Msgr Philip Heng speaking at an interfaith roundtable discussion on Oct 14.

By Christopher Khoo

Recognise the principle of “unity in diversity” and engage in dialogue.

These were some points offered by Archbishop William Goh in a paper titled Christian Perspective: Promoting Culture of Peace and Harmony in Singapore.

The paper was read out by Msgr Philip Heng at an Oct 14 interfaith roundtable discussion, which saw various religious leaders speaking on the topic, Towards Better Inter-faith Relations.

Unity and peace among peoples is one of the most important aspirations of every human person and community, Msgr Heng, Singapore archdiocese’s vicar general for interreligious relations, read out during the event.

“What is the real cause of the lack of unity among peoples? It is the wrong or narrow perception of seeing unity as uniformity,” said Msgr Heng during the discussion, which was part of a two-day international conference on the role of
Muslim NGOs in promoting a culture of peace.

“The mistake of leaders is in thinking that unity is uniformity, and then trying to impose one common faith, values and culture on all,” said Msgr Heng.

He noted that when faith and values are imposed, there is bound to be a negative reaction, resentment and opposition.

Quoting from Archbishop Goh’s message, Msgr Heng said the first principle to promote a culture of peace and harmony is to recognise “the principle of unity in diversity”.

“Diverse cultures and faiths need not divide us if we learn to expand our horizons in looking at people who are different from us as a boon and not a bane,” he said.

The second principle of unity is that “we must foster what is common among the different religions and cultures. We must be proactive in appreciating what is good, holy and noble in others’ faith and culture.”

However, this means that people must be honest with their own beliefs and values. “We need to recognise and acknowledge that we differ,” Msgr Heng read out.

“In such situations, we need to articulate our views clearly without condemning others who think differently. In expressing our identity, we should always respect other religious traditions and cultures.”

The third principle of unity, he noted, is the need to engage each other in dialogue, which should take place on three levels.

The first is a dialogue of “culture and life”.

“This is where we share our culture and our common love for humanity, in helping the poor and in works of charity. We too should work together to promote family life and family values such as care for children, elderly and the sick,” Msgr Heng read out.

The second level is the dialogue of faith.

“This dialogue should begin with the sharing of faith experiences and encounters,” said Msgr Heng. “The whole purpose of sharing and faith testimony is so that we can strengthen our quest for God and promote fraternal unity among all peoples.”

Finally, people need to be strong and persevere in building unity in diversity. “We must desire to see the truth and be sincere in searching for the fullness of truth together with other believers,” said Msgr Heng.

The conference was organised by Jamiyah Singapore, also known as Muslim Missionary Society Singapore, in cooperation with the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation.