When Pope Francis appointed Archbishop William Goh as a cardinal just a year ago, in 2022, Singapore received his blessing. This makes him the very first native Singaporean to be elevated to the cardinalate.
A man of simplicity known for his down-to-earth responses and lively sermons, he is a faithful servant leader who finds joy in extending a helping hand to others. For His Eminence, genuine happiness can only be found in giving and serving.
The youngest of five boys and a girl, Cardinal Goh was born to parents who have extremely different religious views. While his mother can be considered a pious woman, his father stayed distant from their church after arguing with their local priest.
Despite this setup, young Cardinal Goh‘s Christian formation did not fade. He would often join her mother every Saturday in visiting the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Ophir Road, then go shopping for sarongs on Arab Street. Afterward, they would attend several religious sessions at the Novena Church.
Answering God’s unwavering call
Eventually, Cardinal Goh attended Montfort Junior and Secondary, a Catholic boy’s school in Hougang, just a short walk from their home. Since he hates getting sweaty, he decided not to participate in sports or physical activities with his schoolmates. Instead, he preferred the solace and quiet offered by the church, where he would spend time alone praying the rosary.
This simple practice, done consistently, led to Cardinal Goh hearing God’s calling to become one of His shepherds. But wanting so much more in life, he ignored this call and went on to join the British offshore bank Barclay to be trained as a foreign exchange dealer.
When God chooses, His calling will never wane. This is exactly what happened to Cardinal Goh, who continuously heard His invitation to the priesthood as he was trying to pursue a stable professional life.
In 1979, at age 21, he finally gave in to God’s will and entered the Major Seminary in Penang. It took him six years to become a priest, and he received the Holy Orders on May 1, 1985,, at the age of 27.
Receiving the fullness of the priesthood
Who would have known that a humble man who just wanted to work in a bank would go on to become Singapore’s fourth archbishop—and even be elevated to the cardinalate?
On December 29, 2012, he was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop. On May 18, 2013, he was appointed Archbishop of Singapore. And just last year, on May 29, 2022, the Holy Father created him a cardinal, along with 21 other clerics from different countries.
With Catholicism being the second most practiced religion after Buddhism, he currently looks after a flock of more than 360,000 people. Also under his care are 32 Catholic churches, 59 educational institutions, and 47 humanitarian groups.
A man of the people
Cardinal Goh finds happiness in two things: prayer and service. By reaching out to other people, he discovers joy like no other. He actively seeks out individuals needing help so he can impact their lives positively. If he can do something to make everyone around him happy, the cardinal will do it.
He has picked the motto “Ut Vivant,” which means “That They May Live.” Taken from the Gospel of John (10:10–11), it highlights the selfless character of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who did not refuse to lay down His life for the sake of the world’s salvation. For Cardinal Goh, it does not matter if he loses parts of himself as long as he can serve the people of God entrusted to his care.
Shepherding God’s people
Two-thirds of the Catholics in Singapore are nominal, and Cardinal Goh wants to re-evangelize them and reinvigorate their faith. Going beyond the liturgy and religious gatherings, he aims to balance socially accepted norms with absolute Biblical teachings. Moreover, he has pledged to restructure the Church hierarchy and structure to make them more effective, efficient, and united.
Furthermore, one of Cardinal Goh’s priorities is to be engaged with the youth, whom he acknowledges as “vibrant, creative, and full of energy” but always longing for meaning and purpose in their lives. He acts as a bridge builder for them, which allows His Eminence to fully understand their aspirations and what the Church can do to help them grow in body, mind, and spirit.
A true lover of life, Cardinal Goh appreciates the uniqueness of every person he meets. For him, everyone bears the face of Christ and, therefore, must be embraced and cared for. This mindset sets a strong foundation not just in his vocation but in his entire identity—reaching out to others and finding joy in doing so.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.