MSB bishops give Catholics dispensation from abstinence for first day of Chinese New Year

The presenters – children, youth, adults – in varied traditional attire bring the gifts forward to the altar at the Presentation of Gifts, 16 Feb 2018, SHC.

KOTA KINABALU –  The Bishops of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei have decided to give dispensation to all Catholics from abstinence on Friday, 16 Feb 2018, in view of the festive season of Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year is a time of rejoicing with family members, loved ones and friends as they usher in the new year according to the Chinese custom.

This decision was made during the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei (CBCMSB) in January.

This year the first day of Chinese New Year fell on the Friday after Ash Wednesday (Feb 14), the third day of Lent.

Consequently, the atmosphere was a bit subdued during the CNY Mass celebrated at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Feb 16. The Gloria was omitted.

As in past years, there was the usual drum display by five drummers: Frankie Wong, 14, and his brother Brian, 12;  Jessica Liew, 12; Megan Sham, 19; and Betty Kong, 19.

Among the appreciative thousand over faithful were Archbishop John Wong, Abp Emeritus John Lee, Fathers Paul Lo, Max Hontor, Joshua Liew, Joseph Fung sj, and the religious sisters.

In his homily, Abp Wong related salvation history to the LNY celebration theme, urging everyone to seek first the Kingdom of God before anything else, and to have that sense of loyalty and faithfulness to God which a dog (being the Year of the Earth Dog) has toward its owner.

At the presentation of gifts, 17 presenters brought candles, flowers, fruits, vegetables, sticky rice cake, kuazi, money, bread and wine to the altar.

After Communion Prayer, Abp Wong blessed 10 big baskets of mandarin oranges to be distributed to the faithful after Mass.

The Chinese rite of bowing three times before the altar (representing God) by all, to the concelebrants by the faithful, and to each other took place before the final blessing and dismissal.

As part of their appreciation tradition, the Chinese community gave ang pows to the clergy and religious present.

After the distribution of oranges, many of the faithful and clergy adjourned to the front of the parish centre for the lion dance performances by the You Yi Troupe.

Our bishops tell Pope Francis: We are encouraged by your leadership

Pope walks to his seat at the meeting with the Malaysian, Singapore and Brunei prelates on 8 Feb 2018 at the Vatican.

KUALA LUMPUR – The archbishops and bishops from Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei made their Ad Limina Visit on 4-9 Feb 2018.

They met with the Holy Father as Successor of St Peter and the Vicar of Christ on Feb 8 and it was the most anticipated event.

The arch/bishops introduced themselves individually to the pope who greeted them in the library. He then discussed with the bishops openly about the issues facing them in their arch/dioceses for almost 90 mins.

“He is a very humble man, not caring much about protocols and formality. He invited us to ask any questions, even sensitive ones, because he was keen to hear from us,” said Archbishop William Goh from Singapore.

At the meeting, the arch/bishops expressed their support for Pope Francis and said that they were happy with the direction he was taking for the Universal Church.

“We are in solidarity with Pope Francis. Our churches are feeling encouraged because we have taken the same direction as he has taken,” said Bishop Sebastian Francis, the President of the Bishops Conference.

“It’s a genuine conviction that this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today!” he added.

Abp Goh said that on his part he asked the pope about the effectiveness of the different dicasteries of the Curia in responding to the challenges facing the Universal and Particular Churches, because of the bureaucracy of the institutions and the enormous areas of concerns they have to attend to.

Secondly, Abp Goh shared with the Holy Father about the confusion among prelates, priests and laity on chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia.

He asked, ‘How should we understand and apply the pastoral guidelines given to assist the spiritual lives of married couples who are living in irregular marriages?’

“The Holy Father was receptive, open and non-defensive in all his replies, and sought to help the bishops understand the context and objectives of his apostolic exhortation. He advised the arcbishops/ bishops not to retaliate or fight with their opponents but to be firm and be patient in winning them over through dialogue and perseverance. He ended the meeting by asking the bishops to pray FOR him, not AGAINST him,” said Abp Goh.

“We left the meeting feeling inspired by the Holy Father’s humility, humanness and simplicity in showing his solidarity with us bishops in our struggles and challenges as shepherds of our local dioceses,” added Abp Goh.

“It was like Paul and Barnabas, presenting themselves to Peter at the Council of Jerusalem. For us, it was the Local Church of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei presenting herself, her people and her progress and her questions to the Holy Father and the Prefects of the discasteries,” shared Bishop Bernard Paul of Melaka-Johore Diocese.

The arch/bishops celebrated the Eucharist at the Tomb of St Peter and the Basilica of St John Lateran.

This is, indeed, one of the most important Basilicas in Rome besides St Peter’s Basilica and St Mary Major. This is the Mother Church and the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father. It is also the oldest Church in Christendom because it was the first to be built by Emperor Constantine.

This Church is the symbol of unity among all Catholics in the world, sharing one faith, one hope and charity.

“Indeed, it is a great privilege and an awesome feeling to celebrate Mass at the Basilica. To know that we are connected with our Mother Church – ancient and yet ever new. One in thinking, praying, feeling and loving,” shared Abp Goh.

The arch/bishops also had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist at the Church Sant’Alberto Magno, where Cardinal Soter Fernandez is the parish priest. Over the days of the Ad Limina, the bishops visited a number of dicasteries of the curia, which is like the different ministries of a government. Each of these dicasteries oversee many portfolios.

For example, the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development covers charitable organisations, health, social doctrines, faith and development, ecology and creation, refugees and migrants. The Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life takes care of the promotion and formation of the laity, family and life, youth, associations and ecclesial movements and women.

They also had a meeting with the Ambassador of Malaysia to the Holy See Tan Sri Bernard Giluk Dompok and discussed matters related to promoting religious harmony and education.

Altogether, the three countries have some 1.45 million Catholics: 1,060,000 in Malaysia; 373,000 in Singapore and 18,000 in Brunei. – Herald Malaysia, 14 Feb 2018

The Church’s real challenges are in Asia, says Singapore prelate

ROME  – Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye of Singapore, discussed a number of issues with AsiaNews on 9 Feb 2018 after his meeting with Pope Francis Feb 8, issues like the reality of Asia, the life of the Church and religious harmony in Singapore, and his personal observations about Amoris Laetitia.

Nine years after the last ad limina visit in 2008, the 11 bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (BCMSB) visited the Vatican between 4 and 9 February, to visit the tombs of the holy apostles Peter and Paul and meet Pope Francis.

Born in Singapore in 1957, Abp Goh was ordained archdiocesan priest in 1985. For four years, he was assistant parish priest at the Holy Cross Church before travelling to Rome in 1992 to finish his studies in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Upon his return home, he taught and lectured at the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary of (SFXMS) between 1992 and 2005.

In 2005, Fr Goh was appointed SFXMS rector and spiritual director of the Catholic Spiritual Centre, a position he held until his ordination as the fourth archbishop of Singapore in 2013. What follows is the first part (of three) of an interview with the prelate.

“The real challenges for the Catholic Church are here in Asia,” said Abp Goh, during his first ad limina visit to the Vatican as Archbishop of Singapore. “The Asian continent is different from all the others, since it is extremely varied in terms of religions, cultures and economic realities,” he added. In this context, Singapore stands out as a reality in its own right.

“It is a very particular Asian country, characterised by strong economic and technological progress, perhaps similar to South Korea and Hong Kong. Together with Malaysia and Brunei, it belongs to a Bishops’ Conference that brings together nations that face different political, economic and religious challenges.

“Singapore is a unique country, the expression of a cosmopolitan and highly educated society. More than 40 per cent of its residents have at least one university degree. About 75 per cent of the population is ethnic Chinese, but there are important Malay (13.5 per cent) and Indian (9 per cent) communities.”

One of the peculiarities that characterise the rich city-state is the relationship between the government and religion. “Unlike neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore has a secular government,” the prelate explained. “However, we like to define ourselves more as a ‘multicultural and multi-religious state’. The government is in fact secular in order to preserve the unity of the nation, but most ministers and officials profess a faith. The state is not against religion, but is in favour of it, seeing it as a fundamental component for the country’s development.

“The government provides important support to all religions, without favouritism. For example, it is customary to invite religious leaders to take part in numerous meetings and ask them for advice on issues affecting the country, especially from a moral and social point of view.”

“Some ministries, like the Ministry of the Family or the Ministry of Education, collaborate closely with religious leaders. Along with youth policies, these are the areas in which the government invites us to express opinions because we all work for the good of the country.”

The collaboration between the State and religions for the country’s development is also reflected in the archbishop’s personal involvement. “I was appointed presidential adviser for minority rights and religious harmony. Thanks to the work of governmental inter-ethnic and inter-religious bodies, there are frequent occasions for discussion and talks among all groups in Singapore’s cosmopolitan society. Our ability to live together peacefully, especially among different religions, is truly a miracle.

“Among the various initiatives, religious groups have set up a non-governmental organisation, the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), which provides a significant place for sharing different experiences of faith, this thanks to the important help from the government. All this makes Singapore a truly unique reality, where every religious problem is dealt with directly among religious leaders, even with a phone call. This is the beauty of our country, there are no conflicts,” the archbishop said.

“All religions are on the same level and do not exercise any political power. Instead, all the countries that surround Singapore have a dominant religion, favoured by their governments. When this happens, the tendency to discriminate against others is strong. Unlike what happens in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, religions in Singapore do not have political power and do not seek it. For this reason, dialogue is easier and the common goal is the good of the country.

“Whenever foreign delegations visit Singapore, they make sure to meet local religious leaders. Recently, even Prince Charles of England visited the country and held talks with leaders on how to promote religious harmony. In Singapore we try to be a model, but ultimately the problem of many countries is the mutual exploitation of religion and politics. This is why I believe that elsewhere our system may not be effective, ” Abp Goh noted.

The day before the interview, Abp Goh met Pope Francis along the bishops of Malaysia and Brunei. The archbishop said that these countries are very different from one another. For this reason, during the audience with the pontiff, the presentation of each took a long time. “As a result, there was little time for questions and observations,” the archbishop explained.

Still, “We managed to have a very meaningful talk,” Abp Goh said. “’Ask me all the questions you want, any! Even if you do not like the pope, you can tell me,” Pope Francis told us with the humility that is his trademark. He was present like a father and as such he listened to us.

“For my part, I asked him two questions that are close to my heart. First, I explained my curiosity about the efficiency of a structure organised around small dicasteries in the context of a universal institution to which billions of people belong. After, I asked for clarifications on the theme of communion for the divorced included in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s second apostolic exhortation.

“Many in the Church have doubts and are uncertain. Such confusion and division also frighten me, but the Holy Father told me: ‘Chapter VIII cannot be decontextualised. It is only the end of the exhortation. Chapter IV is more important, where its principles are explained. For Pope Francis, the question cannot be reduced to whether divorced people can receive communion or not?’ Rather, the question is: ‘How can we reach them, [and] assist them from a spiritual point of view?’ Unfortunately, sometimes there are different approaches between academics and those involved in grassroots pastoral outreach. Pope Francis belongs to the latter group.” – Paolo Fossati, AsiaNews

Faithful have “spiritual right” to receive the treasure of God’s Word

Pope Francis at the General Audience, 14 Feb 2018. (Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass in his reflections at the General Audience on 14 February 2018.

“If the soul is always joyful, it is a good day.” The weather was “a little ugly,” as Pope Francis said Wednesday, but the Holy Father found a way to brighten everyone’s spirit at the weekly General Audience in St Peter’s Square.

The Pope began his audience with a small group of sick people gathered in the Paul VI Hall. He then ventured out into the wind and rain, where he delivered his catechesis to a small crowd of pilgrims who braved the inclement Roman winter weather.

The teaching at Wednesday’s General Audience was focused once again on the Mass, as Pope Francis reflected on the end of the Liturgy of the Word. Hearing the Word of God, with the explanation in the homily that follows, is a right, “the spiritual right of the people of God to receive the treasure of the Word of God in abundance.” Everyone who goes to Mass, the Pope said, “has the right to receive abundantly the Word of God, read well, proclaimed well, and then explained well in the homily. It’s a right!”

After the homily, the Pope spoke about the moment of silence, which gives people time to reflect on what they have heard.

Pope Francis then spoke about the communal recitation of the Creed at the Mass, which “manifests the common response to what was heard by the community in the Word of God. He emphasised the “vital connection” between hearing and faith, recalling the words of Saint Paul, that “faith comes from hearing.” Faith then leads to the Sacrament, so that the Creed becomes a link between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

After the Creed, the Mass continues with the Prayer of the Faithful, or the Universal Prayer – so called, the Pope said, because it embraces all of the needs of the Church and of the world. The Prayer of the Faithful, he said, echoing the General Instruction of the Missal, is an exercise of their baptismal priesthood by the People of God.

Reflecting on the words of Jesus – “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” – Pope Francis said we don’t believe this, “because we have little faith.” He encouraged us to have great faith when we pray together during the Mass.

“The intention for which the faithful are invited to pray should give voice to the concrete needs of the ecclesial community and of the world, avoiding having recourse to conventional and short-sighted formulas,” he said. “The Universal Prayer, which concludes the Liturgy of the Word, exhorts us to make our own the loving gaze of God, who cares for all His children.” – Christopher Wells, Vatican News

Overflowing crowds seen at Ash Wednesday Masses

Overflowing crowd at the noon Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Karamunsing queuing up to receive the ashes on their foreheads, 14 Feb 2018.

KOTA KINABALU – As in years past, overflowing crowds were seen at Ash Wednesday Masses on 14 Feb 2018 in churches across Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent.  Its name is derived from the custom of signing the foreheads of the faithful with blessed ashes. Its date depends on the date of Easter. In the early Church, public penitents were liturgically admitted to begin their penance on this day. And when this fell into disuse, from the eighth to the tenth centuries, the general penance of the whole community took place. This was symbolised by the imposition of ashes on the heads of the clergy and laity alike.

There were three Masses at the Sacred Heart Cathedral Karamunsing and two at the sub-parish of the Church of Mary Immaculate Bukit Padang.

Likas parish organises bazaar in aid of CC building fund

Overview of the crowd inside the hall, St Simon Likas, 4 Feb 2018.

KOTA KINABALU: Some 4,000 people thronged the St Simon Catholic Church Likas “Bazaar and Food Fair,”  the first activity organised to raise funds for the building of the new Catholic Centre.

The main purpose of the bazaar, which was held on 4 Feb 2018, was not so much to raise funds as such, but to publicise the need to raise funds for the Catholic Centre and to strengthen the spirit of solidarity without which the various fund-raising activities to follow would not be a united effort.

The organising committee of the bazaar, led by Irene Liew, saw 42 stalls selling an assortment of goodies from homemade food and drinks to games booth as well as karaoke and dedications.

The charity event was the parish’s second community bazaar effort. The first one was organised in 2012 to raise funds for its chapel.

The fair, which started at 10 am after the Morning Mass and a lion dance performance in conjunction with the  Lunar New Year, exceeded its original target.

Later, the gala continued with a special performance by Sabah’s very own ‘Elvis Presley’ aka Chris Gomes. His energetic performance mimicking the “king” himself entertained the crowds.

Inside the hall, stalls offering delectable homecooked meals, from the familiar ‘nasi campur’ to laksa and porridge, pickles and sambals, curry dishes and delicious veggie platters received generous support from parishioners and visitors.

Just outside the pastor’s office, a health booth was also set up for medical screening. Visitors were able to have their BMI as well as blood pressure checked.

The highlight of the fun-day was a special performance by Fr Cosmas who belted out his own rendition of a Chinese number in a capella and the crowd went ecstatic.

The biggest sell on that day was a brand new refrigerator that was sold at RM1,000. – St Simon Soccom

Penang bishop says Pope Francis is ‘what the Holy Spirit is saying today’

ROME – At a time when Pope Francis is under fire on multiple fronts, a Malaysian bishop says he and his fellow prelates came to Rome this week [4-9 Feb 2018] in part to affirm “that we’re happy with the direction he’s taking for the universal Church.”

Bishop Sebastian Francis of Penang, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, acknowledged that his group in Rome this week for their ad limina visit, which bishops are required to make every five years to the Vatican and the pope, knew that not everyone shares their sense of enthusiasm, but said that’s not the primary reason they wanted to express gratitude to Francis.

“It’s a genuine conviction that this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, full stop!” he said.

Francis (the bishop, not the pope) also expressed gratitude for a recent supreme court ruling in Malaysia, a majority Muslim nation, requiring both parents of a child to agree in order to register a “conversion” of a child from one religion to another.

“It seems to go along with the federal constitution, which is a secular constitution and it’s supposed to be the paramount constitution of the country. We cannot be running a country with two constitutions side-by-side,” he said, referring to shariah, or Islamic law.

The late January ruling arose from an appeal brought by M Indira Gandhi after her ex-husband, a Muslim, unilaterally declared their three children Muslims following his own conversion, with a shariah court shortly afterwards awarding him custody of the children. Two of those children remained with Gandhi anyway, but the 11-month-old child was abducted by the father and has not been seen since.

Francis spoke to Crux on Feb 9, from a residence on the northern outskirts of Rome where he’s staying during the ad limina visit.

On the status of Christians in Malaysia, Francis stressed he does not feel like a “minority.”

“In our case, the so-called ‘minority’ is not insignificant,” he said. “When you lump together all the people of other faiths apart from Islam, it’s quite a big majority. You’re talking about 35 percent or so of the population.”

“I see the word ‘minority’ being used in the official media and even among my own kind,” Francis said, [but] I don’t feel that way. If we were five percent of the population, I could see using the word ‘minority,’ but we’re not.”

Still, the fact that some Christians in Malaysia do feel like second class citizens was clear from Crux’s conversation, which was also joined by Sister Margarete Sta Maria, the executive secretary of the bishops’ conference.

“I think many Christians do [feel that way], many,” she said. “All non-Muslims do, because all the privileges are given to Muslims … jobs, education, are given to them under the quota system in which they have the majority.”

Sister Margarete said that while there’s no outright religious persecution, there’s a form which is “very subtle.”

“Take religious freedom – we can worship, but I can’t speak to a Muslim about Jesus,” she said. “You cannot bring up the subject. It’s an unspoken rule.”

(By the way, she also said Pope Francis was delighted when she accompanied the bishops on their ad limina meeting: “The pope was very happy …he said that it was the first time in the five years of his pontificate that he saw a woman as the secretary of the conference!”)

The following are excerpts from the Crux interview.

Crux: Is this your first ad limina visit with Pope Francis?

Francis: For me it’s the first, yes. He has changed the culture a little bit, so there’s more listening. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t say what he has to say, but whatever he says is after listening to us. The word “listening,” the word “discernment,” is quite profound in his replies. It’s not just the usual rhetoric. When he needs to make a point, about several issues, it’s quite clear and he doesn’t need to use too many words.

What sort of issues came up?

We meet so many dicasteries [Vatican departments] before we meet him, so at the end of the day, whatever we are sharing at the level of the dicasteries and the prefects [department heads], we have discussed quite a bit with the other guys of the political situation and other issues, especially with the Secretary of State and [Archbishop Paul] Gallagher [Secretary for Relations with States].

By the time you reach the pope, you’ve kind of said it all. The conversations with him are more on the direction of the church itself vis-à-vis the world. Also, it’s about the kind of direction and momentum the Church needs to have within itself in order to be a credible witness to the world. That was my general feeling by the time we reached Francis, it was trying to get a sense of direction.

We wanted to show our appreciation for the direction he is giving the Church, and also discussing some little difficult issues here and there … with regards to Amoris Laetitia, for example, but it was very open and a very clear orientation.

How did the discussion go on Amoris Laetitia?

To begin with, we can’t just talk about one particular chapter, which is chapter eight, which was a little bit of a brouhaha for some people. [The reference is to the chapter of Amoris titled “Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness,” which, among other points, treated Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the Church.] The point is, he said you must be fair and look at the whole picture, and not just zero in on some particular issues.

I think he was right in saying that you’ve got to get the spirit [of the document] as a whole, and not just a problematic thing that relates to ritual, or sacraments, or things like that.

What did you tell the pope in general about the direction of the Church?

Many of us affirmed to Pope Francis that we’re happy with the direction he’s taking for the universal Church, and we feel that we are in solidarity with him. Our churches are feeling encouraged by it, because we have taken the same direction as he has, I think.

Did you want to do that because you know there are some who aren’t encouraged by Pope Francis?

Yes, but it’s more than that. It’s a genuine conviction that this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, full stop!

You mentioned things at a national level [in Malaysia], for instance a recent court decision that both parents’ consent is necessary for a religious conversion of a child to be valid. Did you discuss this, and what’s your take?

I think the decision was a good decision. It seems to go along with the federal constitution, which is a secular constitution and it’s supposed to be the paramount constitution of the country. We cannot be running a country with two constitutions side-by-side. Although there is shariah, there is an Islamic dimension to it all, but strictly speaking that applies to Muslims and not to others.

I also think that woman, Indira Gandhi, was very courageous. Considering the situation in Malaysia, she showed a great amount of wisdom and courage. She said something I thought was very encouraging for all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims.

Right now, by law, she has the right to see the daughter, and the daughter has to listen to her. But she said she’ll listen to the daughter, and if the daughter wishes to continue to be a Muslim and to practise the Islamic religion, she’ll encourage it. That’s tremendous, coming from her.

I thought that was a very, very wise mother and Hindu woman, showing a great amount of not just courage but wisdom too. She’s not just trying to take advantage of the court decision, but trying to think about what’s best for her daughter.

Has the ruling had any repercussions in the Christian community?

We actually work very closely with the leadership of all the major religions. We meet very often, and an issue like this has been discussed not only in the Hindu community but among a wide range of religious leadership that includes Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs and Taoists. We are very strong … it’s a nationally registered body, so when we speak, we don’t speak just as Christians, we speak as one. Of course, the Muslims are not there, for reasons known to them, but we speak with one voice and we take a stand together.

In this case, it’s not just a Hindu issue. It’s equally also our concern and our issue.

Are you looking forward to the March 22 decision on the use of ‘Allah’ in Christian Bibles?

As far as the Catholic case is concerned, it went up to the Supreme Court, what we called the ‘Federal Court,’ and it can’t go any higher. The case is settled, it’s over, it’s finished. The decision is very clear … the non-usage of that term, or that word, is only for one publication, full stop. It’s the Catholic Herald [a publication of three dioceses on peninsular Malaysia] … there you cannot use that word, but it does not apply to any other situation of the usage of that word, in worship, in catechetics, in formation, in community life …

Is it in your Bible right now in the Malaysian language?

It’s in the Bible.

Do you use it in Sunday Mass?

Yes, but internally. We don’t use it outside of our churches. It’s a kind of discretion, but none of us have stopped using the word. I think they [Muslims] understand that too.

The new cases you’re talking about aren’t directly linked to this. They’re new cases coming, interestingly, from east Malaysia, Borneo and Sabah/Sarawak, and there was a particular ruling of the court that in some ways does not apply [to other situations]. The cases come from Evangelical churches.

You’re a minority in Malaysia. How does that work out?

Often they use the word ‘minority’ in relation to non-Muslims in the country. But in our case, the so-called ‘minority’ is not insignificant. When you lump together all the people of other faiths apart from Islam, it’s quite a big majority. You’re talking about 35 percent or so of the population. The word ‘minority’ is used for Taoists, or Buddhists, or Christians, or Sikhs, or whatever, but all together, it’s significant.

Do you personally think of yourself as a minority?

I don’t feel that way. Though I see the word ‘minority’ being used in the official media and even among my own kind, I don’t feel that way. If we were five percent of the population, I could see using the word ‘minority,’ but we’re not. We are about 35 percent, the whole lot put together.

As the government keeps telling us, ‘Look around you, there’s so much religious expression’ beyond the Muslim world.

Do you agree with that?

At least externally, it looks like that. There are many temples, many you name it … Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, as well as churches. We can build churches – there’s a bit of a struggle to get the permits and permissions, but it goes through at some point with a little bit of patience and endurance. Officially, many use the word ‘minority,’ but I don’t feel we’re a minority.

To speak for peninsular Malaysia, we have the sense that we’re a very inclusive church. We pray not just for ourselves and our own rights and privileges, but for all. That comes up quite evidently in our daily prayer, and in how we relate to God and God’s people.

Do you feel the Muslim community is also inclusive?

I think they’re struggling with that. There are pockets who reach out to us, and we reach out to them. Of course, for them politics and religion are all intertwined and interrelated, so it’s kind of a scale about how you feel about it. On national issues, we have to relate to them and they have to relate with us. We meet each other from time to time. I don’t feel isolated from them, or them from me.

Now, there’s a two-party system in Malaysia, and in a way that makes it all more open because they have to compete as well. There’s more participation among the people in terms of politics and the direction the country should take. There is more participation from the grassroots. People are more aware of their need to engage in the politics of the nation.

If there were a free and fair election without any constitutional prohibition, could a Christian be elected president? Would the ordinary Muslim be open to that?

Probably not, because the rights of a particular religion are enshrined, and the others just seem to accept it as a way of life.

Do you feel like second class citizens?

Francis: Maybe many do, but I don’t.

Sister Margarete: I think many Christians do, many. All non-Muslims do, because all the privileges are given to Muslims … jobs, education, are given to them under the quota system in which they have the majority.

Francis: Theoretically, those so-called privileges are given to the ‘sons and daughters of the soil.’ As far as that definition is concerned, if you want to be legal about it, it also refers to those who are Christians.

But does it actually work that way?

Sister Margarete: No.

Your perception is that the deck is stacked?

Sister Margarete: Yes. So many non-Muslims, those who can afford it, they leave the country for education and so on. Many don’t come back. Many go to Australia … they used to go to the UK but Australia is closer. But in general, you wouldn’t say that Malaysians are suffering, because economically we’re better off than some neighbouring countries.

The Church doesn’t suffer outright persecution?

Sister Margarete: It’s very subtle. Take religious freedom – we can worship, but I can’t speak to a Muslim about Jesus. You cannot bring up the subject. It’s an unspoken rule.

Francis: We had a peninsular Malaysia pastoral convention for our churches, and we took a resolution that our churches for the next ten years were going to be creative, inclusive, and bridge-building. When that gets into your system, those three words, it doesn’t matter how other people think or feel, whoever is creating more divisions. We as church are thinking and feeling and praying that way, and therefore I feel less threatened. – John Allen/Claire Giangrave/Crux

Initial priestly formation to focus on building strong prayer foundation

The aspirants and seminarians pose with the concelebrants after the opening Mass for the Academic Calendar, 12 Feb 2018, St Peter’s College Kota Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU – The focus in the initial priestly formation is to build a strong prayer foundation for the 26 young men who were accepted into both Aspirancy and Initiation Year (IY) this year.

This was highlighted in the homily of Archbishop John Wong at the opening Mass – that they are to be men of prayer who have a close relationship with the Lord and be able to discern the will of the Lord for their lives.

It was also given emphasis by new IY Director Father Mattheus Luta in his welcome address at the reception after the Mass.  He said that the Initiation Year is Spirituality Year – the time when the seminarians learn the foundations of prayer and have a living relationship with the Lord.  After his address he introduced the seminarians.

In his turn, recently appointed Aspirants Director Father Joshua Liew expressed his desire that the aspirants would learn more than just the English language – that they would have a faith strong enough to see them through even if they do not become priests in the process.  He then introduced the aspirants after his speech.

In a brief address, Abp Wong thanked the people for their presence and said he count on them to provide not just material help to the formands but also spiritually through their prayers and guidance.

The opening of the Academic Calendar was held at St Peter’s College Kota Kinabalu on 12 Feb 2018.

Joining Abp Wong at the altar were Abp Emeritus John Lee, Fr Luta, Fr Liew, Father Wilfred Atin (immediate past Aspirant Director), Father Max Hontor, and Father Paul Lo.  Father Cosmas Lee came later to join in the fellowship.

Among those present at the event were the teaching staff of the different years, benefactors, members of religious and secular institutes, members of the Catholic Women’s League, and friends.

After the Mass, all adjourned to the square for a fellowship meal where after the speeches, there was a cake-cutting ceremony by the clergy.  While eating, the guests were entertained by the formands with a medley of spiritual songs.

The IY seminarians are: Brywinedren Godon (Beaufort), 27; Jonathan Seah Kang Wai (Sandakan), 23; Timothy Ivan Galisin (Keningau), 29; Gary Aquinas ak Boniface (Kanowit), 24; Addie Frank ak Lingge (Serian), 33; Bonnyface Stephen (Bundu Tuhan), 25; Razali Ikat (Papar), 34; Jescie Petrus Petu (Sandakan), 23; Maxwell Verus (Inanam), 26; Jeremia Duminggu (KK), 24; and Adrian Linus Lojikip (Penampang), 28.

The aspirants are: Corllin Sumail (Terawi), 21; Dasmond Kong (Terawi), 26; Elvis Evisdateh (Kiulu), 23; Evanz Alicius Petrus (Ranau), 21; Heldy Amin (Kiulu), 30; Joehbeey Majimin (KK), 30; Rosterlexson Solaiman (Bundu Tuhan), 28; Stanley Kurumbong (Penampang), 28; Stephen Johnny (Dontozidon), 33; Walter Pukin (Ranau), 26; Brad Brandon Bridge (Kuala Penyu), 28; Constantine Olot (Tambunan), 35; Ryennadem Vitalis (Telupid), 22; Stephen Suhaili (Dalat), 34; and Joseph Lee (Sibu), 42.

Meanwhile six seminarians – Nelbart Peter (Sook), 23; Dannie Luis ak Romanus (Lundu Sarawak), 27,  Francis Pius (Keningau), 23; Yoseph Jup Matthias (Manggatal), 22; Scany Polycarp (Kota Marudu), 25; and Ricki Boy Hasim (Telupid), 25 – will leave for Penang College General for their philosophical studies on Feb 21.

Pope Francis registers for World Youth Day 2019 in Panama

VATICAN CITY – After delivering his weekly Sunday catechesis and praying the Angelus with the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square on 11 Feb 2018, Pope Francis declared “Registration opens today for World Youth Day, which will take place in Panama in January 2019. Right now, along with two young people, I too will register on the internet.”

Then with the help of two people on either side, Pope Francis registered himself. “There.” He said, “I am now enrolled as a pilgrim to World Youth Day. I invite all young people around the world to live this event of grace and fraternity with faith and enthusiasm, either by going to Panama or by participating in their communities,” the Pope said.

World Youth Day will take place in Panama from 22-27 January 2019. Pilgrims can now register online here, just like the Pope did!

Pope Francis then sent cordial greetings to the “millions of men and women who will celebrate the Lunar New Year” on 15 February. He hopes that they “will live ever more in solidarity, fraternity, desiring to do good, to help create a society in which every person is welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated.” And he invited them to pray for peace.

The Pope then greeted families, parishes, and groups from Italy, Spain, and Portugal. He greeted in a particular way the Congolese community from Rome present in the Square. “I join in its prayer for peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he said, and reminded everyone that “this intention will be particularly present on the Day of Prayer and Fasting that I have called for February 23.”

After greeting newly confirmed young people from Italy, the Pope concluded addressing the sick. Invoking Our Lady Help of the Sick he prayed that they might “find comfort in body and spirit, thanks to adequate health care and the fraternal charity that knows how to give concrete and supportive attention to those in need.” – Bernadette Mary Reis fsp, Vatican News

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