Archbishop Goh celebrating Mass with Legion of Mary members on Oct 5.Archbishop Goh gives his appraisal of organisation in talk

In a frank talk peppered by his trademark sense of humour, Archbishop William Goh gave his assessment of the state of the Legion of Mary in Singapore today, and its role in the new evangelisation.

Speaking to some 500 Legionaries at their day of recollection on Oct 5, he highlighted what he felt was an image problem the organisation here was suffering from.

“The impression others seem to have of the Legion of Mary,” said the archbishop, “is that of an organisation consisting of mostly old people.”

Some have also commented that the organisation is “too devotional, rigid, old fashioned”, he added.

However, he dismissed the notion that the Legion is irrelevant to the new evangelisation. “The issue is not with the contents of the [Legion’s] handbook or how the Legion is structured, which, far from being outdated, is really a prototype of what an ideal neighbourhood Christian community ought to be – prayerful, receiving spiritual input from the leaders, accountability and faith sharing,” he said.

“What needs to be re-captured, however, is zeal for evangelisation,” he told the crowd gathered at the Church of St Ignatius.

Archbishop Goh invited Legionaries to examine their conscience to see if they have been mechanically carrying out what their handbook required, but missing out on the “spirit” of the Legion and the deeper meaning of its structures.

“When you do your Legion work, visiting a home, for instance, you are the priest’s representatives. You are supposed to radiate joy and friendship, your work is a means to an end. And the end is personal contact with another person,” he said.

Stressing that such a method is never irrelevant, he said the danger lies in members forgetting the original purpose of such works.

“At the heart of Legion work should be the zeal for evangelisation, to make Jesus known and loved,” he said. “I have seen meetings where members report their work in a mechanical fashion: ‘I went to person X’s home. I knocked on the door, the person was not in. I knocked again. I went home,’” Archbishop Goh shared.

“Or else I hear of Legion of Mary members doing the parish census, knocking on doors of Catholic families and acting like workers in the census department.

“No! When you inquire about Catholic families and realise that they are not going for Mass, you should say, ‘Oh, but it’s good to go for Mass, shall we go next week?’ You are there as concerned Catholics offering friendship.”

A lively question and answer session then followed.

Legionary Geraldine Tan said she found the recollection “inspiring” and hopes to practise what Archbishop Goh suggested.

Mr Anthony Gabriel, president of the Singapore Senatus, the highest decision-making body of the Legion in Singapore, noted that Archbishop Goh “knew the Legion very well”.

“Every praesidia [Legion of Mary units] would need to take stock of what they are doing and the Senatus will reinforce what has been said,” he said.

The Legion of Mary was founded in 1921 by the Servant of God, Frank Duff, in Dublin Ireland. It seeks to help laypeople live an apostolic life in the spirit of Mary, so that others may come to experience the love of Jesus.