Singapore, The Catholic Church in

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Singapore is an island republic in Southeast Asia located at the tip of the Malay peninsula. The capital, Singapore City, is a major commercial center and one of the world's busiest ports. Written accounts of ancient Singapore are sketchy. It is featured in Javanese chronicles as an uninhabited island called Temasek. Its Sanskrit name, Singapura ("Lion City") had come into common use by the end of the fourteenth century. Sir Stamford Raffles gained possession of the island for the British in 1819 to secure its merchant fleet and forestall further advance of the Dutch in the area. The British developed the uninhabited island into a major entrepot harbor and military base. During the Second World War it was occupied by the Japanese; but in 1946, after the war, it became a British crown colony. In 1959 it became a self-governing state. In 1963 Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia, but withdrew in 1965, becoming an independent republic within the British Commonwealth.

The history of the Catholic Church in Singapore began with British colonization in 1819. In 1821 a missionary in transit found some 12 Catholics, and in 1829 there were about 200. By the time the first bishop established a residence there in 1838 there were about 500. Portuguese missionaries arrived in Singapore in 1825, and a few years later the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP) sent missionaries who established places of worship and educational centers. One of them, Jean-Marie Beurel (181372), became known as the founder of Catholic Singapore. He built the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, a school for boys staffed by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and one for girls run by the Sisters of the Infant Jesus. From the beginning the Catholics came under two jurisdictions: Catholics of the Portuguese mission were under the Padroado archbishop of Macau, and those of the French mission under the the Vicar Apostolic of Ava and Pegu (Burma). In 1888, Singapore became part of the re-established Diocese of Melaka, with the exception of the existing Padroado mission in Singapore, which remained under the archbishop of Macau. In 1972 Pope Paul VI made Singapore a separate archdiocese under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See. In 1977, the Bishop of Macau agreed to relinquish his authority over the Padroado mission in Singapore to the archbishop of Singapore, a decision which the Holy See ratified in 1981. Singapore belongs to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, itself a part of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. Religious congregations with the archdiocese support many schools, a hospital and a hospice, several nursing homes and a children's home. In 1989, at the direction of the Vatican, the St. Francis Xavier Major Seminary for the training of local clergy was officially opened. Pope John Paul II visited Singapore on Nov. 20, 1986. A multiracial crowd of 63,000 attended the Mass he celebrated in the National Stadium.

Bibliography: catholic bishops' conference of malaysia-singapore-brunei, Official Catholic Church Directory (published annually).

[j. fernandez/eds.]