Archbishop Goh gave an interview to AsiaNews, a Church news agency, while he was in Rome for his ad limina visit. The following is a condensed version.
Unlike other countries, Singapore prefers to define itself “more as a ‘multicultural and multireligious state’”, Archbishop William Goh told AsiaNews. “The government is in fact secular in order to preserve the unity of the nation, but most ministers and officials profess a faith. The state is not against religion, but is in favour of it, seeing it as a fundamental component for the country’s development.”
Archbishop Goh noted that the government provides important support to all religions. “For example, it is customary to invite religious leaders to take part in numerous meetings and ask them for advice on issues affecting the country, especially from a moral and social point of view.”
Some government ministries, like the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education, collaborate closely with religious leaders, he said. “Along with youth policies, these are the areas in which the government invites us to express opinions because we all work for the good of the country.”
The collaboration between the state and religions for the country’s development is also reflected in the archbishop’s involvement. “I was appointed presidential advisor for minority rights and religious harmony,” he shared.
He noted that among various initiatives, religious groups have set up a non-governmental organisation, the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), “which provides a significant place for sharing different experiences of faith, this thanks to the important help from the government”.
“All this makes Singapore a truly unique reality, where every religious problem is dealt with directly among religious leaders, even with a phone call,” he said.
The local Church
Archbishop Goh said he believes social outreach is “the main missionary front for the local Church”.
“We have many organisations that assist people in need, such as Caritas Singapore ... For humanitarian initiatives outside the national borders, the archdiocese has established the Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore (CHARIS),”
Another focus area for the Singapore Church is interreligious dialogue and the promotion of interfaith harmony. “We organise many initiatives,” said Archbishop Goh.
The archdiocese also pays particular attention to the education of young people in its Catholic schools. “We form the heart of the students, even before their intellect,” said Archbishop Goh. “We do not want leaders who live for themselves, but people who care about their neighbour.”
The decline in priestly vocations is of great concern to the archbishop, who said that increased lay participation in pastoral works was a way to counteract this. “It is more important than ever to involve the laity in the life of the Church, because in the end it is to them that it belongs,” he said.
Archbishop Goh also spoke about the misunderstandings that mark relations between religion and Western societies.
“Instead of rejecting it, the European countries should be inspired by religion in the government of people, in making their lives better, in giving them meaning and fulfilment,” he said.
“The European weakness is represented by the fact that many governments are adverse to faith. How can a secular government help people to realise themselves if it does not contemplate God and neglects religious sentiment?
“In the West, a very important dimension of people’s lives is being lost. In an attempt to be more and more secularised, faith is relegated to something private, marginal.”
Meaning of life
He noted that although Singapore is a very prosperous country, where competitiveness and economic development are primary objectives, Singapore society still has “a strong religious feeling”.
“When you have everything you need, the question that arises is: ‘What is the meaning of life?’” said Archbishop Goh.
“Even the younger generations of Singapore, who have been raised in a state of well-being, ask themselves these questions: What do you live for? Do you want to make a difference in people’s lives? You cannot find meaning in your life if you do not live for others,” said Archbishop Goh.
“I am used to meeting numerous entrepreneurs, successful people, who in the course of their lives all become philanthropists. They are people who possess more than necessary, money that they would not be able to spend in their whole lifetime. And so they begin to try to benefit others, offering their service for the good of the country and giving part of their wealth to non-governmental organisations, the Church and charitable institutions.”
Consequently, in his pastoral work, Archbishop Goh seeks to renew the faith of Catholics through spiritual retreats and experiences of conversion. “As a bishop, it is my duty to guide this kind of initiative every year, to help people meet Jesus directly,” he said.
Meeting the pope
The day before the interview, Archbishop Goh met Pope Francis along with the bishops of Malaysia and Brunei.
“‘Ask me all the questions you want, any! Even if you do not like the pope, you can tell me,’ Pope Francis told us with the humility that is his trademark. He was present like a father and as such he listened to us,” Archbishop Goh recalled.
“For my part, I asked him two questions that are close to my heart. First, I explained my curiosity about the efficiency of a structure organised around small dicasteries in the context of a universal institution to which billions of people belong.
“After, I asked for clarifications on the theme of communion for the divorced included in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s second apostolic exhortation.
“Many in the Church have doubts and are uncertain. Such confusion and division also frighten me, but the Holy Father told me: ‘Chapter VIII cannot be decontextualised. It is only the end of the exhortation. Chapter IV is more important, where its principles are explained.
“For Pope Francis, the question cannot be reduced to whether divorced people can receive communion or not?’ Rather, the question is: ‘How can we reach them, [and] assist them from a spiritual point of view?’ Unfortunately, sometimes there are different approaches between academics and those involved in grassroots pastoral outreach. Pope Francis belongs to the latter group.” ASIANEWS
The full interviews with Archbishop Goh can be accessed at: