SINGAPORE - A blessing and ground-breaking ceremony was held on Thursday at the site where the Agape Village will open in 2015, a centre offering social services from Catholic charities to people of all religions.
The four-storey building, which will occupy a 32,000 sq ft plot in Toa Payoh Lorong 8, will house eight of the 23 charities involved and offer services including counselling, job training and legal aid.
Thursday's ceremony was held by Caritas Singapore, the Catholic Church's social service arm which will run the village.
Agape - Greek for unconditional love - will share the services of charities including the Catholic Welfare Services, which helps the poor and destitute, the Family Life Society and the Catholic Lawyers Guild.
The $15 million building is one of the biggest projects for the Catholic Church in Singapore.
Fund-raising for the building is ongoing with around $3.4 million raised so far.
Other facilities will include a multi-purpose hall, a thrift shop, a food bank where meals will be distributed to the poor, and a cafe.
Speaking at Thursday's ceremony, Archbishop William Goh said the Agape Village is "a call to live our faith in action and walk the path of service".
He said: "We stand in solidarity with (those in need). We identify with them. This is not a centre for the poor, but rather a centre of the poor."
The ceremony was also attended by representatives of other religious groups, such as those from the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths.
Also at the event were Archbishop Emeritus Nicholas Chia and Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, who was guest of honour.
Mr Chan said: "Many families need help - not just in a single dimension of financial assistance or job placement, but... a package of help... to build a better future."
He said the Government is trying to better integrate the delivery of social services and added that Agape Village is an example of how such integration can be carried out.
Ms Janet Ang, chairman of the building's steering committee, said Caritas Singapore staff and volunteers had given feedback that their beneficiaries "have multiple needs but the help they receive is often piecemeal and not holistic".
For example, she spoke of a beneficiary who was receiving financial aid from a Catholic charity. The woman also had to care for her elderly father and young children.
When the centre is open, she would be able to "get access to integrated help", with support services for her father and children too.
Mr James Chew, executive director of Catholic Welfare Services, agreed that close collaboration with other charities was important.
He said: "Coming under one roof at Agape Village will facilitate greater inclusion, communication and coordination."
The charities under Caritas Singapore serve more than 50,000 beneficiaries of all religions each year.
Anyone interested in donating to the project can visit www.caritas-singapore.org
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