Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This year marks 49 years of Singapore’s independence. A young nation, we cannot help but feel proud as we recall what Singapore has achieved in a relatively short period of time. Even other nations look on Singapore’s achievements with much admiration.
We take pride that Singapore is a prosperous nation. Once a colonial outpost, our nation has transformed itself in such a short period of time to be one of the richest countries in the world. Yet, the Gospel tells us that “Man does not live on bread alone” (Matt 4:4).
We may be rich materially but are we rich in virtue and our relationships with God and one another? Singapore may be one of the richest countries in the world, yet a recent survey reports that we are also one of the unhappiest countries. Indeed, this goes to show that wealth does not bring enduring happiness.
As pilgrims here on earth, journeying towards our true home in Heaven, we are called to reflect on the real meaning of our lives in the midst of our abundance. True happiness can only come about if we have a right relationship with God and others; in a life that is lived in love and peace with our fellowmen.
Hence, riches are not only blessings from God for ourselves but He has also made us stewards, that we might share our abundance with the less fortunate, thus calling forth the love that is within us and putting it into action.
As Mother Teresa says, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
We must therefore begin to instil in our young the spirit of volunteerism; sharing our material gifts, talents and time freely and not in anticipation of reaping personal benefits.
We must also open our eyes to recognise the poor in our midst, those who are shunned and marginalised by society – the materially poor, the elderly sick, migrants who have left family and home in search of a living, children with special needs, ex-prisoners and patients with psychiatric disorders, to name but a few. Jesus identified himself completely with the poor, the sick and the lowly (Mt 25:40) and ministered to them, for this is what He came for.
To refuse solidarity with those on the fringes of society would be to reject Christ. No servant is greater than his Master. As disciples of Christ, we must walk in His footsteps and minister to those in need.
Hence, as we enjoy our riches and achievements, we must remain humble and be mindful of preserving and strengthening the values that have enabled us to be successful. Where we are today, is not just due to our efforts alone but a result of God’s blessings and the sacrifices of those who have contributed in one way or another to our success.
An ancient Chinese proverb goes, “Wealth does not pass three generations.” The first generation works extremely hard to build the family fortune. The second generation reaps the benefits. The third generation squanders the wealth. While the second generation may see the value of hard work, the third forgets it.
Hence, if our nation is to remain strong and cohesive, we must focus on nurturing the next generation. Formation of citizens with integrity, good moral values and who care for one another must therefore begin in our homes; for strong families form the bedrock of every nation, contributing to the economic and social progress for the good of humanity.
Changes in socio-economic development however, have seen the institution of our family undergo a profound crisis of identity. The need to uphold and support the unity and indissolubility of marriage and family life is thus of particular urgency because it is the foundation of every culture and society (cf Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11).
It is within the family that our children undergo the first school of faith and formation in virtues and character that are the animating principles of the existence and development of society itself.
As Catholics, we must continue to protect the sanctity of the family because it is here that the individual is empowered and nurtured to realise his/her personal calling in the world. It is said that “It takes a village to raise a child”. Hence, the formation of character and faith is not only left to the responsibility of parents but all of us have a part to play – in schools and our Christian communities.
We must not forget the role we play in modelling and witnessing to the life of the Gospel, to the children that we come into contact with because our actions have an impact on them.
In conclusion, as Christians, we are called to build an inclusive society. This can only be achieved when we choose to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
The social fabric of society is strengthened when we are able to embrace our brothers and sisters who are different from us, especially those from different socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, faiths and orientation, extending to them the face of Jesus. I urge you to always bear the burdens of one another in love (Gal 6:2) through concrete acts of concern and care for the other.
Because God has redeemed us as His own, let us bear witness to the Gospel and faith that we profess. Let us go forth and bring life to the communities that we are in, remembering that we are called to live this journey not in isolation but together with others in community. May we be life-givers in our families, in our workspaces and the communities that we belong to!
Finally, as we celebrate the birthday of our nation, let us pray for justice tempered with compassion, peace, unity, mutual understanding and tolerance among all peoples in Singapore.
We pray too, that the spirit of our forefathers, who built a nation on the wings of hope, courage and resilience, be upon our leaders, especially those who hold public office. May they be true beacons of light, serving humanity to the utmost of their ability, and may God’s wisdom be upon them and on our Nation, Singapore.
Majulah Singapura! Onward Singapore!
Archbishop William Goh