“In eight more years, I want to see a minimum of 5,000 catechumens a year.”
This was the challenge Archbishop William Goh threw at the archdiocese during a Rite of Election held at the Church of the Holy Family on Feb 22.
Speaking to the congregation that filled the church, he noted that there were only a total of 764 catechumens to be baptised and 78 Christians to be received into the Catholic Church in Singapore from two Rites of Election held over that weekend.
“We have about 300,000 Catholics in Singapore,” Archbishop Goh told the participants from the City, East and Serangoon districts. “Seven hundred and sixty-four catechumens is not even 1 percent. If it’s 1 percent, it would be 3,000.”
He noted that the number of catechumens has been dropping over the years.
“If you really believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and saviour, surely you want to tell everyone!” he said in his homily. “In eight more years, I want to see a minimum of 5,000 catechumens a year.”
In his closing comments, Archbishop Goh said that when he reaches his final year as head of the archdiocese, which would be in 17 years’ time, he wants to see the number rise to 5 percent, or 15,000.
“The Christian Churches, they have growth of 3 percent, 5 percent a year,” he said. “What is our problem? We have to work at it.”
There were 386 catechumens and 40 candidates (baptised Christians seeking full communion with the Catholic Church) at the Rite of Election at the Church of the Holy Family. The previous day, at the Church of the Holy Cross, there were 378 catechumens and 38 candidates from the North and West districts and Novena Church.
A Chinese Rite of Election was scheduled for March 1 at the Church of St Francis of Assisi with 114 catechumens and three candidates. This would bring the total number of people entering the Catholic Church this Easter to 959.
The candidates and catechumens have been preparing for a year or more to receive or complete the Sacraments of Initiation this Easter since joining the various parishes’ RCIA or RCIY (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults/Youths) programmes.
The Rite of Election on Feb 21 and 22 saw the catechumens writing their names in the Book of the Elect, which was in the form of a long scroll, as each person’s godparent placed a hand on his or her shoulder.
The candidates took part in a rite called the Call to Continuing Conversion in which they were urged to “hear the Lord’s call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant”.
Participants said they were moved by the prayer-filled service.
Ms Adeline Nah, 35, from the Church of St Teresa, said she was “very touched”. Between now and her baptism, she wants to practise humility, she said, and make a “conscious effort to apologise… if I make a mistake”.
Ms Nah, who is pregnant, said she sees her upcoming baptism as God’s special blessing on her. “He has chosen me to be baptised and has blessed me with a child as well,” she said.
Ms Joanne Teo, 44, a former Methodist, said she “felt so inspired and renewed” during the service. She added that she was happy to feel the warmth of the Catholic community and looks forward to receiving the Eucharist and viewing it in a whole new way. In the past, it was only a “symbol” to her, she said.
The Rite of Election refers to an understanding that God continues to choose people through the covenant of baptism, just as He established a covenant with Israel. The rite provides an opportunity for the catechumens to be formally enrolled among God’s chosen people.
The Elect, as the catechumens are now called, will undergo the rite of Scrutinies during the Lenten season to help them examine their lives. The community will also pray that the Elect be freed from temptations and be protected as they continue their journey towards baptism.
By Christopher Khoo