“Intelligent, wise and a visionary.”
This was how Archbishop William Goh described the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew at a memorial Mass held for him on March 27.
More than 5,000 people packed St Joseph’s Church (Victoria St), spilling out onto the church grounds, to pray for the founding father of Singapore who died on March 23.
Other celebrants at the 1.15 pm Mass were apostolic nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli and about 50 priests.
Mr Lee “was not just a great statesman”, Archbishop Goh said in his homily, “he was a great man in himself because he was a man of principles. He was a man who followed his conscience and his convictions. Rightly or wrongly, he stood by his convictions.”
It was because of Mr Lee’s principles that Singapore has “remained united”, said the archbishop. “We have different religions, different races and he has done his job as a political leader... He has preserved order, unity among ourselves.”
Archbishop Goh noted that Mr Lee promoted interreligious dialogue, and did not “tolerate fundamentalism when a religion tries to impose its faith and values on others”.
And although he professed himself to be an agnostic, “deep in his heart, he was a man searching also for God,” said Archbishop Goh, adding that Mr Lee took up Christian meditation later on in life.
In Mr Lee’s last will, he requested for part of his ashes to be mixed with his wife’s, said Archbishop Goh. “For me, it’s a veiled desire for fullness of life, for union, for love.”
Archbishop Goh also described Mr Lee as a person “totally devoted to making the lives of others richer”, a man who “lived for others”.
“This legacy is really the spirit of the Gospel. The spirit of Jesus Christ. That we need to die for others. No man must live for himself,” said Archbishop Goh.
“The best legacy that he has left behind and the greatest honour we can give to him is to make sure that we too give up our lives for the service of others, for the service of the country and for the service of God. But always remembering the principles of integrity, honesty, justice.”
However, the archbishop also stressed in his homily, “We are not canonising Mr Lee Kuan Yew... Like us all, he had his flaws, he had his limitations.”
Archbishop Goh noted that there are many who disagreed with some of the policies Mr Lee introduced, such as the “Stop At Two” programme, the legalisation of abortion and casinos, as well as his eugenics theory, which supports the idea that educated Singaporeans should get married in order to produce more intelligent children.
Under the late statesman’s leadership, the Catholic community, in 1987, also faced a “dark period when we had to deal with this ‘Marxist conspiracy’”, said Archbishop Goh.
“We can disagree with him”, said Archbishop Goh, but if “he should be faulted, he should be faulted for being overprotective of his children in Singapore”.
In May and June 1987, 22 people, including many with connections to the Catholic Church, were arrested under the Internal Security Act, accused of plotting to overthrow the government under the cover of the Church.
“Only by seeing the events in the light of Christ’s redemptive innocent suffering on the cross can we be healed of our memories and psychological pains. It means that remembering this event will no longer hurt us but give us occasion to praise and thank God for this event which has helped us all to grow in truth and love,” he said.
Archbishop Goh told CatholicNews that this was what he meant by forgiving and forgetting, in comments made to secular media earlier.
Among the invited guests who attended the memorial Mass was Mr Alphonsus Tan Chok Kian, a retired top civil servant who served as permanent secretary in various ministries under Mr Lee’s administration.
He cited Mr Lee’s wisdom and vision as outstanding traits that made him an extraordinary leader.
“He could foresee not just the big picture two, three years ahead, but also the details,” said the 84-year-old Catholic who also served as chairman of the Central Provident Fund and POSB Bank.
As for Mr Lee’s view of the Catholic Church, he said: “I think it is fair to say he had a favourable impression of the Church and a high regard for Catholics. In fact, many who served under him from the early years to modern-day are Catholics.”
Ms Jacintha Teo, 75, told CatholicNews, “It’s very right and a great gesture taken by the Catholic Church to offer a Mass for Lee Kuan Yew. He made giant efforts to ensure that we live in a peaceful and prosperous city.”
The Mass also saw 1,000 prayer cards, containing handwritten messages by Catholics in honour of Mr Lee, placed at the foot of the altar.
By Lorna O’Hara