Tag Archives: interview

Singapore prelate recounts experience and witness of Church in the city-state

VATICAN CITY – In this third installment of the interview, Archbishop William Goh of Singapore recounts the experience and the witness of the Catholic Church in the city-state. He was with the Malaysian and Brunei bishops in their ad limina visit to the Holy See on 4-9 Feb 2018. This interview took place on Feb 9.

A large part of the Singaporean population identifies with a religious faith. Buddhists are about 40% and Christianity is the second largest group. Thanks also to Western influence, the number of Christians in the country (local and permanent residents) are growing and the approximately 383 thousand Catholics make up 11% of the population, while Protestants are 14%. Next in line is Islam at 18% and Taoism at 14%.

According to Abp Goh: However, and this is a concern for us, there is an increasing number of people who claim not to belong to any confession. This is an important group that we must try to approach as a possibility of evangelisation.

The archbishop of Singapore believes social outreach is “the main missionary front for the local Church.”

We have many organisations that assist people in need, such as Caritas Singapore, which leads other 25 associations. In Singapore, the funds and donations collected by our initiatives cannot by law be allocated to foreign projects, unless this is specified before to interested donors. For humanitarian initiatives outside the national borders (Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar), the Archdiocese has established the Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives (Charis). The faithful are very involved and offer great support, witnessing their faith among those most in need.”

Another focus area for the Singapore Church is interreligious dialogue and the promotion of harmony among the various confessions.

We organise many initiatives to share our experiences of faith without proselytising. We bear witness to what Jesus did in our lives, how he changed them and made the difference.

The archdiocese pays particular attention to the education of young people. In this regard, Abp Goh states:

In each of the over 35 Catholic schools we form the heart of the boys, even before their intellect. We do not want leaders who live for themselves, but people who care about their neighbour. The Christian schools, Catholic and Protestant, have worked hard on this and it is a precious legacy that they leave to the ruling class of the country.

If Singapore is a successful nation today, it is also because most of our rulers have attended missionary schools, even though many of them are not Christians. It is also thanks to the teaching of the values of the Gospel that Singapore pays special attention to policies in favour of life and the family, resisting the pressure of the West for the implementation of laws such as those on homosexual unions. Honesty and integrity are virtues that are very close to the Singaporeans.

Every year, the Church of Singapore welcomes about 3,000 new baptised, but conversions are not the sole purpose of the initiatives of the Catholic community.

Our goal is to build a Church that is vibrant, evangelical and missionary. This is also the decree of the archdiocese. My commitment is to make Catholics more aware, not only in Singapore but also abroad. To this end, we created the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS), to prepare students for the new evangelisation among the many cultures and religions of our continent, since the formation of the laity is fundamental to mission. The faith of the Catholic community in Singapore is truly surprising, for example the lunchtime mass we organise for workers. The cathedral is always crowded and the participation is remarkable in all the 33 parishes of the archdiocese, where every day there are about 300-400 faithful. They seek peace, comfort in a everyday life in Singapore, which can be quite stressful.

Having a high level of education, the Singaporean Catholics are quite demanding. So our priests have to give good homilies. The faithful crave the Word of God and feel the need to find a link between faith and their lives, which is why they know how to be critical of pastors whose sermons are lacking. Fortunately, we have good priests, who through the Word are able to touch hearts.

The decline in priestly vocations is a great concern for Abp Goh, who says increased lay participation in pastoral works a way to counteract the negative effects of the phenomenon.

It is more important than ever to involve the laity in the life of the Church, because in the end it is to them that it belongs. Our schools are directed above all by non-consecrated persons, since the average age of the clergy is always higher. In parishes serving about 6 thousand faithful, we consider a 40-year-old priest to be ‘young.’

In every community there is always a lot of work to do and the time we dedicate to young people is always too little. Added to this is the great difference in age between the young people and the pastors, which affects dialogue between them.  The risk is that there is no one to respond to the numerous and increasingly demanding questions of adolescents. To find a solution to the problem and provide for the pastoral care of young people, we have set up the Office for Young People (YOP). This initiative assists the youngsters in the search for Jesus and the answers they need. – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews

Singapore prelate calls on Europe ‘to let itself be inspired by religion’

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

The Church’s real challenges are in Asia, says Singapore prelate

ROME  – Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye of Singapore, discussed a number of issues with AsiaNews on 9 Feb 2018 after his meeting with Pope Francis Feb 8, issues like the reality of Asia, the life of the Church and religious harmony in Singapore, and his personal observations about Amoris Laetitia.

Nine years after the last ad limina visit in 2008, the 11 bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (BCMSB) visited the Vatican between 4 and 9 February, to visit the tombs of the holy apostles Peter and Paul and meet Pope Francis.

Born in Singapore in 1957, Abp Goh was ordained archdiocesan priest in 1985. For four years, he was assistant parish priest at the Holy Cross Church before travelling to Rome in 1992 to finish his studies in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Upon his return home, he taught and lectured at the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary of (SFXMS) between 1992 and 2005.

In 2005, Fr Goh was appointed SFXMS rector and spiritual director of the Catholic Spiritual Centre, a position he held until his ordination as the fourth archbishop of Singapore in 2013. What follows is the first part (of three) of an interview with the prelate.

“The real challenges for the Catholic Church are here in Asia,” said Abp Goh, during his first ad limina visit to the Vatican as Archbishop of Singapore. “The Asian continent is different from all the others, since it is extremely varied in terms of religions, cultures and economic realities,” he added. In this context, Singapore stands out as a reality in its own right.

“It is a very particular Asian country, characterised by strong economic and technological progress, perhaps similar to South Korea and Hong Kong. Together with Malaysia and Brunei, it belongs to a Bishops’ Conference that brings together nations that face different political, economic and religious challenges.

“Singapore is a unique country, the expression of a cosmopolitan and highly educated society. More than 40 per cent of its residents have at least one university degree. About 75 per cent of the population is ethnic Chinese, but there are important Malay (13.5 per cent) and Indian (9 per cent) communities.”

One of the peculiarities that characterise the rich city-state is the relationship between the government and religion. “Unlike neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore has a secular government,” the prelate explained. “However, we like to define ourselves more as a ‘multicultural and multi-religious state’. The government is in fact secular in order to preserve the unity of the nation, but most ministers and officials profess a faith. The state is not against religion, but is in favour of it, seeing it as a fundamental component for the country’s development.

“The government provides important support to all religions, without favouritism. For example, it is customary to invite religious leaders to take part in numerous meetings and ask them for advice on issues affecting the country, especially from a moral and social point of view.”

“Some ministries, like the Ministry of the Family or the Ministry of Education, collaborate closely with religious leaders. Along with youth policies, these are the areas in which the government invites us to express opinions because we all work for the good of the country.”

The collaboration between the State and religions for the country’s development is also reflected in the archbishop’s personal involvement. “I was appointed presidential adviser for minority rights and religious harmony. Thanks to the work of governmental inter-ethnic and inter-religious bodies, there are frequent occasions for discussion and talks among all groups in Singapore’s cosmopolitan society. Our ability to live together peacefully, especially among different religions, is truly a miracle.

“Among the various initiatives, religious groups have set up a non-governmental organisation, the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), which provides a significant place for sharing different experiences of faith, this thanks to the important help from the government. All this makes Singapore a truly unique reality, where every religious problem is dealt with directly among religious leaders, even with a phone call. This is the beauty of our country, there are no conflicts,” the archbishop said.

“All religions are on the same level and do not exercise any political power. Instead, all the countries that surround Singapore have a dominant religion, favoured by their governments. When this happens, the tendency to discriminate against others is strong. Unlike what happens in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, religions in Singapore do not have political power and do not seek it. For this reason, dialogue is easier and the common goal is the good of the country.

“Whenever foreign delegations visit Singapore, they make sure to meet local religious leaders. Recently, even Prince Charles of England visited the country and held talks with leaders on how to promote religious harmony. In Singapore we try to be a model, but ultimately the problem of many countries is the mutual exploitation of religion and politics. This is why I believe that elsewhere our system may not be effective, ” Abp Goh noted.

The day before the interview, Abp Goh met Pope Francis along the bishops of Malaysia and Brunei. The archbishop said that these countries are very different from one another. For this reason, during the audience with the pontiff, the presentation of each took a long time. “As a result, there was little time for questions and observations,” the archbishop explained.

Still, “We managed to have a very meaningful talk,” Abp Goh said. “’Ask me all the questions you want, any! Even if you do not like the pope, you can tell me,” Pope Francis told us with the humility that is his trademark. He was present like a father and as such he listened to us.

“For my part, I asked him two questions that are close to my heart. First, I explained my curiosity about the efficiency of a structure organised around small dicasteries in the context of a universal institution to which billions of people belong. After, I asked for clarifications on the theme of communion for the divorced included in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s second apostolic exhortation.

“Many in the Church have doubts and are uncertain. Such confusion and division also frighten me, but the Holy Father told me: ‘Chapter VIII cannot be decontextualised. It is only the end of the exhortation. Chapter IV is more important, where its principles are explained. For Pope Francis, the question cannot be reduced to whether divorced people can receive communion or not?’ Rather, the question is: ‘How can we reach them, [and] assist them from a spiritual point of view?’ Unfortunately, sometimes there are different approaches between academics and those involved in grassroots pastoral outreach. Pope Francis belongs to the latter group.” – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews

Penang bishop says Pope Francis is ‘what the Holy Spirit is saying today’

ROME – At a time when Pope Francis is under fire on multiple fronts, a Malaysian bishop says he and his fellow prelates came to Rome this week [4-9 Feb 2018] in part to affirm “that we’re happy with the direction he’s taking for the universal Church.”

Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, acknowledged that his group in Rome this week for their ad limina visit, which bishops are required to make every five years to the Vatican and the pope, knew that not everyone shares their sense of enthusiasm, but said that’s not the primary reason they wanted to express gratitude to Francis.

“It’s a genuine conviction that this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, full stop!” he said.

Francis (the bishop, not the pope) also expressed gratitude for a recent supreme court ruling in Malaysia, a majority Muslim nation, requiring both parents of a child to agree in order to register a “conversion” of a child from one religion to another.

“It seems to go along with the federal constitution, which is a secular constitution and it’s supposed to be the paramount constitution of the country. We cannot be running a country with two constitutions side-by-side,” he said, referring to shariah, or Islamic law.

The late January ruling arose from an appeal brought by M Indira Gandhi after her ex-husband, a Muslim, unilaterally declared their three children Muslims following his own conversion, with a shariah court shortly afterwards awarding him custody of the children. Two of those children remained with Gandhi anyway, but the 11-month-old child was abducted by the father and has not been seen since.

Francis spoke to Crux on Feb 9, from a residence on the northern outskirts of Rome where he’s staying during the ad limina visit.

On the status of Christians in Malaysia, Francis stressed he does not feel like a “minority.”

“In our case, the so-called ‘minority’ is not insignificant,” he said. “When you lump together all the people of other faiths apart from Islam, it’s quite a big majority. You’re talking about 35 percent or so of the population.”

“I see the word ‘minority’ being used in the official media and even among my own kind,” Francis said, [but] I don’t feel that way. If we were five percent of the population, I could see using the word ‘minority,’ but we’re not.”

Still, the fact that some Christians in Malaysia do feel like second class citizens was clear from Crux’s conversation, which was also joined by Sister Margarete Sta Maria, the executive secretary of the bishops’ conference.

“I think many Christians do [feel that way], many,” she said. “All non-Muslims do, because all the privileges are given to Muslims … jobs, education, are given to them under the quota system in which they have the majority.”

Sister Margarete said that while there’s no outright religious persecution, there’s a form which is “very subtle.”

“Take religious freedom – we can worship, but I can’t speak to a Muslim about Jesus,” she said. “You cannot bring up the subject. It’s an unspoken rule.”

(By the way, she also said Pope Francis was delighted when she accompanied the bishops on their ad limina meeting: “The pope was very happy …he said that it was the first time in the five years of his pontificate that he saw a woman as the secretary of the conference!”)

The following are excerpts from the Crux interview.

Crux: Is this your first ad limina visit with Pope Francis?

Francis: For me it’s the first, yes. He has changed the culture a little bit, so there’s more listening. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t say what he has to say, but whatever he says is after listening to us. The word “listening,” the word “discernment,” is quite profound in his replies. It’s not just the usual rhetoric. When he needs to make a point, about several issues, it’s quite clear and he doesn’t need to use too many words.

What sort of issues came up?

We meet so many dicasteries [Vatican departments] before we meet him, so at the end of the day, whatever we are sharing at the level of the dicasteries and the prefects [department heads], we have discussed quite a bit with the other guys of the political situation and other issues, especially with the Secretary of State and [Archbishop Paul] Gallagher [Secretary for Relations with States].

By the time you reach the pope, you’ve kind of said it all. The conversations with him are more on the direction of the church itself vis-à-vis the world. Also, it’s about the kind of direction and momentum the Church needs to have within itself in order to be a credible witness to the world. That was my general feeling by the time we reached Francis, it was trying to get a sense of direction.

We wanted to show our appreciation for the direction he is giving the Church, and also discussing some little difficult issues here and there … with regards to Amoris Laetitia, for example, but it was very open and a very clear orientation.

How did the discussion go on Amoris Laetitia?

To begin with, we can’t just talk about one particular chapter, which is chapter eight, which was a little bit of a brouhaha for some people. [The reference is to the chapter of Amoris titled “Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness,” which, among other points, treated Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Church.] The point is, he said you must be fair and look at the whole picture, and not just zero in on some particular issues.

I think he was right in saying that you’ve got to get the spirit [of the document] as a whole, and not just a problematic thing that relates to ritual, or sacraments, or things like that.

What did you tell the pope in general about the direction of the Church?

Many of us affirmed to Pope Francis that we’re happy with the direction he’s taking for the universal Church, and we feel that we are in solidarity with him. Our churches are feeling encouraged by it, because we have taken the same direction as he has, I think.

Did you want to do that because you know there are some who aren’t encouraged by Pope Francis?

Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s a genuine conviction that this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, full stop!

You mentioned things at a national level [in Malaysia], for instance a recent court decision that both parents’ consent is necessary for a religious conversion of a child to be valid. Did you discuss this, and what’s your take?

I think the decision was a good decision. It seems to go along with the federal constitution, which is a secular constitution and it’s supposed to be the paramount constitution of the country. We cannot be running a country with two constitutions side-by-side. Although there is shariah, there is an Islamic dimension to it all, but strictly speaking that applies to Muslims and not to others.

I also think that woman, Indira Gandhi, was very courageous. Considering the situation in Malaysia, she showed a great amount of wisdom and courage. She said something I thought was very encouraging for all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims.

Right now, by law, she has the right to see the daughter, and the daughter has to listen to her. But she said she’ll listen to the daughter, and if the daughter wishes to continue to be a Muslim and to practise the Islamic religion, she’ll encourage it. That’s tremendous, coming from her.

I thought that was a very, very wise mother and Hindu woman, showing a great amount of not just courage but wisdom too. She’s not just trying to take advantage of the court decision, but trying to think about what’s best for her daughter.

Has the ruling had any repercussions in the Christian community?

We actually work very closely with the leadership of all the major religions. We meet very often, and an issue like this has been discussed not only in the Hindu community but among a wide range of religious leadership that includes Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and Taoists. We are very strong … it’s a nationally registered body, so when we speak, we don’t speak just as Christians, we speak as one. Of course, the Muslims are not there, for reasons known to them, but we speak with one voice and we take a stand together.

In this case, it’s not just a Hindu issue. It’s equally also our concern and our issue.

Are you looking forward to the March 22 decision on the use of ‘Allah’ in Christian Bibles?

As far as the Catholic case is concerned, it went up to the Supreme Court, what we called the ‘Federal Court,’ and it can’t go any higher. The case is settled, it’s over, it’s finished. The decision is very clear … the non-usage of that term, or that word, is only for one publication, full stop. It’s the Catholic Herald [a publication of three dioceses on peninsular Malaysia] … there you cannot use that word, but it does not apply to any other situation of the usage of that word, in worship, in catechetics, in formation, in community life …

Is it in your Bible right now in the Malaysian language?

It’s in the Bible.

Do you use it in Sunday Mass?

Yes, but internally. We don’t use it outside of our churches. It’s a kind of discretion, but none of us have stopped using the word. I think they [Muslims] understand that too.

The new cases you’re talking about aren’t directly linked to this. They’re new cases coming, interestingly, from east Malaysia, Borneo and Sabah/Sarawak, and there was a particular ruling of the court that in some ways does not apply [to other situations]. The cases come from Evangelical churches.

You’re a minority in Malaysia. How does that work out?

Often they use the word ‘minority’ in relation to non-Muslims in the country. But in our case, the so-called ‘minority’ is not insignificant. When you lump together all the people of other faiths apart from Islam, it’s quite a big majority. You’re talking about 35 percent or so of the population. The word ‘minority’ is used for Taoists, or Buddhists, or Christians, or Sikhs, or whatever, but all together, it’s significant.

Do you personally think of yourself as a minority?

I don’t feel that way. Though I see the word ‘minority’ being used in the official media and even among my own kind, I don’t feel that way. If we were five percent of the population, I could see using the word ‘minority,’ but we’re not. We are about 35 percent, the whole lot put together.

As the government keeps telling us, ‘Look around you, there’s so much religious expression’ beyond the Muslim world.

Do you agree with that?

At least externally, it looks like that. There are many temples, many you name it … Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, as well as churches. We can build churches – there’s a bit of a struggle to get the permits and permissions, but it goes through at some point with a little bit of patience and endurance. Officially, many use the word ‘minority,’ but I don’t feel we’re a minority.

To speak for peninsular Malaysia, we have the sense that we’re a very inclusive church. We pray not just for ourselves and our own rights and privileges, but for all. That comes up quite evidently in our daily prayer, and in how we relate to God and God’s people.

Do you feel the Muslim community is also inclusive?

I think they’re struggling with that. There are pockets who reach out to us, and we reach out to them. Of course, for them politics and religion are all intertwined and interrelated, so it’s kind of a scale about how you feel about it. On national issues, we have to relate to them and they have to relate with us. We meet each other from time to time. I don’t feel isolated from them, or them from me.

Now, there’s a two-party system in Malaysia, and in a way that makes it all more open because they have to compete as well. There’s more participation among the people in terms of politics and the direction the country should take. There is more participation from the grassroots. People are more aware of their need to engage in the politics of the nation.

If there were a free and fair election without any constitutional prohibition, could a Christian be elected president? Would the ordinary Muslim be open to that?

Probably not, because the rights of a particular religion are enshrined, and the others just seem to accept it as a way of life.

Do you feel like second class citizens?

Francis: Maybe many do, but I don’t.

Sister Margarete: I think many Christians do, many. All non-Muslims do, because all the privileges are given to Muslims … jobs, education, are given to them under the quota system in which they have the majority.

Francis: Theoretically, those so-called privileges are given to the ‘sons and daughters of the soil.’ As far as that definition is concerned, if you want to be legal about it, it also refers to those who are Christians.

But does it actually work that way?

Sister Margarete: No.

Your perception is that the deck is stacked?

Sister Margarete: Yes. So many non-Muslims, those who can afford it, they leave the country for education and so on. Many don’t come back. Many go to Australia … they used to go to the UK but Australia is closer. But in general, you wouldn’t say that Malaysians are suffering, because economically we’re better off than some neighbouring countries.

The Church doesn’t suffer outright persecution?

Sister Margarete: It’s very subtle. Take religious freedom – we can worship, but I can’t speak to a Muslim about Jesus. You cannot bring up the subject. It’s an unspoken rule.

Francis: We had a peninsular Malaysia pastoral convention for our churches, and we took a resolution that our churches for the next ten years were going to be creative, inclusive, and bridge-building. When that gets into your system, those three words, it doesn’t matter how other people think or feel, whoever is creating more divisions. We as church are thinking and feeling and praying that way, and therefore I feel less threatened. – John Allen/Claire Giangrave/Crux

Vatican media prefect reflects on pope’s WCD message

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis’ World Communications Day (WCD) Message has just been made public [24 Jan 2018]. It is entitled: “The truth will set you free “(Jn 8:32). Fake news and journalism for peace”. We asked Msgr Dario Edoardo Viganò, Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, to help us reflect on the Message.

Q – Monsignor Viganò, this is the second World Communications Day Message by Pope Francis since the creation of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication. Both messages have something in common in their specifically biblical references. Last year it was: “Be not afraid, I am with you” (Is 43:5) And this year the title is: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

The choice isn’t random. In fact, the whole message, even when it talks about current topics, is based on strong biblical roots, like last year’s Message. The Holy Father begins the Message by recalling the stories of Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel (Gen 4:1-16; 11:1-9), precisely to explain that when “humanity follows its own pride and selfishness, it can also distort the way it uses its powers of communication”. How can we forget the Letter to the Hebrews? “In various times in the past and in different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, He has spoken to us through His Son, the Son He has appointed to inherit everything and through whom He made everything there is” (Heb 1:1-2). The whole history of salvation, namely, the Covenant continually renewed by a faithful God with an often unfaithful people, is a dialogue interwoven with invitations, appeals and blessings. Up until the manifestation of Jesus who, as the Message says, is Truth. This is the cornerstone of the Message, on which rest the Pope’s reflections and his final invitation to “promote a journalism of peace”. “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6) is not a conceptual affirmation or abstract knowledge. In Christ the two natures, human and divine, are not confused but coexist in a personal unity. The revelation of God in Christ contains this coexistence within itself thus marking truth as a relationship. This alone can liberate humanity: “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

Q – There are powerful references to the quality of relationships, stemming from the biblical context.

In terms of relationships, it is clear how much communication can create and how much it can destroy. Cain and Abel, like the Tower of Babel, are clear proof of this. Not only … There is a beautiful line from Dostoevsky, which the Holy Father quotes in the Message: “People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others. And having no respect the cease to love, and in order to occupy and distract themselves without love they give way to passions and to coarse pleasures, and sink to bestiality in their vices, all from continual lying to others and to themselves”. (The Brothers Karamazov, II, 2). Let us therefore question ourselves on the quality of our relationship with others and with ourselves. “Communication,” recalls the Pope, “is an essential way to experience fellowship”. But if our relationships are poisoned, what communion can we possibly live?

Q – To complicate matters we have the phenomenon of fake news. Could fake news be described as the cause of this poisoning?

Fake news is one of the elements that poison relationships. Fake news may seem real but it, in reality, it is unfounded, partial news, or even blatantly false. The problem with fake news is not its lack of truthfulness, which is very evident, but the fact that it is believable. In his Message, the Holy Father speaks extensively about this: he recalls the strategy used by the “crafty serpent”, in the Book of Genesis, “who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news” (Gen 3:1-15). His dissimulation “began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation”. It is hard to recognize fake news because it uses a mimetic physiognomy: these are the dynamics of evil which always presents itself as an easily attainable good. The dramatic effectiveness of this kind of content lies precisely in disguising its own falsehood, in appearing to be plausible to some, putting pressure on skills, expectations, and prejudices already rooted within more or less large social groups. For this reason, fake news is particularly insidious, capable of catching on and easily influencing. These aspects are enhanced by the role of social networks in setting it up and spreading this kind of news. When it is used manipulatively, it can lead to forms of intolerance and hatred.

Q – What is the antidote to the poison of fake news?

False news is the result of prejudice and an inability to listen. “The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood”, writes the Holy Father in his Message, “is to be purified by truth”. This is the only way we can combat the rise of prejudice and unwillingness to listen, which inhibit all forms of communication, and close off everything in a vicious circle. The capacity to listen and to dialogue requires a human maturity that favors being adaptable to different and unexpected circumstances. Communication is not just the transmission of news: it is availability, mutual enrichment, relationship. Only with a free heart and attentive, respectful listening, can communication build bridges and opportunities for peace without pretense. All this encourages us to persevere in searching for and spreading truth, especially through the education of young people. As Paul VI wrote (“Social communications at the service of truth” – 1972): “Humanity, and even more so the Christian, will never abdicate the ability to contribute to the conquest of truth: not only the abstract or philosophical, but also the concrete and daily truth of individual events: if it did, it would damage its own personal dignity”.

Q – How can journalists and institutions put this message into practice?

First of all, I believe that the responsibility of communicators lies at the core of the debate. Together with freedom of expression, responsibility creates the conditions in which communication itself becomes a space of listening, of dialogue and even of dissent – of course within normal forms of dialectics and interaction. So, based upon the prerequisites that pertain to professional ethics, it is necessary to put together a context in which the facts reported upon shine with authenticity, and are not overshadowed by “half-truths” or “verisimilitudes”. I think that both the public and the institutions must form new alliances within this process, from schools to the political arena and to professional federations. Otherwise, the journalistic profession will lose not only its credibility, but its very identity.- Vatican News

Interview with an exorcist – ‘The Devil and Father Amorth’

Fr Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist of Rome, speaks to CNA on 22 May 2013. Credit: Steven Driscoll/CNA.

ROME- A documentary on the ministry of Father Gabriele Amorth, popularly known as the “Vatican exorcist,” will be released this spring. The film was directed by William Friedkin, director of the 1973 movie “The Exorcist.”

“The Devil and Father Amorth” will be released April 20, Deadline reports.

The film follows Amorth during the events surrounding the exorcism of an Italian woman in 2016.  Amorth died in September 2016 at 91, shortly after filming was completed.

“I had been curious to meet Father Amorth for many years and when he granted permission to meet and film him in Rome last May, it was the opportunity to complete the circle and see how close that film came to reality,” Friedkin told Deadline.

During filming, Friedkin was present at an exorcism, which he said he had not previously seen personally, despite his work on “The Exorcist.”

“In the early 1970s when I directed ‘The Exorcist,’ I had not witnessed an exorcism but I wondered how close I had come to portraying reality,” he said in an interview with Variety.

The documentary interviews Amorth about the exorcism of an Italian woman, referred to as “Rosa,” who, Amorth said, struggled with demonic mood swings and convulsions, which were reportedly heightened on Christian holidays like Easter.  It includes a video recording of the event.

Father Amorth was born in Modena in northern Italy in May 1925. Twenty years later, the man joined the Congregation of the Society of St Paul, and was ordained a priest in 1951.

In 1985, Father Amorth was appointed an exorcist by Cardinal Ugo Poletti, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome. Amorth claimed to have performed thousands of exorcisms. He was the author of “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and “An Exorcist: More Stories.” – CNA/EWTN News

Poor children have pre-school education thanks to the Franciscan Sisters

Children at the Paitan mission kindergarten learn good peer interactions from their teachers

PAITAN – Had it not been the selfless and tireless efforts of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (FSIC), many of the children of hard-core families in the remote sub-districts of Paitan-Beluran, Sonsogon Magandai-Kota Marudu and Pensiangan-Keningau would not be sent to school.

These are some of the remotest areas in Sabah with a high level of hard-core poor families.  They are accessible by roads but some villages are only accessible by boats.

Schooling here is not a priority even though education is free.  Parents would rather spend their meagre income on food and other necessities and avoid sending the children to schools because of the high transportation costs.  The pupils at the FSIC-run kindergartens are transported by car or by boat from their riverine houses to the centres.

Assessing the situation induced by the poverty-stricken living conditions of families in these remote regions, and the plight of children being robbed of their right to education, the FSICs decided that here is a situation in which they could help to plant a seed of hope in these children with their pre-school education centres.

In 2005, Sisters Dorothy and Hilary Laudi were assigned to Paitan-Beluran.

Sr Dorothy, who has just completed studies in Early Childhood Education, saw the need to set up a kindergarten at Kg Dalamas Paitan because there were many children aged 4-6 not in school.

The first private kindergarten was set up in Kg Dalamas with 32 children.  Within days, the news of it spread in and around Paitan that a kindergarten has been set up, and people from other villages also requested to have one at their respective villages.

In 2006, another six kindergartens were opened in Paitan at Kg Sulit, Kg Rakanan, Kg Lakang, Kg Tawanan, Kg Batangon Darat, and Kg Lubang Buaya.

Kg Sonsogon Magandai, the furthest outstation in Kota Marudu district, needed one and it was set up in 2009.

In 2016, another kindergarten was set up at Kg Koiboton in Paitan.  In the same year, the Sisters set up a kindergarten at Kg Tinanduk Nabawan.  Another one is slotted to be set up in Pensiangan Proper in the near future.

Through the help of the FSICs and their benefactors, some of these children have gone on to enrol at the nearest primary school in their respective areas.

In fact, the first batch of kindergarten pupils of Kg Dalamas Paitan have now registered for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (GCE ‘O’ level equivalent) examination in November 2017.

The kindergartners pay no school fees nor buy any books.  All, including the basic food and drink during break time, are provided.  It takes roughly RM30,000 a year to maintain each centre and more than RM300,000 yearly for all existing ten kindergartens.

The FSIC-run kindergartens, which are non-profit making and recognised by the Ministry of Education, are funded entirely by the generosity of kind-hearted individuals, corporates, and FSIC benefactors, though they have received a small grant from the Government in the past.

According to Sr Dorothy, in spite of these efforts, it is truly sad to see that there are still many more children who cannot continue their primary education because their parents cannot afford to pay for the car or river transportation costs.  Their parents are earning barely enough for their daily subsistence working as labourers in the oil palm plantations owned by mega companies or farmers in their own land.

Sr Dorothy has identified more children living in the deeper remote areas of Sabah that should not be robbed of their right to education but for financial constraints.  She urges all government and private organisations, as well as donors to join forces to ensure that all children receive their right to education.

Those who wish to know more about the FSIC kindergarten mission and would like to lend a helping hand can contact Sister Dorothy @ 013 547 7525, Sister Grace Deosing @ 013 875 3713, or the FSIC Office, Loreto Convent @ 088 711991 (Sr Francisca Wong), or to write to fsicsabah@yahoo.com. – exclusive interview with sr dorothy laudi by catholic sabah

Pope Francis challenges Colombians to build peaceful future

Cities visited by Pope Francis in his trip to Colombia 6-11 Sept 2017.

VATICAN CITY  – Pope Francis has concluded his visit to Colombia where he spent five days (6-11 Sept 2017) meeting victims of the country’s civil war and urging all people to work together for peace and national reconciliation.

But as the spotlight fades and organisers dismantle the Mass venues, what effect will the pope’s words have on the politicians, religious leaders and Colombians from all walks of life who flocked to see and hear him speak in Cartagena, Medellin, Villavicencio and the capital, Bogotà?

Beatrice Canal, a professional translator and mother of two grown up children, shared her own reactions to the papal visit with Linda Bordoni, Vatican Radio correspondent in Bogota, on Sept 11.

Canal said she was “pleasantly surprised” and deeply moved to see so many people welcoming the pope “with happiness in their eyes.”

The visit, she said, “has brought us together” and “touched the hearts of every Colombian” who had the chance to see him at the main events or simply line the streets as he drove by.

She said she was happy to see that the trip was “completely unpolitical,” but as an overwhelmingly Catholic nation (over 80 percent of the population) “we were very touched by the visit.”

In particular, Canal said, Colombians are “all very happy that he is the first Latin American pope and “we see him as one of our own.”

Asked what impact the papal visit may have on the future of her country, Canal noted the pope spoke extensively “about peace and reaching out to others.”  She added: “I hope he leaves behind the desire in every Colombian to again feel and share that brotherly and fraternal love he’s been speaking so much about.”

While she acknowledged that the implementation of the peace agreements remains fraught with difficulties, the translator insisted that “every Colombian is hopeful to live in a country in peace.”

She noted that her own children, aged 30 and 35, have never lived in a country in peace, and that she was “a little girl when the violence broke out.”  She said: “I know that the signing of a paper does not translate immediately into peace, now comes the most difficult part where every Colombian has to chip into the process and to open our hearts and be accepting of the former insurgents.”

The victims, Canal concluded, need to “find a place in their hearts to want to forgive” and to be able to live, free of the fear that has caused so much suffering for those living the countryside. – vatican radio

Veteran EMC shares his experience in the Eucharistic ministry

KOTA KINABALU – Fresh from the re-commissioning of the extraordinary ministers of communion (EMC) during the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ at Sacred Heart Cathedral here on 18 June 2017, Francis Liew, from among the longer serving EMCs (more than 30 years), shared with Catholic Sabah what it means to be a minister of Holy Communion.

There is no more intimate moment in our lives than when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, and in return, with love and gratitude, we offer Him ourselves to serve Him present in the assembly by ministering His Body and Blood to our brothers and sisters, Liew said.

In a nutshell, Liew said, our willingness to serve as an ECM not only means our response in living out our baptismal call to serve God by serving His people, but also a commitment to Christ in sharing the teachings and traditions of the Church.

“We also serve by taking Communion to those members who are prevented by sickness, old age, or other causes from taking part in the gathering for Mass, thereby contributing to the unity of the entire worshipping community,” he added.

Recalling his days in the seminary, the EMC felt perhaps his seminary background has provided a familiarity with the liturgical aspects, which led to a better understanding and the required discipline. His days as an altar server too served a purpose.

Notwithstanding that, Liew opined that the periodic reflection, yearly re-commissioning, and reminders of expectations and standards required by the diocese go a long way to enable the ECMs to maintain their faithfulness and commitment in fulfilling their role.

Serving in this role entails the discipline of preparation by prayer and meditation so that “we are able to fulfill the role with reverence that is due to the Lord,”  said Liew.

He fervently believes that the practice of ‘silence’ predisposes the minister to first acknowledge who it is that he is serving, and that “handling the Communion” is not out of the ordinary things he does. – CS

TTCL Nursing College offers full scholarship for nursing

Some of the candidates listening to the briefing, SHPC, 10 May 2017.

KOTA KINABALU – The Tun Tan Cheng Lock College of Nursing, Assunta Hospital Petaling Jaya is offering a full scholarship to pursue the diploma in nursing.

Theresa Arul, principal of the college, and her team conducted their first briefing and interview here for around 40 students (male and female) and their parents at the Sacred Heart Parish Centre Karamunsing on 10 May 2017.

Scholarship is to pursue the diploma in nursing, a full time three-year course.  Sponsorship will include monthly allowance and accommodation.

Arul and Peter Leong, chairman/CEO of the institute, assured the 17 successful candidates of employment after their studies not only at Assunta Hospital but also in Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

The team included two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Sister Susan Thomas, FMM Provincial, and Sister Elizabeth Tan, head of Assunta Integrated Social Services (ASSISS) for the poor.

The diploma is a three-year course with two intakes: April and July.  The briefing and interview were for the July intake.

The course offers a sound education background in nursing practice.  It consists of theoretical knowledge and practical experiences through “on-the-job training” at Assunta Hospital located on Jalan Templar, Petaling Jaya, next to Assumption Church.

The institute began operations in 1961 as a single multipurpose classroom housed under the Assunta Hospital (founded by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary). It has expanded into the present cozy, multilevel and fully equipped building offering a comprehensive education and valuable experiences in the nursing profession.



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