AUGUST 3, 2008, Vol 58, No 16

IS THE CATHOLIC Church in Singapore at risk of becoming one which caters to Catholics only at birth, on their wedding, and then on their deathbed? Are Catholics in Singapore at risk of being disengaged from the church?

These questions come to mind when looking at the results of a recent census of the Catholic population conducted by the Catholic Research Centre of Singapore and Family Life Society.

A team of Catholic analyzts from the Catholic Research Centre sat down to analyze the key findings and came up with a list of recommendations on action plans to tackle growing dysfunctions within the church.

Among some of their observations:

Disengagement from Church
Finding: Nearly half the 94,000 Catholics surveyed over two weekends in August last year say they don’t do anything else church-related beyond going to Mass. Only 12 percent spend at least four hours a month on church activities. Even for those who attend Mass, almost one-third of respondents did not feel that the teachings of Christ affect their decisions.

 

Recommendation: Reach out to the Catholics who attend Mass regularly, and get them involved in church activities. Strengthen faith formation to help them integrate Christian teachings into their life.

Where are the Youths?
Finding: The census found that teenagers are the most engaged in church by attendance, and by emotional ties. But many drop out of church or feel disengaged when they hit their 20s. One theory is that the catechism programme enhances bonds in teenage years, helping anchor young teens to the church. But many churches do not have programmes for youths after their confirmation at 15.Recommendation: Conduct a study to investigate this further. Consider a life-cycle approach to faith formation, making sure there are strong programmes at every major life transition, such as starting work; marriage; starting a family.

Start groups for young adults. This also creates opportunities for young Catholics to socialise and form relationships.

Conduct programmes to train youth group leaders including existing lay leaders in the church.

Consider having one of the weekend Masses specially designed to appeal to young people, for example a youth-oriented Saturday sunset Mass with liturgy and music that will appeal to the young.

Also suggested is a more active programme to engage students in Catholic schools, and in institutes of higher learning like polytechnics and universities. The committee also felt that more can be done to support students in milestone examinations like the O-levels. Use of the Internet to reach out to the young is also advocated.

Mass attendance plunges to 72 percent from 85 percent for those aged between 20-29 suggesting a sense of disengagement with the church among Catholics as they hit their 20s.

Where are the missing Catholics?
Finding: The census surveyed more than 94,000 Catholics the weekend of Aug 25-26, 2007 with another survey conducted the following weekend for those who missed the survey the first time. The census finding suggests there are about (more than) 94,000 Catholics aged above 12, who attend Mass regularly.

Yet, the Singapore Census 2000 had estimated the Catholic population at 120,000. The number of Catholics in 2008 would have grown beyond 120,000, especially given the influx of foreigners and the growing population in Singapore.

This suggests that at least 20,000 to 30,000 Catholics resident in Singapore, did not
attend Mass over the two weekends
last August when the survey was conducted. This gives an idea of the number of Catholics who may not be regular Mass-goers.

Recommendation: Reach out to "lapsed" Catholics or those who no longer feel they belong to the church. Some churches, like Holy Spirit, have started doing this, via a programme called Landings, which encourages parishioners to reach out to Catholics who may have left the church but want to return.

As the CRC(S) committee noted: "The overall picture that emerges from the census is that the Catholic faith as it is practised in Singapore resembles a series of dots or dashes rather than a continuous line. These dots or
dashes reflect periods of interaction with the church through catechism, the sacraments and weekend Masses. Outside of these encounters, it does not appear that in relation to the community as a whole, the faith is lived out as a matter of course."

To strengthen lifelong formation and to plug the gaps identified above, the committee recommends that the archdiocese appoint an action implementation task force to bring about the necessary changes. - By Catholic Research Centre, CRC(S)

We express our gratitude to the following people who have contributed to the writing of the census report:

Principle author of Catholic Census 2007: Professor Stella Quah.Contributing authors: Melissa Dragon, Matthias Toh, Magdalene Kong, Paul Lim, Shane Pereira, Susan Lopez-Nerney, Paul Nerney, Vicente Chua and Jon Quah.

Census Analysis Committee: Arthur Goh, BG (NS) Philip Lim, Christine Kong, Dr. Aloysius Soh, Dr. Francis Heng, Fr. Charles Sim SJ, Gabriella Tan, Isabel Chua, Joseph Kwok, Maria Plengsangtip, Stephanie Gault, Sundaresh Menon and Vivienne Lim.

SYDNEY, ON SATURDAY morning Jul 19, thronged with colourfully attired pilgrims from 170 countries as they made their Pilgrimage Walk to Randwick Racecourse to greet Pope Benedict
and celebrate the main events of WYD08 with him.

For some, the 10-kilometre walk began as early as 5.30am. The various Singapore groups started at different places.

The CAYC contingent started its journey at 10.00am from Mary McKillop’s Chapel in North Sydney. We stopped to pray at seven designated "Power Stations" along Anzac Parade after crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Led by Canossian Sister Jessica, we prayed for wisdom, awe, understanding, knowledge, counsel, courage and piety – gifts of the Holy Spirit – in keeping with the theme of WYD08: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses."

Nearing Randwick, we encountered different groups of protesters who taunted and mocked us despite police action to keep them away.

In response, we began singing the WYD08 theme song, "Receive the Power", and pilgrims from other countries joined in the singing. Pilgrims later shared their experiences of feeling the Holy Spirit’s guidance along this stretch of the walk.

We arrived at Randwick Racecourse at about 3.00pm. By then the venue was already packed and more people were arriving every minute. Pope Benedict arrived at 7.00pm.

The evening’s vigil included an invitation to pilgrims to light their candles, testimonies from pilgrims of different nationalities, an invocation of the Holy Spirit and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. From the time of the pope’s departure at 9.00pm till the next morning, we took turns to adore the Blessed Sacrament for an hour each. The night was cold but we woke up, nevertheless, at the designated hour to make our way to the tent where the Blessed Sacrament was kept.

Pope Benedict returned the next morning at about 10.00am to celebrate Mass with a congregation estimated at 350,000-400,000. The crowd cheered when he came. During the morning’s ceremony, all pilgrims were invited to renew their baptismal promises.

Cheers broke out when Pope Benedict announced that Madrid would host the next WYD in 2011, and he laughed, pleased with the crowd’s response.

WYD08 ended at 1.00pm for us as we left Randwick Racecourse and walked back to the city, still bearing the Singapore flag. -  By Joyce Gan

BUKIT MERTAJAM – The annual feast of St. Anne will be celebrated on Saturday Jul 26, 2008. Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio will be celebrating the feast day Mass and bless the new grotto to Our Lady.

A new prayer book titled, "St. Anne lead us to Jesus, God is only a prayer away" has been published to help all who come seeking her blessings, including non-Catholics, to know her daughter Mary and her grandson Jesus. Contents include: Novena and prayers to St. Anne; Mysteries of the Rosary; Stations of the Cross; Novena to the Divine Mercy.

The 100-page prayer book was compiled by Dr. Marina David; Kevinder Singh designed the cover.

Some 15,000 copies have been printed. Price is RM$5 each. All sale proceeds will go to the mission in Myanmar (RM$4 per book sold, to be disbursed through the Apostolic Nunciature to the church in Myanmar) and to the Bukit Mertajam St. Anne’s Dialysis Centre (RM$1 per book sold).

SINGAPORE – If we asked most Catholics if they were engaged in the missionary activity of the church, it is quite probable that they would answer in the negative.

Yet there are many individuals, many small informal groups, who are constantly continuing this mission of making Christ present and real in the world.

For instance, there are groups that regularly reach out to migrant workers with food supplies, following the teachings of Jesus "when I was hungry, you gave me food to eat …"

In one parish, a group takes residents of an old folks home in a specially hired bus to church in the middle of the week. Not all of them are Catholics, but everyone appreciates these outings and the majority enter the chapel to pray.

There are other parishes where parishioners with medical expertise run free clinics from the church premises.

Last year, one institute of higher learning decided to donate its computers to learning centres in Cambodia. Volunteers, young and old, came forward early on a Saturday morning to spend the next four to five hours to pack the computers. These computers have since been put to good use in many Catholic centres of learning all over Cambodia.

More and more we are hearing of the young and not so young Catholics, as well as students, who have spent their holidays among the poor in this region, helping in physical ways, offering medical services or just spending time and sharing the love and joy of Jesus with others.

There is a youth group that began visiting the very poor in Manila as teenagers. They are now graduates and young adults, but they still continue to visit these people who have become friends.

All this is missionary work! "Redemptoris Missio" (chapter 5) by Pope John Paul II states that there are three paths of mission – human promotion (social mission), "missio ad gentes" to those who do not know Christ (and there are thousands in Singapore) and new evangelization and that the first form of evangelization is witness.

ACMA believes there are many Catholics in Singapore involved in mission. To enrich the church, they are inviting all such people, to contact the ACMA office (64749184 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to share their experiences so that others interested in undertaking mission, may learn from them.

This will form a data bank of contacts and shared experiences so that others who wish to embark on
some missionary activity whether in Singapore or abroad, will be able to obtain such information.

And if you, the reader, have a photograph of such activity, do take part in the ACMA Mission Photo Competition. Posters are put up in all parishes, or ring the ACMA office. Rules of the competition have also been posted
at www.catholicacma.org.sg. Closing date is the end of July.

 

SINGAPORE – Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who was born 500 years before Christ, some 150 Catholics learned at a talk titled, "Love of God, Love of My Buddhist Neighbour" by Brother Michael Broughton.

Brother Michael drew similarities and differences between
Buddhism and Catholicism during the talk. Buddhists believe in impermanence, he said. Unlike Catholicism that teaches that each person has an eternal soul, Buddhists do not believe that people have souls that last forever.

He related a story to show that Buddhists are not concerned with the afterlife but more interested in the here and now, and explained that while Catholics believe in heaven, Buddhists believe in rebirth.

The Buddhist term "metta", which can be translated as compassion that is proactive, is close to what Christian love is like, he said. Buddhists practise compassion as a way to neutralize karma which results from doing wrong.

Buddhism is atheistic, and does not state whether a god exists, he added.

"Buddhists in Singapore practise a syncretic form of Buddhism and Taoism," Brother Michael said. "Singaporeans who claim to be Buddhists often participate in Taoist rites."

The audience asked questions about interacting with Buddhists: Can Catholics hold joss sticks? Can we eat vegetarian food from Buddhist restaurants? How can I be sensitve to my Buddhist neighbour?

"If your heart is pure, you don’t have to worry about holding joss sticks out of respect," said Brother Michael. "The Bishop of Taipei holds joss sticks to honour the dead every year during Qing Ming." The Qing Ming Festival is an annual Chinese festival to honour one’s ancestors.

He said that knowing about Buddhism will help Catholics to be more understanding towards Buddhist practices, and thus be sensitive to their Buddhist neighbours. By Regina Xie