SINGAPORE - They took care of the sick, fed the poor and sheltered homeless children for close to 200 years, leaving an indelible mark on Singapore since the first Catholic priest arrived here in 1821.
These missionaries did not just set up schools and orphanages, but also cared for patients with tuberculosis and leprosy and set up Mount Alvernia Hospital.
Yesterday, these and many other contributions were celebrated at a Joy SG50 thanksgiving mass organised by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore.
Some 10,000 Catholics and guests gathered at the Singapore Indoor Stadium to pay tribute to these pioneers who dedicated their lives to serving the people and the nation.
Leading the tribute was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said the Catholic Church in Singapore had "brought light and hope to many", whether through education or helping the poor, the migrant workers and the ill.
Mr Lee, who attended Catholic High School, also thanked the Church for playing an important role in strengthening racial and religious harmony and "setting the tone for all communities to live peacefully with each other".
"Our country must always be a place where everybody has their own space... in a world which has too much sectarian strife and bloodshed," he said.
"You have been a responsible, reliable and sensitive partner, helping us to strengthen our multiracial and multi-religious society. You have worked with us in the Government to manage delicate inter-religious issues, you have been assiduous in building up personal links and trust between church leaders and leaders of other groups.
"We are a secular country, but as the Archbishop pointed out, many of our citizens hold their religious faiths dearly and deeply, and the Government believes that this is a good thing and encourages this. We belong to many different faiths, but this year we celebrate SG50 as one people and one nation."
The thanksgiving mass was among a number of events organised by various religious groups to celebrate Singapore's golden jubilee ahead of National Day.
Speaking before Mr Lee, Archbishop William Goh said the Church will continue to work closely with the State and other religions to "prevent moral decadence, preserve families, strengthen the marriage institution and to promote justice, peace and harmony".
The Church is also grateful to a "supportive and responsible government" for championing religious harmony, "which is especially crucial at a time when religious extremism is threatening the peaceful coexistence of peoples".
There are about 360,000 Catholics in Singapore.
The Vatican envoy to Singapore, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Leo-poldo Girelli, read out a congratulatory message from Pope Francis, who gave thanks to God for the many graces bestowed upon Singapore in the last 50 years.
The audience also watched a video on the Church's early days in Singapore, and heard a specially written song from Singaporean singer-songwriter Corrinne May, Bless Our Singapore.
As part of the Joy SG50 celebrations, Catholics are invited to offer prayers, fast and feed the poor 50,000 meals.
This article was first published on July 5, 2015.
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