IS THE CATHOLIC Church in Singapore at risk of becoming one which caters to Catholics only at birth, on their wedding, and then on their deathbed? Are Catholics in Singapore at risk of being disengaged from the church?

These questions come to mind when looking at the results of a recent census of the Catholic population conducted by the Catholic Research Centre of Singapore and Family Life Society.

A team of Catholic analyzts from the Catholic Research Centre sat down to analyze the key findings and came up with a list of recommendations on action plans to tackle growing dysfunctions within the church.

Among some of their observations:

Disengagement from Church
Finding: Nearly half the 94,000 Catholics surveyed over two weekends in August last year say they don’t do anything else church-related beyond going to Mass. Only 12 percent spend at least four hours a month on church activities. Even for those who attend Mass, almost one-third of respondents did not feel that the teachings of Christ affect their decisions.

 

Recommendation: Reach out to the Catholics who attend Mass regularly, and get them involved in church activities. Strengthen faith formation to help them integrate Christian teachings into their life.

Where are the Youths?
Finding: The census found that teenagers are the most engaged in church by attendance, and by emotional ties. But many drop out of church or feel disengaged when they hit their 20s. One theory is that the catechism programme enhances bonds in teenage years, helping anchor young teens to the church. But many churches do not have programmes for youths after their confirmation at 15.Recommendation: Conduct a study to investigate this further. Consider a life-cycle approach to faith formation, making sure there are strong programmes at every major life transition, such as starting work; marriage; starting a family.

Start groups for young adults. This also creates opportunities for young Catholics to socialise and form relationships.

Conduct programmes to train youth group leaders including existing lay leaders in the church.

Consider having one of the weekend Masses specially designed to appeal to young people, for example a youth-oriented Saturday sunset Mass with liturgy and music that will appeal to the young.

Also suggested is a more active programme to engage students in Catholic schools, and in institutes of higher learning like polytechnics and universities. The committee also felt that more can be done to support students in milestone examinations like the O-levels. Use of the Internet to reach out to the young is also advocated.

Mass attendance plunges to 72 percent from 85 percent for those aged between 20-29 suggesting a sense of disengagement with the church among Catholics as they hit their 20s.

Where are the missing Catholics?
Finding: The census surveyed more than 94,000 Catholics the weekend of Aug 25-26, 2007 with another survey conducted the following weekend for those who missed the survey the first time. The census finding suggests there are about (more than) 94,000 Catholics aged above 12, who attend Mass regularly.

Yet, the Singapore Census 2000 had estimated the Catholic population at 120,000. The number of Catholics in 2008 would have grown beyond 120,000, especially given the influx of foreigners and the growing population in Singapore.

This suggests that at least 20,000 to 30,000 Catholics resident in Singapore, did not
attend Mass over the two weekends
last August when the survey was conducted. This gives an idea of the number of Catholics who may not be regular Mass-goers.

Recommendation: Reach out to "lapsed" Catholics or those who no longer feel they belong to the church. Some churches, like Holy Spirit, have started doing this, via a programme called Landings, which encourages parishioners to reach out to Catholics who may have left the church but want to return.

As the CRC(S) committee noted: "The overall picture that emerges from the census is that the Catholic faith as it is practised in Singapore resembles a series of dots or dashes rather than a continuous line. These dots or
dashes reflect periods of interaction with the church through catechism, the sacraments and weekend Masses. Outside of these encounters, it does not appear that in relation to the community as a whole, the faith is lived out as a matter of course."

To strengthen lifelong formation and to plug the gaps identified above, the committee recommends that the archdiocese appoint an action implementation task force to bring about the necessary changes. - By Catholic Research Centre, CRC(S)

We express our gratitude to the following people who have contributed to the writing of the census report:

Principle author of Catholic Census 2007: Professor Stella Quah.Contributing authors: Melissa Dragon, Matthias Toh, Magdalene Kong, Paul Lim, Shane Pereira, Susan Lopez-Nerney, Paul Nerney, Vicente Chua and Jon Quah.

Census Analysis Committee: Arthur Goh, BG (NS) Philip Lim, Christine Kong, Dr. Aloysius Soh, Dr. Francis Heng, Fr. Charles Sim SJ, Gabriella Tan, Isabel Chua, Joseph Kwok, Maria Plengsangtip, Stephanie Gault, Sundaresh Menon and Vivienne Lim.

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