ when it came to poverty. – Assoc Prof Irene Ng

Now her family is struggling as she suffers from chronic illnesses and her husband needs dialysis three times a week.

Assoc Prof Irene Ng, from National University of Singapore’s social work department then spoke on the Social Realities of the Poor.

She had surveyed 440 Singaporeans and found out that locals “do have some compassion” when it came to poverty. However, despite the government’s efforts on providing training, low wages, rising debt from home ownership and job conditions make it hard for the poor “to get out of the poverty cycle”, she said.

She also noted that a 2013 study showed that 23-26 percent of Singapore households live with a monthly income of less than $3,000.

‘Everyone  has forgotten us.’ – Bishop Isao Kikuchi  on ‘compassion fatigue’ in the  wake of the 2004 tsunami‘Everyone has forgotten us.’ – Bishop Isao Kikuchi on ‘compassion fatigue’ in the wake of the 2004 tsunami
Bishop Isao Kikuchi, president of Caritas Asia, highlighted excerpts from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), in which he laid out his hopes for a truly missionary Church.

Bishop Isao said he agreed with Pope Francis that in a globalised world, “we have fallen into a globalisation of indifference”, where there is a “lack of sensitivity to people other than ourselves”.

Bishop Isao also spoke about “compassion fatigue”, such as in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami.

“Everyone has forgotten us,” he said, quoting an elderly lady from  Pondicherry, India, who was affected by the natural disaster, and who he visited in 2005.

He said that four months after the disaster, many NGOs began to halt their services.

Ms Wendy Louis, executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Office of Laity and Family, Women’s Desk, shared about the time she was a volunteer teacher in Bihar, northeast India.
‘If we have friends among the poor, it won’t be a one-time visit but instead a friendship.’ – Ms Wendy Louis‘If we have friends among the poor, it won’t be a one-time visit but instead a friendship.’ – Ms Wendy Louis

She said she knew nothing of “what it meant to be a missionary” then when she went to live in a slum there and found it extremely challenging.

“At that moment, I knew my ‘poverty’,” she said.

“If we have friends among the poor, it won’t be a one-time visit but instead a friendship, a relationship with the poor,” she added.

She advised the audience to reach out to the underprivileged on a personal level and not confine such outreach to projects.

“Do the necessary reflection,” she urged. “In your workplaces, talk about it.”

Jesuit Br Matthew Tan, currently on attachment to Caritas Singapore, flashed on the screen the story of the Good Samaritan and said that this biblical hero was probably robbed before, and thus he understood what it was like to be poor.

Br Matthew then went on to give tips on how to reach out to the poor.

“It’s not about giving but walking alongside [the poor]…Make sure we are not patronising or condescending…we are with them,” he said.

The audience were then given a choice of four breakout sessions to attend.

In the session, Youth At Risk, conducted by Catholic organisations Beyond Social Services and Hope House, participants discussed supporting at-risk youths and shared their own experiences.

In the group discussing Low Income Families, participants were invited to pen their thoughts on the homeless.

Three facilitators then presented findings based on 173 clients that the Marine Parade Family Service Centre saw from October 2011 to November 2013.

They shared that unemployment and homelessness are inter-related issues and that 36 percent of clients were unemployed at the point of referral.

In the session on Migrant Workers, the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) presented the challenges faced by migrant workers and the services that ACMI offers.

An ACMI member shared that the organisation needs volunteers who can facilitate counselling services and language courses for workers from Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam.

In the session on the marginalised, Ms Grace Ang, executive director of Clarity, a Church organisation that provides mental health services, shared that 10 percent of the population in Singapore suffers from conditions such as major depression, anxiety disorders and addiction.

She said those with mental health issues have to deal with additional burdens such as shame and fear and  added that a listening ear and understanding response are needed to engage them.

For more information on Caritas Singapore, visit www.caritas-singapore.org

By Lorna O’Hara
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The Social Mission Conference discussed ways that Catholics can serve the needy

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