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Singapore’s first Catholic cardinal vows to promote unity and love ‘among all humankind’, plans research centre for inter-religious work

SINGAPORE — Newly appointed Cardinal William Goh has vowed to promote unity and love among all humankind at a time when the world has become polarised and fragmented.

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  • Newly appointed Cardinal William Goh held a thanksgiving Mass in church on Sept 8
  • He is the first cardinal in Singapore appointed by Pope Francis
  • He said that among his tasks as cardinal is to promote love and unity among people
  • It is also important to continue work on promoting inter-religious dialogue here
  • More than 3,700 attended the ceremony including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — Newly appointed Cardinal William Goh has vowed to promote unity and love among all humankind at a time when the world has become polarised and fragmented.

Speaking at the Cardinalate Thanksgiving Mass on Thursday (Sept 8) held at St Joseph’s Church in Upper Bukit Timah, Cardinal Goh said: “If we were to build a cohesive society as a church, as a community, we also must be leaders in promoting harmony, solidarity among all human beings.” 

“Very importantly, we are called to foster brotherhood and solidarity among all regardless of race, language, religion or culture.”

The 65-year-old added that this is “a very important task” because “people will know that we are truly believers in God when we show the face of God’s mercy and love to others”.

“If you ask me, what I should do as a cardinal in leading the entire community forward… firstly, for us Catholics, the Church is a sacrament of love and unity. That is the most important mission of the Church — to promote unity and love among all of humankind. That is the basic mission of the Church.

“Of course, ours is a spiritual mission, in the sense that we believe very strongly that the world would be united if everyone truly believes in God.”

Cardinal Goh, who is still archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore, was appointed to his latest role by Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. The official ceremony took place earlier in Vatican City on Aug 27.

Cardinals are second only to the pope in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They advise and assist the pope and play key roles in the leadership and governance of the Church worldwide.

Cardinal William Goh may also be addressed as "William Cardinal Goh" based on church tradition — to keep his Christian name before his cardinal title as a sign of humility, showing that his allegiance is first and foremost to Jesus Christ. 

The solemn Mass in Singapore on Thursday, organised to celebrate and give thanks for his appointment, was attended by various political and religious leaders such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, and Right Reverend Dr Titus Chung, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.

Bishops from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei were also present at the event.

About 1,000 participants attended the worship within the church hall and another 2,700 participants had to be seated in two tents erected on the church compounds.

Addressing reporters after the two-hour event, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, said: “We appreciate the honour that was bestowed on (Cardinal Goh) for his leadership and commitment to spread harmony and peace among various faiths and to lead this effort not just for Singapore and Singaporeans but for the region.”

On fostering solidarity among people, Cardinal Goh said that it is important to continue promoting inter-religious dialogue.

“In Singapore, we have — through the support of the Government — become an icon of religious harmony in the world. And this is something that we need to continue to work on because all of us, regardless of which religion we come from, are children of God.”

Religious leaders, he added, must engage with a wider group of people in the secular world as well, because merely promoting inter-religious dialogues is not enough to bring about a cohesive society, because people in certain civic groups are also “concerned about the common good of humanity”.

He noted that in Asia, which “hosts all the major religions in the world”, it is important for people to live in peace and unity. 

One of the ways he intends to do so is through the setting up of a research institute in Singapore.

Speaking to reporters before the event, Mr Lawrence Chong, consultor at the Vatican’s Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, said: “Now that archbishop is made cardinal, because the role of cardinal is at a global level, he sees that he could serve to bring the Singapore perspective to inter-religious dialogue.”

The Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue seeks to promote mutual understanding and collaboration between Catholics and followers of other religious traditions, as well as to encourage the study of religions. Mr Chong was appointed to the role of consultor by Pope Francis in 2020.

The research institute that Cardinal Goh is planning will look into current examples and case studies from the Singapore angle, and to study how the country can help contribute to building inter-religious dialogue and advancing peace in the region. 

In response to when such an institute would be established, Mr Chong said that it is still “in the early days” and could not give a definite date.

He added that there will be a “proper commission set up to understand how to do it” and that the Church already has “a groundswell of people” including Catholics involved in non-profit organisations and the government sector who have relevant policy experience.

Reverend Terry Kee, president of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) in Singapore, said: "The cardinal himself has been very supportive of the interfaith engagement and the IRO."

Reverend Kee told of how he and Cardinal Goh led a joint service five years ago to commemorate the Protestant Reformation, which was a period in the 16th century when people in western Europe broke off from the Roman Catholic Church to set up their own branch of Christianity.

Reverend Kee, 64, a former bishop of the Lutheran Church here, said that the service was a way of reconciling the relationship between the Lutheran Church and Catholic Church, adding that he has "tremendous respect" for Cardinal Goh. 

Speaking to the media after the event, Mr Shanmugam said: “I think it is a great and signal honour to Singapore and to him. But I know he doesn't take it as a personal honour, he does it as service. And I think he will continue to provide great leadership to the Church in Singapore, and in his duties as cardinal for the Catholic Church as a whole.”

Related topics

cardinal Archbishop William Goh Catholic Church Pope Francis religion interfaith religious harmony

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