Bishop Emeritus Selvanayagam celebrates 50 years as a priest

Rt Rev Dato’ Bishop Emeritus Antony Selvanayagam presided over a multi-lingual thanksgiving Mass to celebrate his sacerdotal golden jubilee at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on December 20.

Jan 10, 2020

By Lucille Dass
Rt Rev Dato’ Bishop Emeritus Antony Selvanayagam presided over a multi-lingual thanksgiving Mass to celebrate his sacerdotal golden jubilee at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on December 20. The Mass was concelebrated with a 30-strong assembly of clergy led by Cardinal Anthony Soter Fenandez, Archbishop Julian Leow, Bishop Bernard Paul and Archbishop Emeritus Murphy Pakiam. The congregation also included some members of the religious communities.

In his preamble, Bishop Selva expressed his deepest sentiment with the words, “Terima kasih Tuhan” for the fast-paced 50 years. He also pledged his ongoing faithfulness “in the time frame given to me.” The readings for the occasion were fittingly chosen by him: Micah 6:6-8, in Tamil; 2 Peter 5:1-4, in Mandarin; Lk 1: 46-56. Veteran priest and onetime fellow seminarian, Fr Francis Anthony (Fr FA) proclaimed the Gospel and delivered a homily recounting amusing anecdotes of a personal nature which he cleverly used as a story loop to track and tie up memorable events in the Bishop’s life through the focal points of the scriptural readings.

We learned from Fr FA that the good Bishop was a man of “steel” on the football field and equally steely in his strict adherence to all seminary rules and regulations. Lib eration theology for him was, and remains, a major concern, especially the liberation of people from down trodden life situations. Mary’s Song of Praise, “For the Almighty has done great things for me … is especially applicable to the Bishop’s priesthood and his ministry to the poor, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things, mindful of His mercy… has been his ministry as a priest,” stated Fr FA. “He has fulfilled what God requires of him according to the 1st reading, ‘To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ The 2nd reading aptly describes him as a fellow elder speaking to his brother priests on how to be shepherds of God’s flock,” Fr FA elucidated. He also revealed that though the Bishop  may not have been a great organiser, he definitely knew how to get organisations going “by pressing all the right buttons,” referring in particular to the POHD.

Three post-Mass speeches of appreciation followed. Sebastian Pillai, chairperson of the celebration organising committee thanked God, and the committee, for providing all that was required to make the event a success. “Without the Word of God we can do nothing. This is what Bishop Selva is known for. He surrenders all to Jesus because ignoring the Word of God is to ignore Jesus” he said, recalling St Jerome’s quote on scripture. He then extended an open invitation to all to the fellowship meal after Mass.

Next, Bishop Bernard Paul con gratulated the jubilarian on behalf of Bishop Sebastian Francis who was away at an event in conjunction with the Yang di-Pertuan Agung’s visit to Penang. “We have a God of faithfulness, so we can be faithful. Having experienced this faithfulness, we can achieve everything,” he conveyed, and concluded by invoking God’s blessings and ongoing presence to be upon, and with, the Bishop and all present. The jubilarian was then presented with the Papal Blessing Parchment.

In his speech, Bishop Selva thanked God and everyone. He cleared the misconception that he was Sri Lankan born. He recalled his journey towards the priesthood and the vital role played by the late (then) Bishop Vendargon whose  Silver Jubilee homily message “Go and sell everything and follow me” prompted his stirring start. He enumerated events marking his priestly journey with his focus on the formation for all Catholics to live meaningfully by the Word of God. He announced that many bishops and priests felt “disturbed” by Pope Francis because they sensed that the status quo of their comfort zones was being attacked. “A bishop should be a man of prayer, close to God and fatherly to his priests. No priest should ever say, ‘I have no father!’ And all priests should be near and open to one another and their flock.” He then launched the digital souvenir magazine marking the occasion. All present received a souvenir prayer card each.

At the fellowship dinner and inhouse entertainment, the Bishop sportingly sang his all-time favourite Tamil song, Dingiri Dingale which he had also sung at his ordination on Dec 20, 1969! When asked how he felt as a jubilarian, “Fulfilled,” he said. “It is not right that a priest be only close to his people; he should also be close to his fellow priests.” The momentous occasion was attended by his younger sister, Rosemani, niece Antoinette Nirmala and her children, all from London, and another niece and family from Sri Lanka.

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