As I remembered rightly, there was a lot of walking at the zoo, but it was smaller than I remembered. Perhaps that’s because we walked much faster than the last time I visited.
Having finished with our trip to the zoo faster than expected, I sped up the itinerary and begun our church tour. Having come from Darjeeling, where land is plentiful and church compounds are large and spread out, Johnny found Singapore churches to be compact and made full use of land space available. Prior to our church tour, he had only visited Church of the Risen Christ, and Church of the Holy Trinity where he is staying. From these two, he had earlier concluded, “Churches here are mostly the same.” Then I knew I had to bring him to a variety of churches.
So we set out, first, to Church of the Holy Spirit, where I got married earlier this year. From there, we went to Church of St. Ignatius, a parish run by the Jesuits, brothers of the same religious order as Johnny. We then went to St. Joseph Church in Bukit Timah, which was originally built for the Chinese Catholics and so had many elements of Chinese architecture. Finally, we headed over to Church of St. Mary of the Angels, an architecturally aesthetic wonder among churches here.
Franciscan Friar John Wong was there. He said hi, gave us each a small curry puff and a pudding, as well as a guide to touring the church. From this church, Johnny got many ideas – especially from the columbarium and the adoration chapel. Ideas that he can implement in his own parish of St. Paul the Apostle where he was recently appointed parish priest.
Columbariums, especially, are new to Johnny, because in Darjeeling, most deceased Catholics are still buried. In land-scarce Singapore, we’ve taken to cremating our dead and putting their ashes in niches in columbariums. This also creates a source of funding for parishes. After all, a niche in a columbarium is no more than a hole in a wall… and one that can cost something like $12,000 per niche, depending on how high or how low it is. Niches at eye-level tend to cost more.
We spoke at length about the differences between Singapore and Darjeeling Catholics. Johnny said that each parish in Singapore is like a cathedral in Darjeeling, with respect to the size of the church building and the number of parishioners that attend Mass. I remember during my visit to Darjeeling in 2006, that the territorial size of each parish there is about the size of our diocese.
Each family in his family is visited twice a year. Johnny knows well each family’s background so when parishioners approach to speak with him, he usually knows that it is about. Here, parishioners may not ever see their parish priests in their homes except for house blessing or anointing of the sick. There they have a practice of having their house blessed every year, whereas here we have our houses blessed when we first move in.
Here, our priests can drive up practically to our doorstep. There, Johnny has to park his bike by the road and walk 1, 2, sometimes 8 kilometres over hills and valleys to get to a village. Houses in a village can be some 500 metres apart from each other, so it can be very tiring to bless all the houses in a village. He tells me that sometimes he wakes at 6am, leaves the community residence, reaches the village at 10am, and is out doing pastoral work until 6pm when the sun sets.
What else was there? Oh yes, the zoo. Many of the animals we have in our zoo are also present in Darjeeling… in their tea plantations. Johnny says he has, on two occasions, had a tiger walk past him just several metres away. In our zoo is also a section of tropical crops, many of which are found in Johnny’s parish where they grow their own food. But of course they don’t have giraffes, zebras, and hippos.