VATICAN CITY – AsiaNews published the second installment of a three-part interview with Archbishop William Goh of Singapore on 15 Feb 2018. In this installment, the archbishop analyses the differences in religious experience in the West and East. He was with the Malaysian and Brunei bishops at their ad limina visit to the Holy See on 4-9 Feb 2018 and gave the interview to Asia News Feb 9.
After having illustrated the climate of harmony and the relationship of collaboration between the city-state institutions and religious confessions, Archbishop Goh analyses the misunderstandings that mark relations between religion and Western societies.
Instead of rejecting it, the European countries should be inspired by religion in the government of people, in making their lives better, in giving them meaning and fulfillment. I think that Singapore can be an example in this sense.
However, unlike Europe, our government is secular but not secularist or anti-religious. The European weakness is represented by the fact that many governments are adverse to faith. How can a secular government help people to realise themselves, if it does not contemplate God and neglects religious sentiment? In the West, a very important dimension of people’s lives is being lost. In an attempt to be more and more secularised, faith is relegated to something private, marginal. In this way, men will never find happiness in the things they possess.
Although Singapore is a very prosperous country, where competitiveness and economic development are primary objectives, society holds “a strong religious feeling.”
The archbishop explains why:
When you have everything you need, the question that arises is: ‘What is the meaning of life?’. Religion provides the solution to this question, which cannot be answered without God. Even the younger generations of Singapore, who have been raised in a state of well-being, ask themselves these questions: ‘What do you live for? Do you want to make a difference in people’s lives? You cannot find meaning in your life if you do not live for others.
I am used to meeting numerous entrepreneurs, successful people, who in the course of their lives all become philanthropists. They are people who possess more than necessary, money that they would not be able to spend in their whole lifetime. And so they begin to try to benefit others, offering their service for the good of the country and giving part of their wealth to non-governmental organisations, the Church and charitable institutions. People in Singapore are very generous and donate without prejudice. The parishes are full and the Church is alive. This is why, when we come to Europe, we are sad to see empty churches. We are very busy and in all we celebrate eight liturgies every weekend.
Msgr Goh identifies in the “domain of rationalism and the industrial revolution” the causes of the crisis of values sweeping through European countries.
Europe has thus become rationalist, materialistic and individualistic – he says – religion cannot be explained, it is something that comes from the heart, it is an encounter. Faith and reason do not contradict each other, but faith is greater than reason.”
There are also many differences between East and West in how religion is experienced.
Asians are generally sentimental people, very spiritual. Europe has instead lost its spiritual dimension and a large part of religion is in the minds of people. Reasoning prevails over personal experience, over the encounter. The Gospel is a miracle, it goes beyond human words.”
According to Msgr Goh, one of the reasons why Christianity, especially Catholicism, has taken root in Asia is “respect for what is sacred”, typical of local cultures.
This is the reason why religions in Asia are flourishing, what drives us to rediscover our encounter with Christ. However, given that Singapore subject to strong Western influence, my fear is that our citizens tend to be too ‘cerebral.’
Consequently, in his pastoral work, Msgr Goh seeks to renew the faith of Catholics through spiritual retreats and experiences of conversion.
As a bishop, it is my duty to guide this kind of initiative every year, to help people meet Jesus directly. This, moreover, is the foundation of our faith. Without this meeting, one can study all the theology that one wants, but no change will take place in people’s heart. Theology is faith that seeks knowledge, it is not an explanation of faith. This is where Europe’s failure resides, which also contributes to the scandals and bad examples that have invested religious leaders. As Pope Francis affirms, the renewal of the Church passes through the renewal of her pastors. The faithful want this change, in Singapore they are ‘hungry’ for the Word of God. We need a conversion of hearts that starts from the top and reaches the base. – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews