Exhibition at Singapore's first Zoroastrian museum shed light on the wisdom and cultural treasures of Parsi Zoroastrians
Cardinal-elect William Goh (center) with other Catholics, members of other faiths and the Parsi Zoroastrian community at the Zoroastrian museum in Singapore on June 18. (Photo: Sharleen Chia/Catholic News)
Archbishop William Goh of Singapore has applauded the minority Zoroastrian community for their strong commitment to religious tolerance during his visit to their first heritage museum in the city-state.
“What is most inspiring for me is how your faith embraces and respects the beliefs of others. The Zoroastrian faith of Emperor Cyrus indeed is a great eye-opener for me … Such generosity and respect for humanity, regardless of race and religion, stand out so beautifully,” said Archbishop Goh, one of 21 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis recently.
Cardinal-elect Goh made the comments as he paid a visit to a permanent exhibition titled "The Joyous Flame" that showcases the wisdom and cultural treasures of Parsi Zoroastrians in Singapore, reported Catholic News of Singapore Archdiocese.
Archbishop Goh was accompanied by members of the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue and representatives of other religious groups.
German missionary Father Reinhold Sahner, chaplain to the German-speaking community in Singapore, said the visit was a reminder of the importance of encountering religions to promote peace and fraternity.
“The tour showed clearly the importance and necessity of encountering and understanding other religions face to face to see what we all have in common, and so build a more peaceful world in a fraternal spirit,” Father Sahner said.
"Despite relatively small numbers, the Parsi community has always been an active participant in Singapore's rich social fabric. It is a community both of deep roots and tall branches"
The visitors received a warm welcome from Hormuz Avari and Monira Bhada, a committee member and secretary of the Parsi Zoroastrian Association (PZAS) respectively, and Rustom Ghadiali, the Zoroastrian representative to the Interreligious Organization in Singapore.
The exhibition is co-curated by the Parsi Zoroastrian Association (PZAS) and the Parzor Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on Parsi-Zoroastrianism heritage.
Though Singapore has only about 350 Zoroastrians, Zoroastrianism is one of the 10 officially recognized religions in Singapore, which boosts a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
The exhibition has been in place since Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong inaugurated it on March 14.
"Despite relatively small numbers, the Parsi community has always been an active participant in Singapore's rich social fabric. It is a community both of deep roots and tall branches,” the minister said during the opening, The Straits Times reported.
PZAS president Homiyar Vasania, in an interview with Parsi Times, said the community faces a continued struggle to maintain a “critical mass” in numbers.
“For instance, it has no full-time priest for religious activities and there is no Zoroastrian fire temple in Singapore, unlike in India where flames are kept burning day and night,” he said.
Anne Markey, from the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Heritage Ministry, said she was struck by fact that Zoroastrians have been worshipping one God since ancient times and how they have held onto their long-held tradition of religious tolerance.
Fire has a special place in Zoroastrian faith, representing their god Ahura Mazda’s light of wisdom that aims to bring joy to an unhappy world through good thoughts, words and deeds
In Singapore and elsewhere, members of the Parsi community are well known for their philanthropy.
For example, Navroji Rastomji Mistri, an India-born Parsi entrepreneur, donated 1 million Singaporean dollars (US$750,000) to build Singapore General Hospital’s children's wing in 1952. Mistri has been known as the “godfather” of Singapore’s poor children.
To honor his generosity, authorities named the road near the hospital Mistri Road and named the children's ward Mistri Wing.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient religion that may have originated as early as 4,000 years ago in Persia (current Iran). It is considered one of the world’s oldest religions and arguably the first monotheistic faith, according to history.com.
Three Persian dynasties revered Zoroastrianism as the state religion before the Muslim conquest of their country in the seventh century. To escape Muslim persecution, many Zoroastrian refugees, popularly known as Parsis, emigrated to India.
Fire has a special place in Zoroastrian faith, representing their god Ahura Mazda’s light of wisdom that aims to bring joy to an unhappy world through good thoughts, words and deeds.
The exhibition in Singapore features Parsi artifacts including Divo, a lamp which symbolizes the light that dispels darkness, and Ses, an auspicious tray that holds ceremonial utensils.
Catholic visitors have been particularly fascinated by a replica of the ancient clay Cyrus Cylinder dating back to 539 BC. The original is housed at the British Museum in London.
The Cyrus Cylinder is recognized as the world’s first charter of human rights. It has been translated to all six official languages of the United Nations and its provisions parallel the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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