Catholic parish hosts inter-religious dialogue activities attended by  representatives from many religions

By Sister Wendy Ooi, fspCatholics engage members of other faiths including (clockwise from right-most photo) Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs and Muslims at the Inter-Reigious Organisation Fellowship Day hosted by Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines.

Catholics engage members of other faiths including (clockwise from right-most photo) Buddhists, Taoists, Sikhs and Muslims at the Inter-Reigious Organisation Fellowship Day hosted by Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines.

The afternoon of Saturday Dec 10 saw an unusual crowd gathered in the parish hall of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Tampines. They were people of different religions assembled for an Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Fellowship Day hosted for the first time in IRO history at a Catholic parish.

Father Johnson Fernandez, parish priest, welcomed the 70 representatives of various faiths including Taoism, Islam, Bahá'í, Jainism, and Buddhism. Father Timothy Yeo addressed them in Mandarin. The youth of the parish performed a dance that incorporated the different religions of the IRO.

Father Bruno Saint Girons briefed them on the major tenets of the Catholic faith and stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue for the Catholic Church. Canossian Sister Janet Wang shared on the church in Singapore. Representatives of several ministries in the parish -  the Youth group, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Chinese Apostolate Group, and Neighbourhood Group - also briefly shared on their activities.

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The guests then toured the parish buildings, including the church on the third level and the columbarium in the basement. The afternoon concluded with tea and an opportunity to mingle and socialise in the hall.

Harbans Singh PS, President of IRO explained the objective of the Fellowship Day. "To talk about peace and harmony we need to go out and know more. This is a further step, beyond mere tolerance, to understand other religions and hopefully, also appreciate. The only way we can do that is to go out. It's a way to reconfirm that we're talking about the same thing, but there are different ways of doing it."

For most of the guests including Marlissa Bte Mokhtar who works with Jamiyah (the Muslim Missionary Society Singapore), the afternoon was an occasion of many "firsts". "This is the first time for me to have a tour of the whole church, to enter the main prayer hall, to see the pews and the kneelers, and the confession room and the place you keep the holy bread which I never knew about. Also my first time to be in a columbarium and the first time I got to know about theresurrected Jesus," she said.

"I know a little bit about Christianity, there are so many movies about Jesus Christ, but here I learn more things," said Ashvin Desai, president of Singapore Jain Religious Society. "I've been to churches but now I know where things are placed and their purpose. The day has been well organised."

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Jainism was founded 2,600 years ago. It recently became the 10th official member of the IRO. Today there are 5 million Jainists worldwide, with 700 members in Singapore. Its basic theme is non-violence - in thought, word and speech.

Harbans Singh PS was impressed with the various ministries of the parish. "The church here is providing for a need which is very urgent today - the need for people to come for guidance and spiritual support, and psychological strength," he observed. "The services here provide care for all sectors of a very large community. It's a worthwhile effort."

Ven. K. Gunaratana, of the Mahakaruna Buddhist Society, who came with around 10 fellow Buddhists, shared, "The Fellowship Day helps those who treasure religious harmony. I had no strange feeling when I stepped here, I felt very comfortable. The church is doing excellent work to the community, it is well organised, branched out to various levels. But from the sharing it is good to see that beyond the physical work, they (the laity) are motivated by some religious thoughts, and the spirit of community is important to them."

One of the tour guides for the guests was Dorothy Koh, a parishioner of Holy Trinity, involved in several ministries. She shared on her experience of guiding a group of Muslims, "They asked in- epth questions - how to become a Catholic? What must we do as a Catholic? What sacrifices do we have to make? It was a challenge for me but I was able to answer them and we also exchanged views - it was a two-way communication. It was a very good experience."

Sister Maria Lau, IJ, who represents the Church at the IRO was pleased at the success of the day. She summed it up as "a very meaningful experience, and another level of dialogue in getting together to fellowship and understand each other's religion."

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