SINGAPORE - One of Singapore's oldest charities celebrated its 85th anniversary on Thursday (Jan 2) with the opening of a new worship hall and the consecration of a golden Buddha statue.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who graced the ceremony at the Singapore Buddhist Lodge's Kim Yam Road premises, said in a speech to about 1,000 attendees that he was glad the Lodge and other religious bodies in Singapore had been supportive of efforts to strengthen social cohesion and maintain harmony.
"It is timely to reflect on how a multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society like Singapore has remained united as one people.
"Looking at how divisions are pulling societies apart around the world, religious harmony is not something we can take for granted," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.
He noted that the Lodge is one of 400 religious groups to sign the Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony, a pledge senior religious leaders in Singapore presented to President Halimah Yacob at the opening of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies in June last year.
In remarks made in the Mandarin portion of his speech, Mr Heng said a diverse society like Singapore needed to be careful of the destructive effects of fake news.
He cited the example of Sri Lanka, where Facebook had been used to spread falsehoods in a bid to incite the Buddhist Sinhalese majority against minorities.
"While this has not happened in Singapore, we need to be vigilant and take precautions," said Mr Heng, referring to the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act passed last year.
"But the law by itself is not enough to maintain interfaith harmony. More importantly, different religions in Singapore treasure the uniqueness of our multicultural society, practise mutual tolerance, and hold the highest respect for each others' faiths," he said.
Plans for the new building were first mooted in 2014 under the leadership of the Lodge's former president, Mr Lee Bock Guan, who died in 2015.
The Lodge faced several challenges, chief among them being funds, its leadership shared with the media last month.
Construction costs, which included refurbishment works on existing facilities, exceeded $63 million.
"The process of construction encountered many challenges, but they were overcome one by one, fulfilling Mr Lee's wish," said Mr Heng. He also praised the Lodge's efforts in giving back to society across different races and religions.
The Lodge has worked with Jamiyah Singapore, the Hindu Endowments Board and the Singapore Taoist Federation in providing students with bursaries.
It has provided bursaries since 1979 to help students from low-income families. In 2018, the Lodge gave out $800,000 in bursaries to more than 1,100 students. Over half of recipients (52 per cent) were non-Chinese students.
During Ramadan, it also gives bags of rice to mosques - with 35 tonnes donated last year.
Mr Heng said that these actions are in line with a national effort to get Singaporeans to work with the Government, which he announced last June.
"In fact, this is the spirit of the Singapore Together movement - for our people to partner with one another and the Government, in an expanded democracy of deeds, going beyond giving feedback and ideas, to taking concrete action to helping those around us."