SINGAPORE – While Catholics form about five percent of the population in Singapore, they have quite a significant place in the country, especially in the area of schools, homes, and welfare services, which provide part of the very important social safety nets for the population, says Barry Desker, Singapore's new ambassador to the Holy See.

Mr Desker comes from a Catholic family whose forebears were among the early Catholics in 19th century Singapore. He is known in political circles for being “quite secular”, as he tells CatholicNews in an interview at his office at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, of which he is currently the dean.

Mr Desker is concurrently the director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a position he has held since Oct 1, 2000. He was the Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Trade Development Board from 1994 to 2000. He joined the Singapore Administrative Service (Foreign Service Branch) in 1970, serving eventually as Ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1993.

Mr Desker, accompanied by his wife Peggy Ann Desker, presented his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican City on Dec 13. Mr Desker is a parishioner from Church of St. Ignatius and is a father of two.

As ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Desker's main focus would be “to develop a sense of the Holy See's interest and concerns in this part of the world, and to tap on the resources of the Holy See's international network”.

From his past experiences especially his time as ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Desker learnt that “papal nuncios are among the better informed of representatives in countries”, as they have “a good understanding of what's happening in different parts of the country”.

It is Mr Desker's hope that the Holy See understands Singapore's interest in maintaining a multi-religious society based on a secular foundation, and that the Singapore state continues to recognize the existence of Catholics in Singapore, and of people who have religious beliefs. -By Daniel Tay

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