First Cardinal of S’pore keen to promote religious harmony in the region

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s first cardinal aims to promote religious harmony in Asia, strengthening dialogue between different religions.

Cardinal William Goh, who was one of 20 new cardinals officially installed by Pope Francis at a ceremony in Vatican City on Saturday August 27, said in an interview with the Straits Times ahead of his trip that he hoped to bring to the Singapore region as a unique mark of interreligious dialogue.

For example, the Archdiocese of Singapore will establish a research institute to study methodologies on how to promote friendship with other religious leaders and share them with bishops in the region. These bishops have often asked the Roman Catholic Church in Singapore how to make the different religions speak.

Cardinal Goh, who is also the Archbishop of Singapore, said in the August 16 interview that the situation in Singapore is not something that happens overnight.

He added: “Government has always been keen to promote unity, to provide support without being the driving force…Government sees us as partners because ultimately we are building a better society, we want to live a harmonious life in Singapore.

“We work with the government where we have common values, and the government respects us, we respect the government because at the end of the day religion doesn’t interfere in politics.”

This was not the case in some other countries where religion and politics are so intertwined that “sometimes you don’t know where the religion is, where the politics is,” he said.

He also noted that in some countries the state can be “very oppressive of religion.”

His appointment comes as the local archdiocese celebrated its 200th anniversary last year.

He is the first Singaporean to be appointed a cardinal – cardinals are considered the pope’s closest advisers and the highest administrators of the Vatican. With the 20 new appointments, there are now 226 cardinals.

In this role, he will have to assist the pope and should also play a wider role in the region.

In addition to fostering interfaith dialogue in the region, he hopes to engage civil society groups and promote ecology.

He also wants to expand the work of humanitarian aid and relief initiatives Caritas Singapore, the local church’s umbrella organization for overseas humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts. His plans also include starting a Zacchaeus Ministry, named after a tax collector in the Bible who was converted, to get more talented and wealthy people involved in helping others.

At Saturday’s meeting, Cardinal Goh, 65, took an oath of loyalty to the pope and received a red four-cornered hat, or biretta, his nomination document, and a gold ring stamped with the pope’s coat of arms.

He is one of six new cardinals from Asia – the others come from Mongolia, Timor-Leste, Goa and Hyderabad in India, and South Korea.

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