Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam highlights pope’s ‘common touch’

Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli and Archbishop William Goh pray during the March 13 Mass to celebrate the third anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy.

Pope Francis has invited governments to have a moratorium on executions during the Year of Mercy, and it would be “commendable” for countries to join him in this desire.

Apostolic nuncio to Singapore, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, made this point during his speech at a March 13 Mass to celebrate the third anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam was the guest of honour at the Mass, which was celebrated by the nuncio, Archbishop William Goh and several priests at St Joseph’s Church, Victoria St.

In his speech at the end of Mass, Archbishop Girelli told the crowd that on Feb 21, Pope Francis appealed to world leaders to reach an international consensus on the abolition of the death penalty.

He had cited the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not kill”, saying that it applied not only to the innocent but also to the guilty. Indeed, “even a criminal has the inviolable right to life, a gift of God”, Archbishop Girelli quoted the pope.Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam. VITA photo

“The pope further invited governments to make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions in this Holy Year of Mercy,” the nuncio told the crowd, which included ambassadors and Religious.

“It will be a very commendable sign of solidarity with the international community if all the countries which have capital punishment in their legislation were to join Pope Francis in his intentions for the celebration of this Jubilee Year of Mercy,” he said.

The nuncio also noted that Singapore has put in “hard earned efforts” towards interreligious dialogue and friendship and “continues to enjoy the benefits”.

“Pope Francis likewise believes in building bridges rather than setting up walls of suspicion, hostility and prejudices,” said Archbishop Girelli. “It is the pope’s hope that more countries will foster dialogue among different cultures and religions.”

On the occasion of the pope’s election anniversary, “let us persist in promoting peace, mutual respect, fraternity where the relationship between Singapore and the Holy See may be strengthened”, said the nuncio.

Responding to the nuncio’s remarks, Mr Shanmugam said the death penalty is “one of those issues that we grapple with in Singapore. None of us, not in government, not any of you, take any kind of comfort in having this penalty or having it imposed.”

In his role as a minister, “I have to look at it, what is in the interest of the community, and all I can say is I hope you will pray for me to come to the right decision”, he said to applause.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam shared his admiration for the pope and his appreciation of the work the Catholic Church does in Singapore.

Pope Francis has shown a strong commitment to mercy, kindness and humility, said Mr Shanmugam. He gave as examples, the pope choosing to live in modest quarters instead of the papal palace, his washing of prison inmates’ feet and the kissing of a man with neurofibromatosis.

“Through his leadership, Pope Francis has shown how we can make the world less cold and more just,” said Mr Shanmugam.

He also noted how the pope has been a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, citing a video released by the Vatican in January featuring the pope and leaders of several major world religions.

“We will do well to heed Pope Francis’ call to build bridges and break down walls,” said Mr Shanmugam.

He also highlighted the remarkable way in which Pope Francis has steered the Catholic Church, “inspiring increased respect” for it and interest in the Catholic faith.

The pope has done this through his “common touch”, undertaking “difficult structural reforms of the Church”, not shying away from “expressing his views on the difficult social issues of the day,  tempering firm doctrinal stances with compassion and empathy” and embracing modern technology and social media.

“I consider it one of my true blessings in my life, to have met him last year, when I visited the Vatican,” said Mr Shanmugam.

On the Catholic community in Singapore, he said it “has always made significant efforts in promoting social and charitable causes” through its schools, charities and interfaith efforts. He noted that Singapore’s president and prime minister both came from Catholic schools.

“Life has to have a meaning beyond the material,” he stressed. “That meaning can be found in working for noble causes, promoting the welfare of others.”

He thanked Catholics “in Singapore and the world over” for “enriching countless lives” and “helping to make the world a better place”.

In his homily during the Mass, Archbishop Goh said that what Pope Francis desires is that the “joy of the Gospel be proclaimed to all of humanity”.

“Modern man is on the brink of despair and hopelessness. We can see this all around us,” said Archbishop Goh. “Today, many people are giving up hope on the institution of marriage, on the institution of the family. Many have given up hope on religion, including the Church.”

“To show that this world still has hope, what must the Church do? he asked. “To proclaim the God of love.”

What society needs today is a society that is gracious, compassionate and forgiving, he said. “If we Christians cannot build this kind of society, it means to say we don’t understand the essence of the Gospel which is that of mercy and love.”