Singapore churches pay tribute to country's founding father Lee Kuan Yew

A man bows as he pays his respects to late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.Reuters

Christians in Singapore have joined the national mourning for the death of the country's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who died earlier today.

Yew, who was 91, was revered for his transformation of the former British colony into an economic powerhouse after its separation from Malaysia in 1965 following controversies over ideological differences and racial tensions.

One of Singapore's mega-churches, the 31,000-member New Creation Church, issued a statement saying: "As a church, we mourn the loss of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, one of Singapore's founding fathers who made a tremendous difference to the success and prosperity of the country and its citizens. We pray for the Lord's comfort and strength on Mr Lee's loved ones during this difficult time, and for His abundant blessings and favour to continue to be on them and our nation.

"Together with his pioneering team of leaders, Mr Lee laid the foundation stones of modern-day Singapore and devoted most of his life to serving the people of this nation. His wisdom and dedication resulted in the incredible growth of a small nation. He was truly a great blessing to this country."

The Roman Catholic Church in Singapore announced special prayers for Yew and his family. Archbishop William Goh sent his condolences to Yew's son, current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, and his family. He wrote: "Your father was not only a great statesman. He was also a good and upright man who lived passionately his calling in life, which was to be a faithful husband, a dedicated father and a visionary leader.

"Singapore owes her nationhood to him. As a nation, we have him to thank for everything we are proud to call 'Singapore'. Indeed, we count ourselves truly blessed to have had such a giant of a leader at a time when Singapore counted for nothing in the eyes of the world."

Yew's relations with the Catholic Church were not always so warm; in 1987, 22 Roman Catholic Church officials, social activists and professionals were arrested and accused of a left wing conspiracy.

His authoritarian – even draconian – style saw many opponents jailed and press freedom stifled, with Yew once famously saying: "Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine.

"I've spent a whole life in building this and as long as I am in charge nobody's going to knock it down."