SINGAPORE - Singapore's first cardinal on Thursday called on the Catholic Church here to continue to promote religious harmony, in his first public service here since being appointed to the post last month.
Cardinal William Goh, who is also Archbishop of Singapore, was one of 20 new cardinals installed by Pope Francis at a ceremony in the Vatican City on Aug 27.
At a thanksgiving mass at St Joseph's Church in Bukit Timah, Cardinal Goh said his priorities were to promote love and unity through fostering inter-religious dialogue, and building a more inclusive society, and asked Catholics to join him in these tasks.
He added that being elevated to a cardinal, and being addressed as "His Eminence" now, was simply a reminder of his responsibility.
"You have to use your position in such a way to influence the world for the better," he said. This was true for him, for the Church and also for Singapore, he added.
"Singapore, it is often said, is a little red dot. And this little red hat," he said to laughter as he touched the skull cap, known as a zucchetto, that he wears as a cardinal. "This is where we are being challenged - as a Church, as a country."
About 3,500 people attended the event, including those beneath two tents in the church compound.
The mass started with 32 flagbearers, representing the 32 parishes of the archdiocese, marching in, followed by priests, bishops and Cardinal Goh.
Addressing an audience which included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, as well as other government ministers and leaders of various religions, Cardinal Goh said Singapore had become an icon for religious harmony in the world.
This was possible because the Government sees religious leaders and groups as partners and "we all work for the common good of humanity, of society", he added.
He said this was not necessarily the case in other parts of Asia. As cardinal, he said, he hopes to promote this interfaith harmony and dialogue, working with the bishops from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, who were at the event.
But promoting interfaith dialogue is not enough to build cohesive societies, said Cardinal Goh, and he urged religious folk to also engage humanists and secularists.
Another priority he highlighted was building a gracious and inclusive society which embraces the marginalised and people of all orientations, including those with different sexual orientations, he said.
He said Catholics should think beyond churches and Singapore to also help the poor and vulnerable in the region. "Unless society is inclusive, we will not be able to make much progress," he added.
In a Facebook post, PM Lee cited Cardinal Goh's homily, and said: "I wish Cardinal Goh all the best in his new appointment, and am confident he will continue working with fellow religious leaders in our multi-religious landscape, to maintain our unity and harmony, especially as we build a new social compact for the country."
Ministers and religious leaders told reporters that Cardinal Goh's appointment was historic not just for the local Catholic Church, but also for Singapore and Singaporeans.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam noted the cardinal's sincerity and humility, saying of his appointment: "It is a great and signal honour to Singapore and to him. But I know he doesn't take it as a personal honour, he does it as service."
Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli welcomed Cardinal Goh's commitment to spread harmony and peace among people of various faiths in Singapore and the region.
Inter-Religious Organisation president Terry Kee, a reverend of the Lutheran Church, and Singapore Jain Religious Society president Parresh Timbadia both said they looked forward to working with Cardinal Goh on promoting interfaith harmony in the region.
The message also resonated with Catholics who attended the mass, such as healthcare worker Jacqueline Pereira, 58, who said every Catholic had a part to play in reaching out to others.
Housewives Sheila Sim, 54, and Isabel Tan, 57, said they were touched by how the cardinal had always used his leadership position to work for the good of the people.