In Singapore, the Church Celebrates 200 Years

December 28, 2020
Good Shepherd's Cathedral in Singapore

Archbishop William Goh celebrated a solemn Mass - broadcast by internet, coronavirus obliges – to kick off on December 13, 2020, the Church of Singapore’s jubilee celebrations commemorating the bicentenary of its establishment in the Malay Archipelago.

At the end of the Pontifical Mass, the official site of the Jubilee Year was officially inaugurated, in order to allow Singaporean Catholics to “deepen, discern, bear witness to and celebrate their faith”: four themes around which the calendar of events will revolve to punctuate the next twelve months.

A year when these Catholics halfway across the world will pray “to thank their ancestors who welcomed and transmitted the faith in Singapore and will reflect on the challenges of today.”

The peak of the Jubilee Year is scheduled for the week of December 4-11, 2021, at several significant Catholic sites in Singapore including the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and the Church of Saint -Joseph. On December 11, closing Masses will be celebrated simultaneously in the thirty-two parishes of the archdiocese.

The foundations of the Catholic Church in Singapore were laid on December 11, 1821, with the arrival on the island of Bishop Laurent Marie Joseph Imbert (1796-1839), a French religious of the Foreign Missions in Paris (MEP), who was to suffer martyrdom on Korean soil a few years later, in 1839.

In fact, the first evangelization of Singapore had already taken place in the 16th century, when Portuguese missionaries - followed by the illustrious St. Francis Xavier - succeeded in penetrating the Malay archipelago. A diocese was even founded in Malacca.

But all of these apostolic efforts were almost brought to naught with the arrival of the Dutch. Of Calvinist faith, it did not take long before they declared Catholicism outlawed, forcing the Bishop of Malacca to flee.

The Catholic Church returned to Singapore in 1819, after the acquisition of the island by the British East India Company, which allowed the establishment of Foreign Missions in Paris: this is where the beautiful figure of Fr. Laurent Marie Joseph Imbert comes in.

Sent from France to take care of the missions in Penang - in neighboring Malaysia - and in China, the future bishop made a canonical visit to Singapore on behalf of the Apostolic Vicar of Siam: at the time, the local Catholic community did not consist of any more than two hundred faithful.

Fr. Imbert promoted the establishment of a permanent mission. This would be entrusted to the care of the MEP. Singapore was erected in 1841 as an apostolic vicariate by Pope Gregory XVI, and became an archdiocese separate from Malacca in 1972.

Over the past two centuries, the Catholic population has grown significantly: with 157,988 baptized, or 2.8% of the population, Singapore is one of the most promising branches of the Church in Southeast Asia.

Notwithstanding a society increasingly seduced by materialistic lifestyles, the most recent data from the Singapore Statistical Office shows that Christianity - especially Catholicism - is the only religion to experience real development within this city-state.