PM cites St Vincent de Paul as example of how groups can help needy

Diners singing along to the song Y.M.C.A, which was one of several popular 1970s hits, sung by a group from the Church of St Vincent de Paul in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The dinner was held at Orchid Country Club yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: KU
Diners singing along to the song Y.M.C.A, which was one of several popular 1970s hits, sung by a group from the Church of St Vincent de Paul in celebration of its 50th anniversary. The dinner was held at Orchid Country Club yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held up a Catholic parish as an example of how individuals and groups in society ought to roll up their sleeves and help one another.

While he reiterated his National Day Rally message in August that the Government was prepared to do more for those in need as Singapore entered a new phase, he sounded a reminder last night: it "cannot and should not do everything".

Where groups are better placed, they must not hesitate to "do the heavy lifting" like fund-raising, he said, noting that such good works reflect "the sort of people we are" and "the kind of society we would like Singapore to be".

Speaking at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Church of St Vincent de Paul, he said religious organisations, like welfare groups, have forged personal and community ties, so they "know who needs help, who deserves help and how to deliver the help".

The church, in Yio Chu Kang, recalled yesterday how French missionary Henri Saussard and a group of followers began delivering food to needy residents of Jalan Kayu from 1959.

It was founded in 1963 in a shophouse. Today, it has 5,000 members and continues to give cash grants and groceries to the less well-off. It also runs a thrift shop and a kindergarten that does not charge needy families fees.

Last night's celebration at Orchid Country Club was attended by prominent Catholics here such as Council of Presidential Advisers chairman J.Y. Pillay, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, former Cabinet minister Lim Boon Heng and Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck.

Mr Lim and Mr Teo are parishioners of St Vincent de Paul.

PM Lee received enthusiastic applause when he highlighted his Catholic connection: he was a student of Catholic High and had benefited from the education he received.

Catholic schools emphasised not just academics, but values and character development, something national schools are now doing more of, he said.

He also paid tribute to the Catholic Church for making valuable contributions to Singapore by providing social services, like nursing homes for the elderly, through its welfare arm Caritas.

Urging other groups to step up, Mr Lee said there were limits to what the Government could do. In doing too much, help would become "a matter of administration, not compassion".

Another risk is it would foster an entitlement mentality, as opposed to a sense of mutual obligation and gratitude when volunteer groups do the helping, he added.

Mr Lee urged people not to ask for what they want and expect others to do the hard work. Instead, they should make things happen by understanding the issues on the ground, developing ways to resolve them and then, "just do it".

Such actions will make "a real difference to the lives of others, just as Father Saussard and his Jalan Kayu residents did back in 1959".

Commenting on Mr Lee's call, Mr Lim said later that the Government has to maintain a secular stance, but much of community work must be done out of love.

"It is very difficult for the Government to say, 'I do it because I love you'." But the religious community "can do it with love".

He would like to see more done in two areas: helping young people grow up with the right values and helping to meet the needs of the elderly.

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