Tamil migrant Catholics celebrate Pongal, a harvest festival, on Jan 18 this year.Tamil migrant Catholics celebrate Pongal, a harvest festival, on Jan 18 this year.

The Indian migrant Catholic community in Singapore has at least 6,000 members, according to its coordinators. About 4,000 are Tamils while the rest are Malayalees.

CatholicNews spoke to the coordinators for both groups to find out more about them and the challenges they face.

Tamil migrant Catholic community

“Currently, there’re no proper direction and spiritual growth for the [Tamil] migrant workers. They just go for Mass and nothing else,” said Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sr Motcha, the secretary for the Commission for the Apostolate of Tamil-Speaking (CATS).

She has been working closely with the Tamil Catholic migrant community for the past 14 months.
Re-enacting the Stations of the Cross during a Good Friday service at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes.Re-enacting the Stations of the Cross during a Good Friday service at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes.

“It’s hard for us to organise events for the migrant workers as most of the churches close their compounds straight away after the Tamil Mass”, which is usually held in the evenings after Sunday sunset Mass, she said.

Mr S S A Suresh, a coordinator at Church of Christ the King, added that the workers who come to Singapore have “a lot of emotional and social problems”. Thus, counselling and spiritual fellowship are “very important”. He added that most workers are able to attend church activities only on Sunday evenings only after work.

Sr Motcha added that the Tamil migrant community is now without a spiritual director as Fr Augustine Joseph is on sabbatical leave.

“The archdiocese has not mentioned who the next spiritual director will be and Fr Anthony Raj” who is assistant parish priest at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes (OLOL) has many other duties, said Sr Motcha.

During the interview, various coordinators of the community said that the spiritual needs of many Tamil Catholic migrants are not being met. Thus, some leave the Catholic Church to join other Christian denominations.

Coordinators from the Tamil migrant Catholic community seen here with Our Lady of Lourdes assistant parish priest Fr Anthony Raj (centre), and Sr Motcha (third from right).Coordinators from the Tamil migrant Catholic community seen here with Our Lady of Lourdes assistant parish priest Fr Anthony Raj (centre), and Sr Motcha (third from right).
Mr John Ken, another coordinator, said that in the past, retreats were held but now it is a challenge to bring in priests from India. There “is a lot of work settling the work passes and such. If we have resources here to help us communicate [with priests] abroad, it would be very useful,” he said.

The welfare committee under CATS’ Agape Ministry comprises 12 members. The group organises lessons in computer skills, English, sewing and music on Sundays at OLOL but these are primarily for women.

There are also Bible sharing classes at OLOL every Sunday between 11.30am and 12.30pm.

The community also celebrated the traditional Pongal festival (Feast of Good Harvest) which took place on Jan 18, and will celebrate on Sept 8 the Feast of Our Lady of Velankanni at OLOL, said Sr Motcha.

For the upcoming Good Friday service, the Tamil migrant workers will re-enact the Stations of the Cross in the same
parish.

For more information about the Commission for the Apostolate of Tamil-Speaking, visit http://www.tamilcatholic.org.sg/

TAMIL MASSES

There are Tamil Masses in seven parishes – OLOL at 9.30am and 6.30pm (every Sunday); Church of St Francis of Assisi at 7.30pm (every Sunday except on the fourth Sunday of the month); Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea at 6.30pm (first Saturday and second Sunday of the month); Church of St Anthony at 7.30pm (first and second Saturdays of the month); Church of the Risen Christ at 4pm (second Sunday of the month); Blessed Sacrament Church at 7pm (third Sunday of the month), and at Church of Christ the King at 6.30pm (fourth Sunday of the
month).


Malayalee migrant Catholics posing for a photo during a Christmas carolling session in 2014Malayalee migrant Catholics posing for a photo during a Christmas carolling session in 2014

Malayalee migrant Catholic community


The Archdiocesan Commission for Malayalam Apostolate was formed in 2014 to cater to the Malayalee Catholic community which comprises the Latin-rite, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara groups.

The commission chaplain, Franciscan Fr Salim Joseph said that “as far as the archdiocese is concerned, all three groups have to be under the Malayalam Commission but they have got their own individuality” in terms of rituals.

The oldest group is the Latin-rite group which was established here in 1971.

Mr Wenslaus Silua, a coordinator for the group, said that it faces a challenge in getting  youths to join as they are English-educated and “don’t see a need to go for Malayalam Mass”.

“We still have old people like me here. A few still hang on,” added 86-year-old Llyod Fernandes who has been with the group from the start.
 
Mr Fernandes shared that two secular establishments offer Malayalam language lessons – the Singapore Malayalee Association at Race Course Road and the Sri Narayana Mission at Sembawang but “few [youngsters] are coming forward to learn the language”.

The Syro-Malabar Catholic group has been in existence in Singapore since 2000.

Mr Jaison Manuel, a coordinator, said that since 2000, there have been more Syro-Malabar Catholics coming to Singapore from India. As such, they wanted a place “to have their own rituals”.

However, there were times when they had to look elsewhere as local churches were often occupied said Mr Manuel.

Mr Manuel said that the group is still in search “of a place [to hold] Masses in a particular area in the west”.

“There are a handful of people who are part of the Syro-Malankara” group in Singapore. No more than “five or six”, Fr Salim said.

Representatives of the Malayalam migrant Catholic community pose for a photo with their spiritual director, Fr Salim Joseph (in habit). Representatives of the Malayalam migrant Catholic community pose for a photo with their spiritual director, Fr Salim Joseph (in habit).
To cater to the entire Malayalee migrant Catholic community, there is the Malayalam Charismatic Group (MCG).

Mr E Jacob Jose, a coordinator for the group, shared that to meet the spiritual needs of the community, MCG has six ministries which meet up once a month – children’s ministry, teens ministry, intercession prayer group, praise and worship group, Bible sharing ministry and a healing ministry.

Together with the commission, MCG also holds night vigil prayers every Friday at the Church of St Anthony from 9.30pm-5.30am.

Mr Jose shared that as MCG’s ministries are not confined to a specific parish, MCG faces a challenge in finding a venue for its activities.

The commission also organises activities such as stay-in retreats for Malayalees regardless of whichever group they belong to.

Mr Basil Camoens, a coordinator from the Latin-rite group, said that for the retreats, love offerings collected go to the church.

The group thus has to raise its own funds.

Fr Salim added that as the spiritual director of the commission for eight months, he is unsure of who should pay for commission events and meetings. “It is still not clear if the diocese will pay or we will pay,” said Fr Salim.

He is in the midst of organising a family day which will take place during Diwali, or Deepavali, on Nov 10 this year. Families will be invited to play different cultural sports, and children can show off their talents.

MASSES (Latin-rite)

The Latin-rite group holds Masses in Malayalee every Sunday in OLOL at 4pm (first Sunday of the month); Blessed Sacrament Church at 7pm (second Sunday of the month); Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea at 6.30pm (third Sunday of the month); Church of St Francis of Assisi at 7.30pm (fourth Sunday of the month), and at Church of Christ the King at 6pm (fifth Sunday of the month).


MASSES (Syro-Malabar)

Masses are held for the Syro-Malabar group on Saturdays at 7.30pm in three Catholic parishes in Singapore – Church of Divine Mercy (first Saturday of the month); Church of St Anthony (third and fifth Saturdays of the month), and St Anne’s Church (fourth Saturday of the month).


For more information on the Malayalee Catholic community, visit https://www.facebook.com/malayalamcommission

By Lorna O’Hara
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