To Local and International Media:
On 28th May 2016, President Tony Tan Keng Yam will be the first sitting Singapore Head of State to officially meet a Pope at the Vatican. The visit of President Tan to the Holy See will showcase the longstanding ties between Singapore and the Holy See of Rome.
For the Catholic Church in Singapore, this is indeed a very significant event. The Catholic Church is fortunate to enjoy high regard and support of the Singapore Government. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who himself had a Catholic education has said that the Catholic Church has always played an important role in Singapore society, running schools, hospitals, homes and charities which serve Singaporeans of all races and religions.
Archbishop William Goh who is into the fourth year of his episcopate has said: “Singapore is blessed in that we have a supportive and responsible government; one that is not only visionary but determined and collaborative. We have a government that is secular but not secularized, as it recognizes the important role that religions can play in the moral development of our peoples. We are truly grateful to her for championing religious harmony, which is especially crucial at a time when religious extremism is threatening the peaceful coexistence of peoples. Hence, it behooves the Church to work closely with the State and other religions to prevent moral decadence, to strengthen marriages, preserve families and to promote justice, peace and harmony.”
Singapore first established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in June 1981. This 35 year relationship has seen some significant events including the visit of Pope St John Paul II in 1986 to this island country. In 1994, working together the Singapore Government and Holy See funded the training of numerous young people from neighbouring countries who returned to their own communities equipped with the professional and linguistic skills needed to foster development.
Also, the exhibition hosted by the Asian Civilisations Museum from June to October 2005, entitled “Journey of Faith: Art and History from the Vatican Collections”, was a great example of how cultural exchanges can enrich communities and promote understanding and respect. The tens of thousands of Singaporeans who visited the exhibition were undoubtedly edified by this creative exposé of historical, religious and culture values.
In 2006, to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations, ties between Singapore and the Holy See were strengthened with the visit of the Special Envoy of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino. His speech on ‘The Role of Religions in Promoting Peace and Solidarity and Denouncing Terrorism,’ resonated well with the people and the Government of Singapore. In a letter dated 31st March 2006 to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, then Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano noted, “The attentive promotion of an authentic spirit of unity in diversity is, I am well aware, dear to the people of Singapore. Your nation has been greatly enriched by the variety of ethnic groups living in peace with one another. Indeed, its widely recognised economic acumen can be attributed in good part to the stability and social cohesion which stem from its earnest espousal of religious tolerance and appreciation of the need to foster the spiritual aspect of human life. Without the protection of such fundamental pillars of human society, social and economic development will always be thwarted.”
Last August, on the occasion of Singapore’s 50th Anniversary of independence, the Secretary of State of the Holy See, His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Conveying the blessings and good wishes of Pope Francis to the people of Singapore, Cardinal Parolin and President Tan also discussed the importance of inter-faith dialogue and welcomed greater cultural exchanges between the Holy See and Singapore.
President Tony Tan will again meet with Cardinal Parolin during this trip to the Holy See.
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Issued by the Archdiocesan Communications Office, dated Friday, 27 May 2016