Friar John-Paul Tan explains to the German visitors how Small Christian Communities work in St Mary of the Angels parish
Two-week-long visit aimed at helping them meet challenges facing their archdiocese
A team of German Catholics, comprising three priests and eight lay people, were in Singapore recently to learn about the workings of the Small Christian Communities (SCCs) here.
Their aim: to learn how to build up a sense of community in their Archdiocese of Freiburg in the wake of a dramatic decrease in the number of priests there.
During their Oct 26-Nov 8 visit, hosted by the Singapore Pastoral Institute (SPI), they visited SCCs, stayed with host families, and met up with Archbishop Nicholas Chia and Vicar General Msgr Eugene Vaz, among other Church people.
“The Gospel sharing, the openness ... and the fellowship among the members of the SCCs are very impressive,” the group, which included three women, told CatholicNews in emailed responses to questions. “We have been very excited about the engagement and the activities of the groups.”
The German delegation poses for a photo with Archbishop Nicholas Chia, Msgr Eugene Vaz and members of the Singapore Pastoral Institute team.
They shared that the reason they made the visit was because their Church was “facing a number of immense challenges” due to the decrease in priests.
Some years ago, their archbishop decided to establish “pastoral units” comprising about seven parishes each.
“One parish priest and his team of pastoral workers, full staff members, are responsible for the pastoral work” of each unit, they said. “The question for a lot of parishioners and also for the priest and pastoral workers is ... what does it mean to be Church, if you don’t have anymore a Sunday liturgy in your own parish church? And what does community then mean in a situation where the pastoral units comprise quite a large area of seven or eight parishes?”
They added that the aim of their Singapore visit was “to learn more about SCCs, the questions, challenges etc”.
“There are similarities between Singapore and Germany, like the question of isolation or loneliness of people ... the fact that the lives of the people are very busy,” they said.
During their stay, the group lived with Catholic families in six parishes – “this gave us the opportunity to get an insight into the life of the people here in Singapore” – took part in SCC meetings, met with SCC promotion teams from Holy Family and St Mary of the Angels parishes, and reflected on their experiences with Monsignor Vaz and SPI staff.
They said their experience showed them that SCCs are “a way to bring the Church to the people wherever they live. SCCs are Church! And in the centre of SCCs is ... Bible sharing.”
“It is God himself through His word who challenges us to give a response as Christians in a very concrete situation,” they added.
“Of course, we also learned that it needs a long preparation before starting with SCCs in a parish. Both priests and lay people must develop the common vision of Church as a ‘community of communities.’”
The parish also needs to study who are the people living within its area “and it is important to ask people what are their needs as people believing in God,” said the group.
They added that they believe their experience here would help them meet the pastoral challenges back home.
“The structures of what we call ‘pastoral units’ lead us to a situation in which a parish priest and the pastoral team are responsible for up to 10,000 parishioners. SCCs bring in a new understanding of community within these structures and situations ... To be Church in the neighbourhood ... is an understanding of Church that might fascinate our German faithful,” they said.