ESM Goh Chok Tong is new patron of the Inter-Religious Organisation

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong touring the Harmony in Diversity Gallery with religious leaders at the Ministry of National Development building on Nov 30, 2018.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong touring the Harmony in Diversity Gallery with religious leaders at the Ministry of National Development building on Nov 30, 2018.ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

SINGAPORE - Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is now the patron of Singapore's Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) - the Republic's multi-faith organisation dedicated to promoting religious harmony.

He is the organisation's third patron, and succeeds the late former president S R Nathan, who served in the position from 2012 to 2016. The organisation's first patron was the former British commissioner-general for South-east Asia, Malcolm MacDonald, who served from 1949 to 1955.

At a reception held at the Harmony in Diversity Gallery in the Ministry of National Development building on Friday (Nov 30), ESM Goh, 77, said he accepted the invitation as he supports the goals of the ground-up body. These include the cultivation of the spirit of friendship and cooperation among the leaders and followers of different religions.

The IRO dates back to 1949 and was started by a group of individuals of different faiths. It represents 10 religions and organises activities such as inter-faith prayers and blessings and engages with various religious communities.

In his address to about 100 IRO office-bearers, members, and visiting dignitaries at the venue, ESM Goh said he believes the good work the body has done over the decades is "under-appreciated" by many.

He added: "So I thought I could maybe do something to raise your profile a little and therefore make your work a little easier."

ESM Goh said he is taking on the role of its patron in his personal capacity.


He shared that his family, like many other Singaporean households, is religiously diverse. His wife is Buddhist while his children are Christians. He himself was brought up in a "traditional Chinese religion way" with Buddhism and Taoism, and also practised ancestral worship.

He also noted that religious diversity in Singapore is a fact which can either be an asset or a liability. He noted that overzealous insensitive, aggressive and even unethical proselytisation can offend and cause harm in a multiracial and multi-religious society.

"Fortunately, our religious leaders emphasise similarities and common values while maintaining the integrity of individual religions. They have a history of dialogue and regular interactions."

Noting that Singapore will be nominating its hawker culture for Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, ESM Goh also suggested briefly that the country should think of ways to possibly nominate its multi-religious harmony and array of diversity in the future.

IRO president Ben J. Benjamin thanked Mr Goh for agreeing to take on the role as patron.

Mr Benjamin said: "ESM Goh's outstanding reputation as a respected and loved leader is a tremendous asset to our organisation and will boost our efforts to build trust and friendships across different religions in Singapore."

After the reception, ESM Goh held a dialogue with the religious representatives. They discussed the issue of youth renewal within the organisation, as well as how the non-religious can be involved in the conversation of fostering harmony in Singapore.

Mr Benjamin, 41, also shared that the IRO will be doing more next year for its 70th anniversary. It will ramp up its community programmes and design curated digital content to reach a wider pool of Singaporeans, especially the young.

IRO members also raised the issue of finding a permanent location for its activities.

ESM Goh said he will meet IRO office-bearers in about three months' time to discuss how to move forward some of their key ideas and plans.