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Govt to rally religious groups under new SGSecure network

SINGAPORE – Stirred into action amidst a tense global security climate, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has been ramping up its efforts since last October to ready its flock for crises such as fires, natural disasters or bomb threats.

Govt to rally religious groups under new SGSecure network

Andre Ahchak (R) Director, Archdiocesan Communications Office and Abdul Wahab (L), Vice-Chair, Al-Khair Mosque discussing plans related to SGSecure at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. Photo: Wee Teck Hian/TODAY

SINGAPORE – Stirred into action amidst a tense global security climate, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has been ramping up its efforts since last October to ready its flock for crises such as fires, natural disasters or bomb threats. 

Church members will be trained as fire wardens, while church leaders have also been told how to speak in a reassuring yet authoritative manner to their congregations, when announcing instructions on how to respond should an emergency happen. 

Meanwhile, at Al-Khair Mosque, aside from scaling up emergency drills, it has also been working to build rapport among the different communities and guard against religious intolerance and finger-pointing, with its board members recently joining Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs). 

Such efforts are in line with those of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), which will be reaching out to all religious organisations through a new SGSecure Community Network, to prepare places of worship to be crisis-ready. 

It also wants to create safe spaces to freely discuss sensitive issues such as race and religion.

Announcing this in Parliament during the debate on her ministry’s budget, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said that this network would be in line with the national SGSecure movement launched last September to prepare and mobilise Singaporeans for crisis situations.

“In the hours and days after a terrorist attack, we need respected community and religious leaders to convey messages of calm and solidarity to their congregations, and to the wider community,” she said.

On the need for safe spaces to discuss race and religion, Ms Fu said knowledge gaps around religious practices still exist. Left unaddressed, this vacuum may be filled by “irresponsible voices that seed prejudice,” she said.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese has an Archdiocesan Emergency Response Operations (Aero) Group led by a committee comprising former police officers and people from the security and fire safety industry. It has drawn up broad guidelines to expand on emergency standard operating procedures unique to the 32 churches under its charge.  

Each church also its own emergency preparedness taskforce, with church members trained on how to respond, such as by delivering first aid.
And in the immediate aftermath of an emergency, church leaders can swing into action through a “call-tree system” to disseminate information through WhatsApp group chats, to dispel misinformation and convey messages of solidarity. 

Said Mr Andre Ahchak, director of the Archdiocesan Communications Office, who is part of Aero: “It’s about sensitising your community and getting them to see that security is not just the job of security agencies… It’s everyone’s responsibility.”

About 230 church volunteers, staff and priests have attended a counter terrorism seminar conducted by officers of the Centre for Protective Security Studies of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Singapore Police Force last November at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd. 

Al-Khair Mosque vice-chair Abdul Wahab was among those who took part in a counter-terrorism seminar. He plans to scale up the mosque’s annual fire drill exercise by holding it on Fridays, which sees some 4,000 people coming for prayers, as well as work with the nearby schools to tap on their assembly areas. 

Mr Ahchak noted that while the leaders of different faiths already meet regularly and recognise the importance of such efforts, this “friendliness needs to trickle downwards”. Agreeing,

Mr Abdul said the onus is on the people to attend such seminars so they can be more informed. 

There is also the fine line between balancing being vigilant and stirring up unhappiness and distrust in a place of worship. For instance, using measures like bag checks would make people very “uncomfortable” in a place that is meant to be welcoming, said Mr Ahchak.  Hence, religious organisations need to rely on volunteers to be eyes and ears on the ground to keep a lookout for any suspicious activity.

“It’s not about whether you’re a Christian or a Buddhist ... We cannot be like ostriches with our heads in the sand, pretending that we are living in paradise,” said Mr Ahchak.

MINISTRY OF CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH
About S$2.16 billion projected total expenditure this financial year, a 10.1% increase from the S$1.96 billion spent the previous year

  • New SGSecure Community Network to prepare places of worship to be crisis-ready
  • New SG Cares movement to build caring citizenry and provide more chances for Singaporeans to volunteer
  • Up to S$1.5 million set aside annually to support teaching of secular subjects like maths and science at madrasahs; Muis to match assistance for teaching of religious subjects
  • New Heritage Plan to be drawn up to serve as a blueprint for the sector from 2018 to 2022
  • S$150 million top-up for the Cultural Matching Fund
  • Elite athletes to get additional S$50 million funding, S$50 million matching grant to High Performance Sports system to support athletes of all abilities

 

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