Priest In Geylang: The Untold Story of the Geylang Catholic Centre

Cosmopolitan Singapore—emblematic of globalised capitalism—usually calls to mind a number of clichés: orderly, clean and green, a shopping and business paradise, and a model of sound economic management. Tourists, journalists and passing businessmen cast an absent-minded glance at the local society, noting that the food is excellent, e-communication works well and armoured tanks are absent on street corners. But after 17 years living here, the author shows a different side of Singapore: looking at her from the grassroots. Beyond his personal atypical story, he draws with light strokes of the brush, a picture of a warm and generous people, much less passive than one is often given to think. He also describes the difficulties faced by civil society, and tracks the rapid social evolution in the city-state as it is confronted with major challenges: a nose-diving demography, cramped territory with an infrastructure which cannot be extended indefinitely, and massive immigration which is increasingly resented by the local population. Most of all, Fr. Arotcarena places on record the work and significance of the Geylang Catholic Centre, which makes this priest in Geylang himself a legend.

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"Priest in Geylang was a riveting read because it provided a heartfelt narrative from someone who was involved in the forefront of things and not hampered by fear the way many Singaporeans have become paralysed by." —Ghui, Monsoon Bookclub

"The book reprised quite a lot of never-before-revealed details of the time... We’ve heard many views about Operation Spectrum, including from those who had been incarcerated. But the Catholic church had kept a studious silence. Now a priest whom I knew from way back when I was a teenager, has spoken up. Reading Priest in Geylang only made me feel wretched. It was one period in my reporting career, and even in Singapore’s short history, that I would rather forget." —Bertha Henson, author of Troublemaker

"In essence, Priest in Geylang is more than a much needed missing piece in the history of Singapore. It is a reflection of how political hypersensitivity and unchecked power can lead to the destruction of something good in civil society. This is a part of history that we might never regain, unless we are able to re-embrace the spirit and dedication of Fr Guillaume Arotçarena and his Geylang Catholic Centre volunteers. This insight is something we might have heard murmured in rumour corridors, but never given the clarity of print from the perspective of an insider... you will find no lack of humour, spirit, and a certain contemplative fortitude." —The Online Citizen


Fr. Guillaume Arotçarena