Forgiveness is the only way, says archbishop at Fr Arotcarena’s memorial Mass

Archbishop William Goh speaking at the memorial Mass for Fr Guillaume Arotcarena (inset) on Sept 18. Archbishop William Goh speaking at the memorial Mass for Fr Guillaume Arotcarena (inset) on Sept 18.

During a memorial Mass for the late French priest Fr Guillaume Arotcarena, Archbishop William Goh praised him for championing the rights of migrant workers and his compassion towards the poor and marginalised.

“The Church is proud of all of those people who have contributed their time, their resources and their energy in the work of serving the poor,” Archbishop Goh told the 400-strong crowd at the Church of the Holy Family on Sept 18. “By so doing they have done justice to the spreading of the Gospel.”

Paris Foreign Missions priest Fr Arotcarena passed away in France on Sept 3 after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 71.

He arrived in Singapore in 1972 and served here for 17 years. In 1980, he founded the Geylang Catholic Centre to provide support and social services to foreign domestic workers, prisoners and drug addicts.

The centre closed in 1987 in the wake of the so-called “Marxist conspiracy”, which saw 22 people, including many with connections to the Catholic Church, accused of plotting to overthrow the government under the cover of the Church. They were arrested under the Internal Security Act.

In addition, Fr Arotcarena and three other priests were implicated in the so-called “conspiracy”.

Speaking of the pain the Church experienced during this time, Archbishop Goh acknowledged that those who had served the marginalised, including those who worked with Fr Arotcarena, have “felt misunderstood … hurt, wounded and disappointed”.

“We can imagine the pain, the disappointment and even anger, especially against authorities, whether of the state and even of the Church, for apparently not standing up for them,” said Archbishop Goh.

He noted that the immediate reaction of anyone who is misjudged is to seek justice, “to uncover the facts” and “to be vindicated”.

However, “there are many sides to the same story,” he said. “People have different accounts of the same event. Different people have different explanations.”

And even if the facts can be established, “can you establish the motives of everyone who is involved?” he asked. “In truth, the motives of those people who serve, the motives of the authorities who reacted to the situation perhaps will never be truly known.”

Noting that the trauma resulting from the so-called “Marxist conspiracy” will “resurface from time to time”, he stressed that there is “no other way forward” for the Church except “the way of forgiveness”.

“Only God can judge the motives of each individual,” he said.

Archbishop Goh said he believes the painful experience “is not something negative in the Church. I see it as something positive because this event helps the Church to be purified.” There are lessons that the Church can draw from this incident “so that history will not repeat itself”, he said.

The first lesson is that the Church’s social mission is principally a spiritual one.

“The social mission of the Church is an expression of the proclamation of the Gospel,” he said. “The Church must never ever be reduced to a humanitarian organisation. We are not another NGO.”

The Church does not work “simply to save the body,” he stressed. “We want to bring the love of God” to people.

The second lesson is that “truth and love must go together”.

“All those of us who are serving God … we need to search our motives, we need to purify our motives,” he said.

Archbishop Goh also quoted from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in which he said that “it is not the task of the Church to preserve social order and justice in the country. The pursuit of a just social order is the work of the state. … The task of the Church is to be a moral spokesman.”

The last lesson Archbishop shared is that the way forward “is always through dialogue”.

“When there is disagreement, the Church has always encouraged us that the path of faith is dialogue,” he said. “Demonstration, pressurising people will not work.”

During the Mass, Fr Patrick Goh, Mr Lawrence Khoo and Mr Vincent Cheng who had known and worked with Fr Arotcarena, shared their memories of him.

Holy Family Church parishioner Theresa Chan also remembered how people fondly referred to the French priest as “Fr Tom Jones” as he looked like the American pop singer.

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