SINGAPORE is an island state commanding a strategic position on the strait linking the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea. Its position, together with its deep-water port, have made it into one of the world's greatest commercial centres.
Seventy-five per cent of the total population of two million are Chinese, part of the chinese diaspora — those 35 million Chinese living outside the People's Republic of China.
Since the Second World War the city of Singapore has been in rapid economic development. After independence and its separation from Malaysia the city-state continued to experience industrialisation and urbanisation at a forced rate.
While an unrivalled building boom occur
ed, companies could expect to recoup their investment capital in four or five years. Schools and hospitals have multiplied. The Singapore skyline is dotted with skyscrapers, while further off-shore there are the overcrowded high rise dwellings for the families of working and middle class people.
Forced economic growth has not taken place without a struggle. A determined government has aimed at making Singapore the link between the West and the large and rich developing world of Indonesia and Malaysia. No effort was spared in the attempt to create what is called "the rugged society".
In rugged Singapore, just as in Mexico City, Rome, Kisumu or Seattle, the Good News of Jesus Christ is announced as a gospel of salvation to people who, not rarely, are suffering from acute cultural dislocation, caught as they are in the maelstrom of socioeconomic transformation. The Good News is eagerly welcomed by many. Today the Catholic Church alone, numbering about 80,000, possesses important resources in Singapore, chief of which are a network of schools, a large number of parishes and a very successful Catholic Action movement, known as "The Novena" which takes the form of an organised devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
On an ordinary Saturday the devotion could attract anything between 16,000 and 20,000 enthusiasts. About a thousand adults are received into the Catholic Church every year.
the relative popularity ol the Church has to do with the successful way in which she has been able to play a role of mediation. The Church presents herself as holding a position somewhat between the rich and the poor, nearer to the modern spirit of the West than to Chinese tradition, yet not fundamentally out of harmony with the latter.
Her English liturgy, schools and moral stature are highly appreciated by people caught up in the process of modernisation. The Catholic Church appears to many Chinese in Singapore as an institution able to save people caught in the dilemma of choosing between the "paganism" of the past and the agnosticism of modernity.
Especially "The Novena" reminds many of some of the better appreciated tasks of traditional religion in a more modern setting. The Catholic liturgy is also able to provide an effective symbolic underpinning to changing family relationships, so crucial to traditional Chinese culture.
In the midst of a rugged society the Church protects the individual against modern anomie and solitude, inserting him in solid, world-wide society. Because Singapore is part of the Chinese diaspora, the ready welcome given to the Good News there is of some considerable significance in any planning or strategy of Christian mission among the Chinese in general. The conversion of the diaspora Chinese today is the preparation of a mssionary force able to announce the Good News to mainland China tomorrow.
Many observers of Communist China tend to look upon the changes that have taken place in that country over the last 30 years as a blessing in disguise. Could it not be that the Communists are — in some paradoxical way — changing China to make it eventually prepared to accept the Message of Salvation?
On the day that the Gospel of Salvation may once more be openly proclaimed in China, Chinese Christians from Singapore and elsewhere will be in a privileged position to carry Christ's Message to their own brothers, sisters and countrymen.