Muslim visitors present Archbishop Nicholas Chia with a calligraphy painting. From left: Jaffar Mah, a Chinese Muslim; Imam Habib Hassan; Archbishop Chia and Sr Theresa Seow.

Muslims from Ba’alwie Mosque on Lewis Road visited the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd recently to learn more about Catholicism. One of them shares his group’s experience.

‘Sunday, the 14th of November 2010, 3pm, proved to be an auspicious time for members and 30 volunteers from the Ba’alwie Mosque, who paid a visit to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Singapore.

Our group consisted of many different races, Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans of different backgrounds – Malays, Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis, Egyptians, Sudanese and others.

The purpose of the visit, as outlined by the Imam of the mosque, Habib Hassan Al-Attas, was for us to meet our Catholic brothers and sisters and to better understand their faith.

Archbishop Chia tells his visitors the cathedral’s history.

Despite the heavy afternoon downpour, there was no dampening of spirits. Many of us had never been inside a church prior to this visit. Our arrival was warmly greeted by His Grace, Archbishop Nicholas Chia, and members and volunteers of the church.

After being shown around the Archbishop’s House, we were treated to a sumptuous afternoon tea. It was heartening to see the volunteers of both religions getting along amiably over tea and sandwiches. Judging from the smiles all around, it was evident that everyone was pleased.

Shortly after, His Grace Archbishop Nicholas Chia invited us to visit the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd where he, along with [Canossian] Sister Theresa Seow, [Vice Chairperson of the Archdiocesan Council For Inter-Religious And Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED)] briefed us on the history of Catholicism in the Malay Archipelago and shared with us their own thoughts on religious diversity and harmony.

Many of the mosques’ volunteers marvelled at the architecture of the cathedral and felt honoured at being asked to sit in the front pews.

Dr Abdul Rahim Leyman, an NUS lecturer and a Senior Scientist at A*STAR, had this to say: “The visit was an inspiring one for me. I get to see, first hand, the sanctuary of the Catholic Church.” He further added that such exchanges should be regular before a serious understanding of inter-faith and inter-civilisation relations can be actualized.

Mr Muhammad Barkia from the Saudi Arabian Commercial Office said, “I have learned a lot today. I was really touched by the humbleness of His Grace the Archbishop.”

According to Miss Hani from the Reading Group, “Sister Theresa’s speech answered questions I had in my mind.”

[Cathedral Rector] Father Adrian Anthony’s anecdotes on what life was like growing up in a predominantly Malay village also struck a chord with some of the visitors.

Dzulkifli Mohamed, Head of the Publications Division at the Ba’alwie Mosque, felt that his speech was heartfelt and brought home the message of interfaith dependency.

Habib Hassan was also invited to the rostrum, and delighted the audience with his recounting of his close relationship with His Grace the Archbishop, Sister Theresa, [Infant Jesus] Sister Maria Lau [IRED Chairperson] and Father Adrian, with whom he has very close relations.

The two-hour visit concluded with both sets of volunteers exchanging gifts.

Habib Hassan presented the Archbishop with a Chinese calligraphy painting with the words, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” and a Persian rug while the Archbishop presented to him a book on the history of the Catholics in Singapore.

Despite the brief nature of the visit, it was clear that many had benefitted from the exchange and looked forward to future similar visits.’ n

By Shahnawaz A Hamid

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