A role to play, a task to fulfil

A dream fulfilled is how Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez described the launching of HERALD, which has a role to play in the life of the Church and in society and a task to fulfil — to bring the Good News to the people. In this 1994 interview, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur discusses the challenges facing the Church and the role of the faithful in nation-building.

Sep 11, 2019

As the first publisher of HERALD, how do you see its role in the Church and in society?
It has long been my desire to have a Catholic newspaper giving the correct views and not biases, reading the signs of the times and expressing truthful public opinions, besides having up-to-date news of the Church and of the world.

Here, it is not just a question of information but also an interpretation of the news; to put it in perspective and in relation with the world.

At the same time, we also want to listen to what others have to say. So, HERALD fulfils a great need and, personally, 10 years was a long time to wait.

What are some of the issues that are of concern to the Church?

The Church is pleading with world leaders to value life and not to view humanity, in the words of the Holy Father, as a “society of things”. The campaign waged by the Vatican against the draft document has given the moral dimension its rightful place in the discussion, which would otherwise have been dominated by political, economic, medical and ecological considerations, which are, in themselves, important too.

Sure, the Church recognises that there is a population problem, but the whole thrust of the draft seemed to down play development, giving the impression that over-population is the main cause of poverty and other ills facing many Third World countries. This is far from the truth. Questions such as social justice, political stability, corruption, overexploitation and misuse of the planet’s natural resources, distribution of wealth in the world and within countries, unfair trading practices of the rich countries and poverty eradication were not given the importance they deserve.

Therefore, the State must do all it can to safeguard the family by promoting its harmonious growth, to quote from the Holy Father, “not only from the point of view of its social vitality but also from that of its moral and spiritual health”. We support the stand of our Prime Minister on issues such as safeguarding and strengthening the family. We are happy that the Government has rejected abortion as a method to control population growth.

In fact, the Church has taken a stand on many issues facing the country and the world.

We have also to be critical, without fear or favour, when things go wrong. The recent arrests of Filipino maids in the grounds of St John’s Cathedral (many of whom were documented), is a case in point. We wrote a letter to the Prime Minister expressing our deep concern over the incident, with a plea to the enforcement arm of the Government to pay heed to religious sensitivity. The Prime Minister’s response was indeed gratifying as was his directive to enforcement officers to be sensitive to religious issues which has instilled greater confidence in the people. In short, the Malaysian Church is involved in nationbuilding.

Can you elaborate on this issue of nation-building? The Church has to contribute to the attainment of Vision 2020, and this is nation-building. In fact, the Church has been involved in nation-building through its various programmes, all aimed at helping Catholics to be responsible and loyal citizens by strengthening their faith.

We are promoting good moral values among the faithful, paying particular attention to the family and the youth. We want to cultivate a sense of belonging to the nation. The teachings of the Church on important issues such as development, the family, social concern and education are part of this process of strengthening family life. If we get the right information across, it will help in our formation. We will be a renewed people for the service of the nation. Religion has an important role to play in nation-building, and the Catholic Church, together with the other religions, can contribute towards this process. We want to share what we have.

One of the excuses of Catholics is that they never knew about all this, for example, the teachings of the Church. It is my hope that HERALD will fill this information gap; so, the greater the knowledge the greater-the responsibility. It is a call to action, to take part in the life of the nation and be of service to the people.

What are some of the things that the Church is sharing?
Our family life programmes, for example, are aimed at helping Catholic parents and their children to cope with life’s challenges, to be able to live life to the fullest in the Lord. The Evenings for the Engaged help young couples to prepare for marriage. (Then there is the Affirmation, Growth and Enrichment which caters for those who have been married for less than five years.) Marriage Encounter and Dynamics of Family Life are other programmes for couples to enhance their relationship so that the foundation of family life is strengthened.

We have a fine tradition as far as our social outreach programmes are concerned. The Church cares for the poor, the aged, the sick and those in need of help. For example, the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor is well known. The Franciscan Sisters run hospitals, the Infant Jesus Sisters, the La Salle Brothers, Marist Brothers and other religious are in education, and the St Vincent de Paul Society provide a helping hand for the poor and the marginalised.

The Gabrielite Brothers and the Good Shepherd Sisters serve the youth in Montfort Boys’ Town and the Good Shepherd Home respectively.

All these programmes are our response to the urgent need for an integral development of the person and of societies. Let me quote from the Holy Father again: “It is very important not to weaken man, his sense of the sacrifices of life, his capacity for love and self-sacrifice.”

The Church is also concerned with the environment. The Church is present when the world celebrates environmental day, at international conferences and world forums. The Holy See is present in these important meetings. Recently, the Vatican delegate to Malaysia (who is based in Bangkok) took part in an international seminar on tourism in the country.

We also want to promote greater interreligious dialogue with other religions such as Islam. We have the AEID, the Archdiocesan Ecumenical Interreligious Department, which has opened a new beginning in dialogue with Muslims. The Church is an active participant in the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. We are seeing some of the fruits of what the Church has been doing over the past 10 years.

What is the response of our youth to the Church?
It is important to help motivate and encourage them. On my pastoral visits, I always ask for a dialogue session with the youth; to listen to them, to find out their needs and aspirations. I am encouraged by some of the programmes for the youth, but a lot more needs to be done as they face many pressures in society, especially the pervasive nature and influence of the media on their everyday life. This is a constant challenge for them as well as their parents.

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