By Joyce Gan

Courage, an organization that has been praised by Pope John Paul II, endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family and encouraged by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, is what the Singapore archdiocese needs to provide pastoral care to persons with a homosexual inclination and their families, say several Singaporean Catholics.

"COURAGE IS DOING the work of God," were the late Pope John Paul II's words to describe Courage, an apostolate that ministers to people with same-sex attraction and their loved ones.

The ministry began in 1980 when the late Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York, troubled by the lack of a proper outreach by the church to those with same-sex attraction, encouraged Father John Harvey, who had extensive ministry experience in this field, to New York to address this concern. A spiritual support system was thus initiated, subsequently named Courage, to assist men and women with same-sex attraction to live chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love.

With the endorsement of the Holy See, Courage now has more than 110 Chapters and contact people worldwide, over 1,500 persons participating in its ListServs, and hundreds of persons a week receiving assistance from the main office and website. It has become a mainstream Catholic apostolate helping thousands of men and women find peace through fellowship, prayer, and the sacraments.

The Courage Central Office operates through the financial support of the Archdiocese of New York as well as contributions and volunteer work from Courage members and other individuals and organizations committed to advancing its efforts. Individual chapters throughout the world are self-supporting and exist with the permission of their diocesan bishop.

In helping individuals gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the church's teachings, especially in the area of chastity, Courage extends the church's invitation to a life of peace and grace in chaste living.

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Andrew Kong, Senior Executive from Family Life Society (FLS) who gives seminars on homosexuality, remembers Father Harvey's visit to Singapore in October 2004.

The FLS team did a survey with those attending Father Harvey's seminar on homosexuality and discovered the need for such a ministry here, he recalls. The team then worked to set up a Courage Chapter in Singapore, with Father David Garcia, OP as the priest for the ministry. However, the plans did not materialize.

Mr Kong feels strongly that such a ministry would "definitely" help Catholics with same-sex attraction. "There are many of them in our midst who are struggling to live chaste lives … we should not close our eyes or bury our heads in the sand but recognize their presence," he says. "Why are we not doing anything about it?"

"If there is Courage here, it is a great sign of recognition that these people have special needs and need support groups" like those available to addiction problems or bereavement needs, he adds. "Through Courage, we can offer them the sacraments and minister to them, reassuring them they are still welcome in the fold."

Canossian Sister Christine Santhou, shares Mr Kong's enthusiasm for the positive impact Courage will have on the community here. A few friends of hers have already been working with friends with same-sex attraction "but they have no real place to go to", she says. "Maybe it is providential that Father Renckens' article was written. It brings awareness of this issue and we should handle this constructively as a church," she encourages. "It is not too big to be handled, nor is it something to be tended to by some people only … we should all do it together."

"I think it'll be great [to bring Courage here] and I just hope this will be taken seriously so we can bring some hope to persons with same-sex attraction," she adds.

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Encourage, a ministry within Courage, has also been formed to meet the need for a support network for Catholic families who are confronted with their loved ones' homosexuality.

Encourage might meet with more support from persons with same-sex attraction, like Missy* observes, for the reason that "if others are like me, then we don't want to hurt our families or make them feel embarrassed". "When parents don't understand this same-sex attraction, they tend to think they have not brought their kids up well," Missy says.

"And the child with same-sex attraction, on the other hand, through the unacceptance of the parents, feel the guilt of letting them down," she reveals. "Maybe with a ministry like Encourage, parents who are keen to find out how to cope with children with same-sex attraction have somewhere to approach."

A related ministry, Priests with Courage, has been set up too. It is a network of priests committed to minister to persons struggling with homosexuality with the love of Christ and the full teachings of the Catholic Church, especially in the area of chastity.

Dr John Hui, Immediate Past Master of the Catholic Medical Guild, is in full support of Courage as a ministry that is "solidly based on church teachings and have been faithful to the truth and love of the human person, in this case, the one with same-sex attraction".

He hopes to see such an apostolate take root in the Singapore archdiocese. "It's the least we can do for those who have same-sex attraction and yet yearn to live chaste lives," he says. "But this initiative will need the support of people at all levels, that is, from all of us in the archdiocese."

Until there is a Courage Chapter in the Singapore Archdiocese, Singaporean Catholics can log on to Courage's website for information on Courage, Encourage and Priests with Courage, on church teaching or to receive compassionate and practical advice on how to put church teaching on chastity into practice.

(*Name has been changed.)

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