The Singapore Archdiocese's proposed parish at Pasir Ris Street 72 is fast taking shape. The architect for the church building has been appointed and the choice of the parish made.

THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY TRINITY is one of the fastest-growing parish in Singapore. Formed in 1988, the parish community now comprises about 14,000 Catholics, with about 4,000 living in the Pasir Ris area. It's standing room only for many worshippers at Sunday Masses at the parish as many Catholics from other parishes also attend Mass there because of convenient bus routes.

"On weekends, it is like a shopping mall," exclaimed Father Johnson Fernandez, parish priest of the Church of the Holy Trinity. This easternmost parish also has the largest Filipino population of any parish in the diocese, with two choirs made up of Filipinos, many of whom work in the aircraft and banking industries located in this region of Singapore.

During Archbishop Nicholas Chia's first official visit to the parish in 2004, the parish council suggested to him that the parish be divided because of the large size of its population. Archbishop Chia listened. Hence, when the plot of land along Pasir Ris Street 72 became available, the archdiocese bid for and obtained the site at a tender of $9 million, in November 2005.

Top, this is a draft design.

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A Church Building Committee made up of parishioners residing in the Pasir Ris and Loyang areas was set up shortly after. Rather than selecting from among a few preferred architects, the Committee chose to explore the possibility of more creative designs by inviting all  interested architects to submit their design proposals.

More than 45 architects requested for the design brief. This overwhelming response surprised  the committee. After a process of elimination as well as the voluntary pulling out of several, 13 architects submitted their design proposals to the Church Building Committee. Of these, four were selected to showcase their design to Archbishop Chia and his Council.

"The architects put a lot of effort in their work," commended Father Johnson. "They provided clear drawings to scale and were very creative in the use of space; their standards were very high."

The design proposal by Philip Lee from Strategic Design International (SDI) was eventually selected. Mr Lee was also the architect behind the design of the chapel in St. Gabriel's Primary School, as well as the Sengkang branch of Morning Star Community Services.

One of the reasons for selecting SDI's design proposal is because "the facade and exterior looks more like a Catholic church" more so than the other designs, said Father Johnson. "One of the prominent things about the design is the presence of three arches that will look like 'praying hands'," added Father Johnson.

 In addition, SDI's use of the limited floor space is "most efficient and practical". One example is the inclusion of a rooftop garden, which can be used for youth activities. SDI's design "makes full use of the space given, because we don't have ground for a lot of activities," said Father Johnson of the 3,000-square-metre plot of land.

Left, the floor plan of the ground floor for the new Church of the Divine Mercy. The gross floor area for the design given by SDI is 4,200 square metres.

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"The future welcoming community of the parish-to-be is reflected in the open spaces provided," said architect Philip Lee, a parishioner from the Church of St. Mary of the Angels. "There has to be sufficient ventilation and provision of light in this modern interpretation of a Gothic church," he explained.

One interesting feature of the new church is that light is allowed into the church from the rear, so that the attention of worshippers will be directed towards the sanctuary. Also, the tabernacle and crucifix will be situated along a central axis, allowing them to be seen clearly from any view within the main worship hall.

Traditionally, churches favoured the congregation to be seated in the form of a cross. However, there are blind spots where the congregation cannot see one another. Later design models are more rectangular to better address the sense of belonging to one community. In recent years, there has been an increased popularity for a fan-shaped sitting arrangement, which brings the sanctuary closer to the worshippers.

"However, the drawbacks for such a design include the need  for structural columns to support the roof or upper floors which visually obstruct the view to the altar," explained Mr Lee. Therefore, SDI's layout for the main sanctuary adopts an integration of the rectangular model and the fan-shaped model. Columns are flushed with walls to provide unobstructed view to the altar both from the sanctuary and the gallery.

The new church will cost an estimated $8 million to build and equip. It will be a four-storey building with two basement car parks (one sub-basement, and one full basement). The main worship area will be situated on the ground floor, which is slightly elevated above ground level. A second level gallery will also be included for a larger sitting population. The chapel to be used for weekday Masses, the canteen, and the subbasement car park will be located slightly below ground level, for easy access.

The Church Building Committee is currently looking through the design to make changes and modifications. The draft design has also been sent for a design audit to Denis McNamara, author of several books on church design and a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for church architecture.

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Building the parish community

PLANS ARE ALREADY being made for the new  parish community among the parishioners of the Church of  the Holy Trinity. "It is more important that we build the communities first," pointed out Father Johnson, who is encouraging the neighbourhood fellowship group leaders to make home visits to find out who are the Catholic residents in the Pasir Ris region, as well as to update the parish census. This will begin in the upcoming months following Easter.

Father Johnson is also eager to begin organising the liturgical ministries, ushers and  catechists, as well as tointroduce ministries to operate social programmes for the poor and the needy. He hopes that the parishioners will take an active role in building up their new community.

Right, this plot of land along Pasir Ris Street 72 next to Whitewater Condominium and West Park Mall is the site of the new Church of the Divine Mercy. It is expected to be ready in Dec 2007.

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Parishioners made many suggestions but "Divine Mercy" is a clear favourite

THE DECISION TO name the church "Church of the Divine Mercy" was made by Archbishop Nicholas Chia after consulting his Council.

The name is a clear favourite; it is the name of choice of the majority of several hundred Catholic residents in the Pasir Ris region as well as of Catholics around the island who submitted numerous suggestions. There were also several other popular choices suggested by the parishioners of the Church of the Holy Trinity.

Ignatius Koh, 38, suggested St. Gregory the Great, partly to remember the contributions to the Catholic Church in Singapore made by Archbishop Emeritus Gregory Yong, and also because he has "a high regard for Father Gregory van Giang" at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Mr Koh, whose parents live in Tampines, hopes that the new church will be "something simple" as having a lot of distractions in the church "defeats the purpose if it doesn't help people to worship".

Margaret Seet, who lives in Pasir Ris, contributed the name "St. Jude" as she has been "following friends to St. Jude's Church in Malaysia" out of devotion to him. She is, however, pleased that the name "Divine Mercy" was chosen, because "it is a better name".

Judy Gomes, 49, also lives in Pasir Ris. Although she originally suggested the name "St. Jude" as well, she is "thrilled and happy" with the archbishop's announcement as her mother "prays to the Divine Mercy so much". She hopes that the new parish will have "more activities for the younger generation" and that there will be "more and livelier activities for them". She also desires to see them "more involved in the church".

Other popular suggestions included "Holy Infant Jesus", "Immaculate Conception", "Holy Rosary", "St. John" and "St. John Mary Vianney".

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Archdiocesan Divine Mercy Apostolate pleased with name

EVERY YEAR, THE Archdiocesan Divine Mercy Apostolate (Singapore) celebrates the feast of the Divine Mercy at a different parish. While this is "a good form of evangelisation," said the apostolate's spiritual director, Father William Lim, he is happy that the new parish has been named after the devotion began by St. Faustina. His views would probably be echoed by most members of the apostolate.

When the new Church of the Divine Mercy is built, the apostolate will then have a place to call home, where they can use as their base of operations, he added. In a typical devotion that is carried out weekly in each of the 24 parishes in the diocese where the apostolate are present, the chaplet and litany of the Divine Mercy is prayed by devotees.

"It is a prayer that is suitable for all people and of any vocation in any situation, particularly the sick, the dying and the deceased," said Father Lim in a telephone interview with CatholicNews. "It is like a priestly prayer of Jesus, in which he atones for the sins of the world. It can be prayed by anyone, because everyone needs God's mercy."

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