Cardinal-elect William Goh of Singapore, who will be installed in August as the country’s first cardinal, said “diversity is the greatest challenge” for the Catholic Church in Asia.
In a wide-ranging interview published by Vatican News, the cardinal-elect said he is thankful that Singapore has a government that promotes inter-religious dialogue.
“But in other countries, unfortunately, a lot of, you can say, subtle or sometimes, even obvious, oppression of religions, especially of the Christian faith, the Catholic faith,” he said.
“The countries are so diverse in terms of political stability, culture, religion, and standards of living. We have many and very diverse languages when we come together,” he said.
The cardinal-elect said that because many of the governments in Asia have state religions, “a lot of sensitivity would be involved for dialogue in terms of getting the people to be united.”
He said that in Asia, “religion is mixed, often mixed up with politics.”
The cardinal-elect said “religion tries to use politics to gain power, politics tries to use religion to gain political policy. That becomes very confusing.”
“It’s a bit complex,” he said, adding that in Asia, “the challenges of spreading the good news will be much more difficult because there are so many languages and you need to translate, for one country, into four or five languages.”
He said the other challenge in Asia is “how to inculturate” faith. “We must also be prudent with inculturation,” he added.
“If the government is not pro-inter-religious harmony, [it] is a bit difficult,” he said, adding that in Singapore, “we try to become … the model of what and how all religions can live together in peace, in harmony.”
Christians make up 20 percent of the 3.5 million population of Singapore.
“With Catholics about seven percent of the population, we make up 37 percent of the country’s total Christianity population,” said the cardinal-elect.
Christianity makes up the second largest religious group in Singapore with Buddhism about 31 percent of the population, Islam about 15 percent, Taoism at almost nine percent, and Hinduism with five percent.
Cardinal-elect Goh said that the Catholic population in the country comes from the middle class and the upper lower middle class.
“Looking at the faith of our people, they want to know more. They want to listen to good homilies. They are searching. They want to grow in faith,” he said.
He said the older generation “tends to be a bit more devotional in their faith …. For the younger group, they are very much into wanting to discover more of their faith.”
He said the “great thing” about the government of Singapore is its “neutrality.”
“That is why it is a secular government. It’s very important to preserve the harmony among the many religions that we have in Singapore. And, we don’t fight with each other,” said Cardinal-elect Goh.
“In fact, we have a law. If you were to insult another religion, you go to jail,” he said. “So, nobody insults the Catholics here because we have deep respect for each other.”
The cardinal-elect was born in 1957 and is the fourth archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore.
He attended Montfort Secondary, where he received his high school diploma and entered the seminary in 1979 and began his studies in Philosophy at the Major Seminary at Penang, and Theology at the Major Seminary of Singapore.
On May 1, 1985, he was ordained priest in the Archdiocese of Singapore and was later named Assistant Parish Priest in the Church of the Holy Cross from 1985-1989.
He went on to complete his Licentiate in Dogmatic Theology in the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome in 1992.
Upon his return, he was appointed formator and lecturer at the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary from 1992-2005.
In 2005, he was made rector and spiritual director of the Catholic Spirituality Centre until he took office as archbishop.