By Joyce Gan

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Right, visual of the new Church of the Divine Mercy at night.

The Archdiocese of Singapore will mark another milestone when it officially launches the Church of the Divine Mercy fundraising project on Jun 1 at Holy Trinity parish. The new church is slated to be opened in December 2007.

IT HAS BEEN 16 years since the archdiocese last undertook the momentous task of building a new church and parish community. That was in 1990 when the Church of the Holy Trinity was built to provide a place of worship and ministry for the growing Catholic community residing at Loyang, Pasir Ris and Tampines.

Since then, the Catholic population in Singapore has increased by a conservative estimate of 35,000. In that time the parish population of Holy Trinity has grown to 14,000, making it the largest parish here. It is also very crowded.

Despite six English Masses and one Mandarin Mass on weekends, there aren't enough seats for all worshippers, so that many parishioners have to stand during Mass. And even then, not

all can be accomodated in the main hall and the congregation overflows into the corridors and lift areas. Some will not get a view of the altar, seeing only the back of their fellow standing parishioners.

While an overly packed church creates inconveniences to individuals, it is really good news to the church. Archbishop Nicholas Chia called it a "happy problem" to be addressed when he was informed of this condition at a meeting with the Holy Trinity council two years ago. The council had requested for him to build a new church to serve the growing population in Pasir Ris.

When the site at Pasir Ris Street 72 was put up for tender in July 2005, the archbishop prayed and consulted with his council. The archdiocese then made a bid of $9 million and was awarded the site in December 2005.

The proposed new church will be called Church of the Divine Mercy, the most popular name by far among Singapore Catholics based on suggestions made by them.

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Much thought and expertise in the design

The initial design drawn up by the Church Building Committee (made up of parishioners) and architects Strategic Design International was sent for evaluation by Denis McNamara, consultant to the United States Conference of Bishops for church architecture and the author of several books on church design.

Following the consultation, a change was made to the design for the external façade of the church. A straight vertical segmented wall stands in place of the curved "shell" structure in the original proposal.

The design of the façade is now more modern though the design inside the church is still in line with liturgical traditions. Because of the very limited plot size, there are modifications to the original design. These include the provision of a two-metre wide planting verge surrounding the church and the placement of a sub-station at the front of the church instead of at the back.

The design provides for the liturgical needs of the church and for the vision of a welcoming parish community. Among its more significant features are:

• A church entrance (narthex) with a large assembling area for people to gather and mingle before the liturgy begins, to highlight the act of gathering as a crucial element in the liturgical celebration.

• A baptismal font that is now located at the entrance to the main worship area to remind churchgoers of their symbolic entry into the church community through the waters of baptism. (This modification is made with the advice of the Liturgical Consultants who reminds of "the sacramental reality that baptism is a rite of initiation and not a destination [and] the baptistery should not distract from the primacy of the altar").

• A semi-circular sanctuary to provide a barrier-free connection with the space where parishioners are seated, and to focus attention on the altar table and the ambo where the Word of God is proclaimed.

The design also provides for the convenience of worshippers and includes these:

• A main worship area situated on the ground floor for easy access, especially for the old and the infirm.

• A chapel for daily Mass on the sub-basement level for convenient access from the front of the church without entering into the main church area.

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There just aren't enough seats for all worshippers, so that many parishioners have to stand or sit on the floor. Even then, not all can be accommodated in the main hall and the congregation overflows into the corridors and lift areas.

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Preparing the new community

While the building team has been busy with the structural aspects of a church, another team has been working hard too to ease the transfer of parishioners to the new parish.

They started off as Catholic Neighbourhood Groups (CNGs) which hold meetings once a month for Bible sharing, to pray the rosary and for fellowship. They also attend wakes and provide support for those in need within their neighbourhoods.  There is one CNG for each of the Pasir Ris, Simei and Tampines areas respectively.

The Pasir Ris CNG has undertaken the task of taking a census for the new church, reaching out to their neighbours and raising their awareness of the new church because they will be parishioners of Church of the Divine Mercy.

Julie Goh, vice-president of the Pasir Ris CNG, is excited about the new parish. "We will definitely go to Divine Mercy because it's nearer and we are all quite happy with it," she said. "At Holy Trinity, Masses are always very packed, like a supermarket!"

She is hopeful about the growth of the new church and encourages more parishioners to be actively involved in setting it up. "We should use our experience of service at Holy Trinity for Divine Mercy," she said.

The president of the Pasir Ris CNG, Kenny Poon, is also looking forward to the shift. "We try to highlight the new church to those we meet," he said and admitted that it is not easy. Most of the parishioners who are likely to worship and minister at Divine Mercy parish are those staying at Pasir Ris Block 700-series. At present, they attend Masses at the Church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and at St. Anneʼs Church.

"A number of them are quite active at the Catholic Spirituality Centre and they are also involved in various ministries at their church so they seem quite reluctant to let go," he said. But the team will continue to reach out and invite them to join their CNG or get involved in ministries at the new church, he added. "Those staying in Pasir Ris will go to Divine Mercy parish, be pioneers and lead the newcomers in setting up new ministries," he hopes.

Francis Nathan, who is coordinating RCIA sessions on Wednesdays at the Holy Trinity parish, shares the same hope. "We are looking to have baptisms at our first Easter celebrations at Church of the Divine Mercy… which means we have to start our new RCIA journey some time in February or March next year," he explained.

He is aware there are many logistical and administrative details to be ironed out for the coming year. "It's the responsibility of each ministry. We can do groundwork and present what we have considered in discussions with the priest," he said.

Although ministries may lose some members to the new church, Francis does not think the morale will be adversely affected. Neither does Kenny, who says that ministries are trying to recruit new members and the response seems positive, as he has seen new faces. They are pleased that the opening of a new church has beckoned more parishioners to step forward to serve. 

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A TOTAL OF $18 million is needed for the new Church of the Divine Mercy. Half of it is needed for the land while the other half is needed for government fees, taxes, professional fees, design and construction, audio and visual equipment and fittings. Here are the main functional areas of the new church:

• A main church with space for an estimated 1,300 churchgoers.

• An adoration room.

• A 200-seat chapel.

• Open area for functions.

• Two basement carparks with natural ventilation.

• A 300-seat function hall.

• 12 classrooms.

• A rooftop garden for youth and parish activities.

• Priests' residence.

Holy Trinity parish will celebrate its feast day on Jun 11, the same day it launches the new church. There will be fundraising activities such as a Triduum led by guest priest, Father Larry Faraon, OP, a regular columnist for The Daily Tribune and who broadcasts a gospel programme, "Sounds of the Soul" aired daily in the Philippines. There will also be a food and fun fair. All proceeds will go to the new church.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia is leading the archdiocese in the drive for funds. In an appeal letter, which is included in a brochure to be distributed at all parishes in Singapore in the coming weeks, the archbishop asks all Catholics to help with prayers and donations. "Daunting as the figure looks, I am certain it is not an impossible feat. Your past generosity and support give us this confidence," he wrote.

Putting aside the question of money, the archbishop wishes to remind the community that "good deeds should not just come from our pockets". In light of Christ's growing fl ock in the Singapore Archdiocese, he hopes that the community will "continue to lead prayerful lives and keep our eyes ever fervently on Jesus".

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