Sacred and community space

We need to have space to pray, to be with the Lord, and to gather as a community. Lydia Lim, a lay Catholic who helps fellow Catholics discern their vocation and purpose in their spiritual life, shares her discernment and appreciation of the spaces that are and will be coming up in the archdiocese for silence, learning and community.

There are public spaces that are life giving and public spaces that are not.

Sometimes, silence is what a human being needs and what would bring her back to life. Yet the spaces where one can sink into silence, rest and be refreshed, are rare in a city. Rare too are indoor public spaces where you do not have to buy anything to stay.

As British writer, Zadie Smith, observed in an essay for the conservation of local community libraries, these spaces offer what “cannot be easily found elsewhere”. But libraries are not always quiet. For example, the National Library on Victoria Street can be quite buzzy with activity. One has to head to its reference section to find peace and quiet.

Sacred spaces

In cities where there are churches though, they are – unless a top pick for tourists – often oases of peace.

Here in Singapore, when I feel a need for silence in the city, I head to the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd’s adoration chapel.

I don’t know if other Catholics go to the adoration room for the silence but I certainly do. It is good to rest in the presence of the Lord, to behold Him and to be beheld by Him. Those of you who have been to the Cathedral’s adoration room would know that it is quite lovely – with calm muted colours, a carpeted floor, comfortable chairs and soft stools of different heights, and the Blessed Sacrament displayed in a spectacular gold monstrance.

It is a sacred space in which to pray and give thanks for the blessings we have received. And one group of people we need to thank are the men and women who made such a space possible, those who worked on the Cathedral’s restoration and extension, those who raised funds and the donors who gave generously.

Building projects

Buildings do not come cheap, and land on this small island is expensive. Yet, I see that the Catholic Foundation is committed to building more such spaces, to provide to the people of the Archdiocese of Singapore what cannot be easily found elsewhere.

One of these is a residence for retired priests called Bethany East, to be located along Changi Road a short walk from the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. It will be a home for up to eight of our pastors after they retire from decades of busy parish ministry.

There are also two projects to provide spaces for community and learning.

The first is the St Francis Xavier Seminary building being built on a plot of freehold land in front of St Joseph’s Church (Bukit Timah). The staff and seminarians have moved out of the Ponggol Seventeen Avenue premises, and will be moving in here sometime in the middle of the year.

The new building will have lecture rooms, a cafe, a chapel and a library. It will provide residential space for seminarians and their formators which is essential for the raising up of a new generation of pastors for the future. There will also be office space for the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS) which offers courses in theology to laity.

The second project is an Archdiocesan Hub to be built on freehold land at 49 Upper Thomson Road. It is still in the planning stages but is likely to include a retreat centre, an auditorium, an adoration chapel, rooms for intercessory prayer, a youth centre, a family centre and a larger home for retired priests. The aim is for this hub to be a one-stop centre for Catholics where they head to for their spiritual formation and other needs.

Communities need space

Communities need space to come to life, and sometimes spaces can also help create communities.

Another favourite place of mine in the city is Crossings Cafe, on the ground floor of the Catholic Centre at 55 Waterloo Street. The cafe staff, which includes some young people with special needs, are some of the warmest and friendliest people I know. It is such a treat to be served by them, and to experience a slower, kinder and gentler side of our busy, efficient city.

All these projects are being undertaken by the archdiocese through its property arm, the Archdiocesan Land & Properties Singapore (ALPS). Besides the projects described above, ALPS is also raising money through the Catholic Foundation to create sinking funds which will be used to renew the leases and buildings for the many Church properties.

In land-scarce Singapore, the Catholic Foundation says on its website, the optimal use of buildings and properties is crucial to the Church’s ability to grow unhindered by physical limitation. Yes, space is necessary for growth, and life.

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