By Daniel Tay

Church of the Divine Mercy

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SINGAPORE - Construction work on Church of the Divine Mercy at Pasir Ris Street 72 will begin shortly, with the appointment of Kian Seng Heng Engineering Pte Ltd. This follows the blessing of the site and groundbreaking by Archbishop Nicholas Chia on Feb 9. The church is expected to be completed in 14 months, just in time for the Feast of the Divine Mercy 2008.

Despite the extremely hot weather, a larger than expected crowd of 200 people came to witness Archbishop Nicholas Chia bless the site where the new Church of the Divine Mercy will be built. The archbishop also performed the ground breaking and laid the foundation stone to symbolize the start of construction work and the building of a new parish community.

The ceremony was a milestone event for the archdiocese, and Archbishop Chia's participation in heavy liturgical vestments in the sweltering heat and despite being ill (later diagnosed as stone in gall bladder which caused him to be hospitalized in Mount Alvernia) "showed his commitment" to the building of the new church and parish community, said Father Johnson Fernandez.

Father Johnson, who is parish priest of Church of the Holy Trinity, has been charged with overseeing the project by the archdiocese. During his homily at the Rite of Blessing, Archbishop Chia thanked Father Johnson and the building committee for their church and community building effort.

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Despite the extremely hot weather, a large crowd came to witness Archbishop Nicholas Chia bless the site where the new Church of the Divine Mercy will be built. The archbishop also performed the groundbreaking and laid the foundation stone to symbolize the start of construction work and the building of a new parish community at Pasir Ris.

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Archbishop Chia said that in Singapore, "land is like gold", but thanks to the generosity of the parishes in the diocese, the 3,000 square metres site next to WhiteWater Condominium in Pasir Ris, which it won in a HDB tender for $9 million (the price does not include GST, stamp fees and other fees which brought total land cost to about $10 million), has already been paid for.

But construction costs will not be less than $12 million despite the best efforts of the church building committee to keep building costs as low as possible, Archbishop Chia revealed. The increase in cost is mainly due to the boom in building industry and rising cost of sand and steel. Half that amount has already been raised in the past year, thanks to the Catholics in Singapore, Archbishop Chia said.

An additional $6 million will have to be raised from Catholics in the diocese in the coming months. "It's not the money that counts the most, but the need of the people", reminded the archbishop. "It is the hearts of the people that is most important."

"The church is the house of God. When people look at it, they are reminded of God," said Archbishop Chia. "But it is not the building that ultimately matters; it is the people of Pasir Ris, the parishioners, who will be the church here."

To the assembly, which included people who will be actively involved in community building, Archbishop Chia said, "You will make up the church, and you will make it beautiful. You must live up to what is expected of you, and to do your part in the building up of the church."

It will take 14 months to construct the building that "acts as a bridge to the spiritual, a stairway to heaven", described architect Philip Lee whose firm, Strategic  Design International, is designing the Church of the Divine Mercy.

Mr Lee noted that "it takes a whole community to build a parish", to which Father Johnson added that the Pasir Ris Catholic Neighbourhood Groups (CNG) are already some of the most active CNGs in Holy Trinity parish.

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Below, it is not the building that ultimately matters; it is the people of Pasir Ris, the parishioners, who will be the church here, Archbishop Nicholas Chia advises the assembly.

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Father Johnson elaborated on a plan to form CNGs in the Loyang and Changi areas, and to bring all Catholics from all the groups together so as to discover each person's gifts and make the parish a living community that will fill the new church building as soon as it is finished.

According to Kenny Poon, a member of the church building committee, there are three CNGs in the Pasir Ris area. Members of these neighbourhood groups come together on the second, third, and fourth Fridays of the month for Bible sharing and fellowship. There is also a fourth CNG for the Mandarin-speaking.

Margaret Santa Maria, who stays just five blocks away from the site of the new church, described the spiritual foundation stone of the budding parish as "the heart and lifeline of the people here", even for those who have not been to church in recent years. She hopes that the new parish will be vibrant, approachable, and youthful.

Millie Cheong hopes that working to build the new parish will "bring us together and unite us". She also hopes that the new parish will be "merciful, forgiving and loving" so that it will reflect its namesake.

William Sau, who belongs to one of the Pasir Ris CNGs, said that the new church will be a church that the Archdiocesan Divine Mercy Apostolate "will call their own".

Lawrence Thambiah, a member of the church building committee, shared that his presence at the blessing of the site and laying of the foundation stone represented "a fulfilment of a dream that was thought about" 12 years ago. He hoped that its future parishioners will organize a Divine Mercy prayer group in the parish, and that parishioners living in the Pasir Ris area and are currently worshipping at St. Anne's Church in Sengkang will return to help build up this church.

Francis Nathan is a member of a Pasir Ris CNG group and helps out with the RCIA. He observed that "one of the objectives of the RCIA is to help the Lord grow his flock" and that starting a new community in Pasir Ris is part of that.

Being involved in the building of this parish community is "something for me to remember for the rest of my life", shared Mr Nathan. "[Our foundation stone] is the common faith we have in Christ", and the sharing of the gifts that each member of the community has. "I am looking forward to preparing the community by introducing new members to Church of the Divine Mercy next Easter 2008," he said.

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Architectural features

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The 3,000 square metres site at Pasir Ris Street 72 was put up for tender in July 2005. The archdiocese made a bid of $9 million and was awarded the site in December 2005. Construction costs will be a bit more than $12 million. The site has a plot ratio of 1:4 and a maximum allowable building height of four storeys.

"The church is the house of God. When people look at it, they are reminded of God." - Archbishop Nicholas Chia

Features:

• a church entrance (narthex) with a large area for people to mingle before the liturgy begins, to highlight the act of gathering as a crucial element in the liturgical celebration.

• a baptismal font located at the entrance to the main worship area to remind churchgoers of their symbolic entry into the church community through the waters of baptism.

• a semi-circular sanctuary to provide a barrier-free connection with the space where parishioners are seated, and to focus attention on the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated and the ambo where the Word of God is proclaimed.

• a main worship area situated on the ground floor for easy access, especially for the old and the infirm.

• a chapel for daily Mass on the sub-basement level for convenient access from the front of the church without entering into the main church area.

Main functional areas:

• A main church with space for an estimated 1,300 churchgoers.

• An adoration room.

• A 200-seat chapel.

• Open area for functions.

• Two basement carparks with natural ventilation.

• A 300-seat function hall.

• 11 classrooms.

• A rooftop garden for youth and parish activities.

• Priests' residence.

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