Fr Michael Arro, 84, who has spent 58 years of pastoral work in Singapore:
Catholics have grown well economically and socially in tandem with the nation’s progress, and so has been the numbers. The demand for faith formation, like Bible classes, talks on the sacraments and youth programmes, have increased by leaps and bounds as compared to the 1960s, and the laity is asking for more.
As a result, there is more moral consciousness in how they live their lives and influence others in society. However, I think more can be done in the areas of social justice, and for the poor, the sick and migrants. The challenge for the priests is to be in touch with the daily life of their people.
Obviously, there is growth in numbers. Today’s laity are also more knowledgeable about the Bible, Church and theology. Worship is more interactive with languages of Mass text and songs in the vernacular, with more laity involved in the celebration (eg communion ministers, wardens etc).
Sermons/homilies are easily available on the web (unlike before where one would rely only on the homily by the priest). We have also grown in interfaith dialogue and interaction.
Moving forward, I think the community can be more accommodating and welcoming to newcomers or those exploring the Catholic faith. We can make catechism more interactive, using the media language and tools of the youth for better communication (for example, applying the Good Shepherd/Montessori method of conducting catechism).
We can also explore new avenues for evangelisation, like with social media and bolder personal testimonies, apart from the traditional methods.
Dr John Hui, chairman, Archdiocesan Commission for the Family:
The Church has certainly grown over the past 50 years. Not just in terms of numbers, but also by the fact that more laypeople are getting involved in the missionary work of the Church, both within and without.
This is encouraging. Yet so much more needs to be done, especially when we consider the massive challenges that face families, married couples, single parents, and both the elderly and youth today.
We need to help families and individuals experience the joy of rediscovering and living out the plan that God has for each and every one of us. We need to find new and effective ways of reaching out to them, engaging, involving and empowering them, so that all can be renewed to participate in the life and mission of the Church, according to that plan.
Ms Janet Lim, secular Franciscan:
I do not see that the Church has grown a whole lot in the past 50 years. No highlight comes to mind – Catholic schools have kind of stopped short. We have a few new church buildings but is that indication of growth?
Three things come to mind though: the dark period of the “Marxist conspiracy”, our changing profile – we are now multi-cultural, multi-national, and the Church directory lists many communities.
What I look forward to in the next 50 years?
If I had to use one word to describe our Church, it would be “soft”. So I wish for the Church to be tougher – and to toughen us up. To whack me harder on the head and heart – maybe best said by our Pope: “I want the Church to go out into the streets, I want us to defend ourselves against all worldliness, opposition to progress, from that which is comfortable, from that which is clericalism, from all that which means being closed up in ourselves. Parishes, schools, institutions are made in order to come out … if they do not do this, they become a non-governmental organisation, and the Church must not be an NGO.”
We do need to consider re-establishing a justice and peace office to consolidate and strengthen our voice for the poor. We must not forget “old” evangelisation too and learn from the missionary zeal of our beloved MEP [Paris Foreign Missions] Fathers.
Mr Andrew Tann, 68, Church of St Francis Xavier:
In the 1960s/1970s, the Church was rather inert, focusing on Sunday Masses and the sacraments, with the faithful passive and unquestioning. Church-inspired outreach was sporadic, localised and not on an archdiocesan scale; lay activism was haphazard, limited as there were few lay groups and initiatives, unlike the gamut more recently.
Yes, the Church as an institution and as a community has grown in dynamism and influence, parallel to the vibrancy in secular society. But are Catholics a more compassionate people than our forebears?
Catholics must consciously practise Gospel values at the workplace and among the strangers they meet – that will be a living witness of Christ, instead of glibly quoting scripture or trying to win over sceptics with theological stuff – do more, preach less.
Is our faith deeper or we think we know more about God and His ways? Better to encounter God than to know about Him.
Mr Gabriel Liong, 25, Church of St Ignatius:
In terms of moving forward, I think that the increased emphasis on the youth in recent years has been an amazing development in Singapore. I personally have benefitted much from my years in the NUS Catholic Community, and desire more young people to have similar experiences during their formative years.
Mr Bryan Lauw, 23, Church of the Holy Spirit:
I believe the Catholic Church has made progress in bringing more people to experience a true and deeper conversion in their lives. The re-evangelisation process has really led to more hearts to come to know Jesus and desire to become more authentic disciples of God.
Moving forward, I think that the Church can do more for the intellectual and spiritual formation of Catholics. Especially in a world where the changing values of society are coming into direct conflict with our Christian values, the need to be more informed in our faith has become greater.