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  • The Whitehatters

Ask Me Anything: Catholicism

Tradition was in full display with all its might and glory at the Ask Me Anything (AMA) about Catholicism session at The Arts House on Saturday (Dec 8) afternoon.

The day started with attendees milling around booths which showcased various artefacts of the Catholic faith. From the Book of the Gospels elaborately bound, to the pristine white candles used in Mass, various aspects of their religious life were presented with little cards providing information on the items.

Stoles, robes called chasubles and cassocks among other garments that the clergy wear were also laid out, with explanations of their significance. The colours too mean something: Red for instance signifies passion or suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ while green denotes hope, renewal and new life.

Along with the booths, more than 170 participants got to enjoy a Christmas lunch*, replete with whole turkeys and various meats and hams at a carving station next to the buffet tables.

The first panel started immediately after lunch. Reverend Father John-Paul Tan, a Franciscan Friar, Reverend Father David Garcia, a Dominican Friar and Reverend Father Ignatius Yeo, a Diocesan Priest took centre stage. The session was moderated by Mr André Ahchak, Communications Director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore.

Unlike previous AMA sessions with the other faith communities though, this panel of religious clerics took a different approach to the questions participants had submitted before the event started.

All questions were classified into broad categories like church history, the fundamentals of faith and moral life, and so on. Each of the three clerics then shared on their areas of specialty for about 10minutes or so. This lasted for about an hour until the next segment, “Let’s Talk About It”.

Lead facilitator Farid Hamid took charge at this point and set the tone for the next segment: “We are here to talk about our human experiences, not theology.”

The audience then participated in a full value commitment. It’s a process in which anyone can voice out the kind of values, attitudes, and behaviours he or she feels everyone should commit to - such that an authentic sharing session can take place. Words like honesty, open-mindedness, and courage, among other values, were listed. When everyone agreed to abide by these, the room split into smaller groups of seven to eight.

Of the multiple conversations that took place for the next hour and a half, two were particularly interesting.

In one group, a young man in his 20s shared about his issues with Christian proselytisation. He said he found it deeply condescending that some Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, assumed that he did not “feel love” from his God.

“Do they not think I find solace in my prayers? That I find comfort in my God every time I prayed?” He also added that he had lost friends who drifted away once it was clear that he was not going to convert.

A young Catholic participant in the group who talks about her faith to members of other faiths acknowledged that hurt can be caused by insensitivities. To her it was always clear that certain boundaries should be respected and it must be acknowledged that “everyone takes a different path”. She also thanked the participant for sharing his honest feelings and that it had opened her eyes.

In a conversation in another group interestingly, a participant shared about how she considers herself Catholic but did not go to church as she did not feel welcome. This prompted a Muslim group member to share that he too considered himself a Muslim but did not go to the Mosque. However this made him feel like an outcaste. This led to a discussion on whether there was space for a diversity of religious journeys within the respective communities.

Other participants also shared the various challenges they faced in trying to live their own faith and they realised that everyone has doubts in some form or another regarding various practices. Faith ebbs and flows, and in many ways we are all trying to access the divine in our own way.

After 90 minutes of sharing, everyone came together again for the second and final panel discussion of the day. In this segment the priests addressed questions from the floor.

Both Catholics and non-Catholics asked questions about the Catholic Church and its teachings. Towards the end though, a non-Catholic asked why the Protestants and Catholics did not host the AMA together.

The panel said that was a question for the organisers. This prompted Ms Shahrany Hassan from The Whitehatters, the organiser, to respond that there were concerns from within the Christian community that a joint panel might have confused the participants about the two schools of thought.

Another question was on the Catholic Church’s stance repealing section 377A of the penal code that criminalises sodomy. That law is widely seen as discriminatory towards LGBTQ minorities. Since Singapore is a secular state why does the church have a say?

Rev. Father Garcia responded that the Church’s stance was a moral one but it did not actively oppose nor support the law. It only aired concerns from within their own community.

Rev. Father Tan added that while the State itself is secular, the social makeup of Singapore is

multi-religious. It is the right of every citizen and community to participate in public discourse and share their views. The nation as a whole can then decide what course to chart.

What he meant was that if we are to live in a society as diverse as Singapore’s, we should not clamp down on, but instead be open about, our views so as to have a mutual understanding of where we come from. To prevent expression in that sense will be unhealthy.

In other words, efforts to have honest dialogue and open conversations where anyone can ask anything responsibly in a safe space - must continue.

* Even though Muslims made up only a minority of the 30 per cent of non-Catholic participants, all the food served were certified halal.

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