He reached out to various faith and community groups

Venerable Shi Fa Rong, 60, went to the Istana around 6.10am yesterday to pay his respects to Mr Nathan. He had met the former president many times during community events, and said he was sad over Mr Nathan's death. The former president was remembere
Venerable Shi Fa Rong, 60, went to the Istana around 6.10am yesterday to pay his respects to Mr Nathan. He had met the former president many times during community events, and said he was sad over Mr Nathan's death. The former president was remembered by various religious groups for his efforts to promote harmony.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Nathan remembered for efforts to foster multiracialism and inter-religious harmony

Former president S R Nathan was a devoted Hindu, but leaders of various faiths in Singapore will always remember his commitment to promoting inter-racial and inter-religious harmony.

His efforts to build multiracialism extended to the self-help groups and business communities as well. He often made time to interact with their members and ask about their well-being.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore recounted in a statement yesterday that Mr Nathan and wife Urmila Nandey, while in Europe on a private trip in 2002, had visited Pope John Paul II, who has since died. In the Pope's private library in Vatican City, they discussed the importance of dialogue among the different faiths.

"He was the first patron of Singapore's Inter-Religious Organisation, holding the office since 2012 until the time of his passing," the statement said.

The National Council of Churches honoured Mr Nathan for reaching out to all groups and personally encouraging efforts to promote harmony. "We are blessed by his legacy," it said in a statement.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore also noted that Mr Nathan graced numerous Muslim events, and displayed closeness and rapport with the community.

A fond memory of Dr Mohamed Ali, an expert on religious extremism, is the day he and a colleague were invited to tea at the Istana.

"He wanted to have a frank discussion with us - people in the community researching the topic - to understand the complex issue of extremism," said Dr Mohamed, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who is also vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), which counsels radicalised individuals.

After the meeting, Mr Nathan, who spoke Malay too, e-mailed him an article. "Already shocked to receive the invitation to Istana, I was further surprised that he made the effort to send me an article he thought I would find interesting."

When Mr Nathan met RRG members, he encouraged them to persevere in the fight against extremism, Dr Mohamed added.

Mr Nathan also learnt Chinese calligraphy in his later years, which endeared him to the Chinese community.

Its business community found Mr Nathan a figure of confidence.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua said he developed strong ties with the community. Mr Nathan had attended the chamber's Chinese New Year gathering in 2009, when the economic outlook was bleak.

"Mr Nathan reassured us in his speech that Singapore was well poised to take on the challenges of the economic downturn," Mr Chua recalled in a statement.

The president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Mr Chua Thian Poh, said Mr Nathan understood the importance of multiracial unity. "He was purposeful in his efforts to engage the local Chinese community by interacting with Chinese community leaders and showing great interest in the development of the Chinese community."

Mr Nathan's interest in the welfare of people spanned all races.

The S R Nathan Education Upliftment Fund, which he set up in 2011, gives financial aid to needy tertiary students through the four self-help groups: the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Yayasan Mendaki, Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) and the Eurasian Association.

Sinda chief executive K. Barathan said Mr Nathan was "a foremost leader of the Indian community, championing its needs with dedication and passion".

National Council of Social Service president Hsieh Fu Hua said: "Mr Nathan had an unwavering belief for the community to do its part to improve the lives of the disadvantaged (to) forge an inclusive society where Singaporeans care for one another.

"Mr Nathan's visionary leadership inspires all of us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'He reached out to various faith and community groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe