Caring for those in the peripheries can also include animals

This concurs with Nova’s experience of the lack of emphasis on compassion towards animals in the catechesis that she has received and participated in over the years.

Aug 11, 2016

Dear Editor,
I read with trepidation and with hope, the letter of Nova J in the July 31, 2016 issue of the HERALD. Compassion for animals is human and relevant to every person, including Catholics.

I have been involved in the Confirmation ministry in my parish for a number of years and I do not recall having a session devoted to animal welfare – to look at the present situation, reflect on it in the light of the Word of God and to respond to bring the love of God to bear on the situation. This concurs with Nova’s experience of the lack of emphasis on compassion towards animals in the catechesis that she has received and participated in over the years.

My own story with animal welfare began almost fourteen years ago when four kittens were born outside my house and came looking for food two months later. I had to learn from scratch how to care for them. I befriended a lady who rescues dogs and cats and uses her own home as a shelter. Her commitment to provide foster care for the scores of dogs and cats which she hopes to eventually rehome is truly remarkable.

During the last couple of years, many NGOs were formed to provide shelter and care for animals which, through no fault of their own, are forced to roam the streets to survive. The media has been publishing articles and letters on these issues. The government has also recently gazetted the Animal Welfare Act 2015 which will be enforced next year. The penalty for animal abuse is a fine of between RM20,000 and RM100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years. “The Act will not only be used to punish perpetrators but also to instill awareness of observing good animal welfare in our society.” (THE STAR, August 2, 2016, page 33).

Nova’s concern indicates the beginnings of the conversation on animal welfare issues in the local Catholic community. We have begun talking about it in our BEC gatherings and chat group. We found out that our Catholic Church teaches us on caring for living things. YouCat #57 states: “Man should honour the Creator in other creatures and treat them carefully and responsibly. Man, animals, and plants have the same Creator who called them into being out of love. Therefore, a love of animals is profoundly human.” There is a section on the “Respect for the Integrity of Creation” in the CCC (2415-2418).

Our conversation in the BEC will grow and, I believe, that of the local Church too, at all levels of family, community and parish. Parents, as primary faith educators, should talk about these issues at home and the Sunday School catechists when they meet children and young people under their care. Priests should bring them up in their homilies.

There is the notion that we have to care for poor and disadvantaged persons first before you care for the strays. I believe both outreach efforts can occur in tandem effectively if enough people of goodwill of all faiths respond to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in their hearts; you go where your heart leads you. However, responsible pet ownership and compassion for strays are not the concern of “animal lovers” alone, but everyone. The least we could do is to help increase the level of awareness and support efforts in resolving this apparently intractable problem.

It is alarming that there are people who think that it is alright to abuse stray animals; it is not a sin since it is not mentioned in the Bible. If the Bible is read against the backdrop of Love, then it is a sin to bring about grievous suffering to living things which can feel pain. The books of the Bible were the inspired writings of persons at least two thousand years ago. Their cultural settings were different from what we have today. I do not think the Bible is meant for us to look for a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” with regards to the pressing concerns of everyday life. The Word of God in the Bible is meant to guide us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Our Catholic Church has also provided us with abundant resources; they include the traditions, documents of Vatican II Council, the CCC, the YouCat, the Apostolic Exhortations and Encyclicals of our Popes. It is for us to help one another to study and reflect on the guidelines provided and to apply them to our daily lives.

It is perhaps the recent encyclical of our Holy Father Pope Francis, the Laudato Si, that inspired some of us to speak up for defenceless animals under our stewardship. In this encyclical, he calls for the protection of our common home, our Mother Earth. He takes inspiration from St Francis of Assisi who experienced a deep bond with all living things: “He communed with all creation, even preaching to flowers, inviting them ‘to praise the Lord just as if they were endowed with reason’… to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt the call to care for all that exists.” The conversation has begun and there is hope.

Alice Tan
Petaling Jaya

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