In June 2021, Professor Roger Foo and his team of researchers published a never-before done study (Foo et al., 2021) documenting the genomes of the Peranakan community in Singapore. Whole-genome sequencing was done on 177 Peranakans, or those who identified very strongly as Peranakan in Singapore – Etymologically, the word, “Peranakan” has connotations of being “a native of the land”. With a heritage and ancestry that is wide-ranging and diverse, among the Peranakans are the Peranakan Chinese, Peranakan Indians, and Peranakan Eurasians(Song 1984; Tan 2010; Lee 2013). For the purposes of this study, samples were taken from those who were active volunteers at the Peranakan Association  Singapore – which makes sense, as these would identify most strongly as Peranakan either through ethnicity or cultural association. Interestingly, “Out of the 177 blood samples from volunteer donors studied, GIS’s analysis determined that 90 per cent had averaged 90 per cent Chinese DNA and 10 per cent Malay DNA. The remaining 10 percent of the blood samples, a significant segment, showed 100 per cent Chinese DNA. ” (Peranakan Association Singapore, 2021) The implication of the study is this, while tended strongly to basing their heritage upon ethnicity, ethnicity was not the full measure of cultural affiliation For those with the full percentage of ancestry identifying as Chinese, it did not mean that they were any less Peranakan than those who had 90% Chinese ancestry and 10% Malay origins. Identification in this case was purely cultural. Somehow, the Peranakan way of life had been adopted by a particular ancestor, and this was then passed down through the generations, causing subsequent generations to identify themselves as Peranakan. The interesting thing is that these persons with 100% Chinese ancestry, could even be more Peranakan than the Peranakans who had a mixed DNA composition.

Similarly, our Faith heritage is passed down from one generation to another generation. Borrowing from the ground-breaking implications of the Peranakan Genome Project, the question thus is what makes a Catholic Catholic?

Is it the homage and honour that is given to Mother Mary? Is it a call upon the saints for their intercession? Is it the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12: 47-50, we read, “Someone said to him: Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to speak to you. But to the man who told him this Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”. These words may often appear jarring to the listener, and especially to an Asian ear, these words, could sound almost disrespectful and rude. However, Jesus is not rude in this context, but we need to see how these words reflect the truth that doing the will of God our Father, supersedes and is more important than our earthly family ties.

The pertinent corollary to our faith is this. Our faith is an active faith, that is relevant only if it is alive in word and deed. In Deuteronomy 6, there is an emphasis that is placed on teaching the future generations the Law (of God) and to abide in His commandments: “Such, then, are the commandments, the laws and the customs which the LORD GOD has instructed me to teach you, for you to observe in the country which you are on your way to possess. And hence, if, throughout your lives, you fear the LORD GOD and keep all his laws and commandments, which I am laying down for you today, you will live long, you and your child and your grandchild.” (Deuteronomy 6:  1-2) and Deuteronomy6: 7-9: “You shall tell them to your children, and keep on telling them, when you are sitting at home, when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are standing up; you must fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a headband;  you must write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Faith traditions need to be taught and passed down. Parents thus are important in ensuring that the Faith is relevant and that Family Life is Christ-centred. The child who is growing up, sees what the parent does with regard to his or her Faith. What messages then are being sent to our children, if attending the Eucharist is a chore, and the parents cannot wait to usher their children out of the worship hall, or if at every Eucharist, the parents seem godly and holy, but in getting their children to the Eucharist had at each time lost their temper and made their children feel miserable? What faith traditions are being passed down if the family does not make time to pray together, or to discern the Will of God together, by reading the Scriptures and listening to inspired homilies? The parents cannot blame the children for leaving the faith during a crisis, because all their lives they had been taught by the example of their parents to seek happiness, not in God, but in the things of the world. If living the Faith is not real to the parents, then it is ridiculous to expect the children to be God-fearing, as the apple does not fall far from the tree, and as children learn what they live.

The second tier of passing down the faith, is dependent on the lives and examples of the godparents of child. In the 1980s, it was the trend of the Catholic Church in Singapore to randomly pick people from the Sunday congregation to become godparents for those who were baptised. I belonged to that group. My godfather was only present on the day of my Baptism and henceforth and thereafter, I never saw him again. It is shocking to think that many generations still think the role of the godparent to be superficial, only in name, and meant as a material gift-giving assurance for their children. An entire generation of those who were baptised in Singapore, in the 1980s, had no access to proper faith formation, mentoring, and guidance from any godparents, present or absent. Again, in such cases, it is not surprising that after Confirmation, not many of these would hang around the Church.

The third tier of passing on the Faith is found in educators, Catechists, and Faith Formators. In the 1980s, and early 1990s, Catechism in the Catholic Church in Singapore was terrible to the extent that God-fearing people were sending their children to attend kindergarten and worse, Sunday School in the Protestant churches. Many of these grew with a strong foundation in Protestant doctrine, and in fact had come to despise Our Lady and the Saints, and the living and Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist due to no fault of theirs, but through the faulty catechesis and formation they had attained in their growing years, and that which stuck with them into adulthood.

Proverbs 22: 6 states clearly, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

The fourth tier is found in Fellowship and Community. The community is instrumental in ensuring that the Faith lives and continues. Without the help and support of a community, it is difficult to be a Catholic and to keep the faith alive. In community, it is important to build rapport, trust, and authentic accountability. Without which, these communities are but contrived and superficial.

The fifth tier, is found in Ministry. Faith without works is dead. Beyond functionality, Ministries need to be concerned about their members’ intellectual and spiritual formation, and grow together in the Faith. In ministry work, the love of God is made real, and how we go about ministry work determines if a person is attracted to, or repelled by the faith. Imagine going for ministry meetings and the only thing that is seen and heard, is the ministry gossiping about other ministries or putting other ministries down. What sort of Christ-like work or more accurately self-serving work is done in ministries as such? Ministries are schools of love, where we learn how to go beyond ourselves, and to serve in love and charity.

All in all, we will need to ask ourselves if someone who encounters us, is able to see Christ radiating through every facet of our lives, and whether we are being witnesses or counter witnesses. A genuine Catholic does not need to put up a facade, because his or her faith is already living and breathing as part of his or her DNA, and because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the Truth will speak for itself.

What faith inheritance are we passing on to our children and our godchildren, and to extend this further, those whom we are mentoring in faith and journeying together in faith with today?

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan




Chia, F. (2015). The Babas. Singapore: The Estate of Felix Chia Thian Hoe. Landmark Books Pte Ltd

Foo, R. S. Y., Wu, D., Li, P. Y. Pan, B.  Tiang, Z. Dou, J., Williantarra, I.,  Pribowo, A. Y.,  Nurdiansyah, R., Wang, C. (2021, June 21). The SG Peranakan Project, Genetic Admixture in the Culturally Unique Peranakan Chinese Population in Southeast Asia, Molecular Biology and Evolution

Lee, K.C. (2013). Golden dragon and purple phoenix: the Chinese and their multi-ethnic descendants in Southeast Asia. Singapore: World Scientific

Peranakan Association Singapore. (2021). The Singapore Peranakan Genome Project. Peranakan Association Singapore. Retrieved August 12 , 2021 from

Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore; New York : Oxford University Press.

Tan, C.B. (2010). Intermarriage and the Chinese Peranakan in Southeast Asia. In: Suryadinata, L. (editor). Peranakan Chinese in a globalizing Southeast Asia. Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre and Baba House . 27–40