Census shows a strong Church in Singapore

Census shows a strong Church in Singapore

AD2000 Report

The following report is adapted from Catholic News, the official newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, which assessed the recent findings of the first ever census of Singapore's Catholic population undertaken by the Catholic Research Centre of Singapore.

Eight in ten Catholics in Singapore say they attend Mass every weekend (80.5 percent), a remarkably high figure when compared to 48 percent in the Philippines, 33 percent in the United States and 13.8 percent in Australia (according to the National Church Life Survey based on the 2006 Census).

However, a majority of those who attended at least weekly in Singapore were critical of the lack of a prayerful atmosphere at Mass, with six in ten saying that the chatter of others before Mass disturbed their private prayer.

These are some of the findings of a census conducted over the weekend of 25-26 August 2007, with a second survey made the following weekend for those who missed out on the first one. The census was undertaken by the Catholic Research Centre of Singapore and the Family Life Society, both headed by Father Charles Sim SJ.

Sociology professor Stella Quah oversaw the development of the questionnaire beginning in the second half of 2005 and led a team which analysed the findings and wrote the census report. She is now working on individual reports for each of the 30 parishes that took part in the survey. The main census findings were presented at the priests' Annual Presbyterium in March 2008.

Positive finding

In all, 94,447 people completed the survey, a significant proportion of the total Catholic population, which was estimated at 170,000 in 2006 in the official directory of the archdiocese, although the Singapore Census conducted by the government in 2000 had put the number of Catholics at about 120,000.

One especially positive finding was that, in contrast to Australia, teenagers in Singapore are the most engaged in church. Those aged 12 to 19 have the most regular church attendance, show the greatest attachment to their respective parish churches, take part in more church activities than adults, and feel more connected during weekend Masses.

Prof Quah attributes this to the catechism program: 'It is likely that many years of catechism in Catholic churches can claim credit for this. It is true that youngsters are more gregarious and more open to activities in church for social reasons.'

While at Mass, many Catholics like to have time for quiet prayer, with 52.5 percent saying they prefer to pray and meditate by themselves when attending Mass.

In her report, Prof Quah highlights the need to balance the individual's desire for quiet meditation with the Church's wish to foster collective prayer and a sense of congregation during Mass. One way to do this, she suggests, is to set aside time during Mass for quiet meditation and prayer. Churches can create meeting places outside the church, such as at a lobby or entrance hall, for social interaction, to discourage parishioners from disturbing others' prayer in the main church.

Despite their preference for prayer in church, in fact most Catholic families do not pray together as a family. Two in three say they seldom or never pray together as a family.

Family life

Still, the Catholic family remains strong. Six in ten Catholics come from families where all members are Catholic. Of those who are married, a high proportion - 83.5 percent - are married to fellow Catholics.

Not surprisingly, most Catholics attend weekend Mass with family, with 64.6 percent saying they attend weekend Mass with one or more family members. Those who go to church as a family are most likely to attend regularly: 86 percent of those who go to church as a family, say they go to Mass every weekend, suggesting that Catholic families support each other in church attendance.

One in five Catholics attend Mass alone. This proportion increases to nearly one-third (29 percent) among older parishioners.

Language is also an issue. One in five parishioners do not speak English, and speak only one Asian language at home, suggesting the need for more services and ministries to cater to the non-English speaking.

The census also highlighted the impact of globalisation on the Catholic community, with a large minority of foreigners picked up in the census. About 26 percent of those surveyed classified themselves as 'others' when asked about race. Of this, 17.8 percent are Filipinos, about five percent are Eurasians, and one percent are Caucasians.

The largest group of foreign parishioners are from the Philippines (16.6 percent), Malaysia (three percent), and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh combined (2.6 percent).

The census is significant in providing the first comprehensive and accurate picture of the Catholic community in Singapore.

The findings highlighted areas seen to be of concern, such as the need to engage more Catholics beyond Mass, the need to build small Christian communities, the need to improve the prayerful atmosphere at Mass, and the need to strengthen the prayer lives of families.

At the same time, emerging trends - such as more older parishioners attending Mass alone, and the growing numbers of foreigners - were seen as indicating a need to cater better for these groups, whose numbers were likely to grow.

Despite what were viewed as shortcomings by the researchers, the overall picture is of a strong Church in Singapore, certainly when compared with the situation in Australia and other Western nations.

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