East and West Malaysia encouraged to work together

One theme that became a centrepiece of discussions at the Malaysian Catholic Clergy Assembly, and one that has become more and more in focus even within the Conference, is the phenomenon of the movement of our Catholic people from Sarawak and Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia.

Jan 18, 2019

“One theme that became a centrepiece of discussions at the Malaysian Catholic Clergy Assembly, and one that has become more and more in focus even within the Conference, is the phenomenon of the movement of our Catholic people from Sarawak and Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia” said Archbishop Joseph Marino, the Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia in his opening talk to the Bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei during their meeting from Jan 7-11, 2019 at Majodi, Johor Bahru.

Once again, you gather as members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, in order to reflect upon and evaluate pastoral plans for the Churches under your care. The role of the Conference is essential, because, in this fraternal atmosphere, you are able to share your challenges and also your aspirations in order to promote the spread of the Gospel. You have been entrusted by the Church to assure that the pastoral needs of the people are met, and that ministry is the very centre of your life as Bishops.

Needless to say, the pastoral needs of the people are varied and, at times, their priorities can differ from one diocese to another. We can speak of spiritual needs, liturgical needs, catechetical needs, and so forth. Then there is the need to go outside of ourselves and enter into the public square to evangelise and plant the seeds of the Gospel — to live the Gospel — in a variety of ways and possibilities.

At this particular time in the history of your country, we heard the question raised at the Malaysia Catholic Clergy Assembly (MCCA) of last July 2018: “Is the Church in Malaysia prepared to make our contribution to the country in this new moment in our history?” In answering this important question, the starting point, as a community of faith, is always pastoral, that is, within the context of the pastoral work of the Church, namely the apostolate in all its varied dimensions with the goal of meeting the needs of the people in the entirety of the human person.

Today, I would like to reflect with you about two areas of ministry where this can take place. The first is the whole question of the mobility of your people from one part of the country to another and, in particular, the movement of Catholics from Sarawak and Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia. The second is the matter of education, and particularly mission schools, as they are called here.

People on the move
One theme that became a centrepiece of discussions at the Clergy Assembly and one that has become, more and more in focus even within the Conference, is the phenomenon of the movement of our Catholic people from Sarawak and Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia. I can recall very well one of my visits to the villages in the diocese of Miri a few years ago. During a lunch, which I was having with the laity, I asked what was their primary concern. They answered that their main concern was when their children go to Peninsular Malaysia where, so often, they lose their faith, converting to other Christian denominations and even other religions.

Their comments gave me on one hand a feeling of recognition of the deep faith of your people, and on the other hand, their anxiety that their children could abandon that which they had been given and considered so precious. It gave me a sense, also, of their sadness and preoccupation because they seemed helpless in protecting their children, aware that it was so possible that their children could become something different in terms of their relation to God.

I am quite aware that this issue has been a question of discussion and concern for you as pastors who, as shepherds, must also protect the sheep within your jurisdictions, and in this context those who come to Peninsular Malaysia need protection through intense, targeted and explicit pastoral programmes. In fact, as one of the themes of the recent MCCA, this matter was openly and frankly discussed, and for that, the priests and you are to be complimented.

It is evident that, in this movement of Catholics, we are dealing with the encounter of two different cultures. On one hand, the Church in Peninsular Malaysia can be defined, generally, as an urban culture, whose people, in the cities, are (and again I am speaking generally) professionals. Urbanism also entails a certain autonomy and independence within the mindset of people. Community, while valued, is less important for one’s success, if not survival.

On the other hand, those who come to Peninsular Malaysia may have had less educational formation and their experience of life is found in rural areas. There, the sense of community is high and provides essential support for life and for the religious experience. Then, of course, one cannot leave out the linguistic questions, which also define religious culture and worship.

Consequently, it should not surprise us at all that those coming to Peninsular with that cultural background can feel threatened and frightened. They may even have a type of inferiority complex, and, with the loss of community support, can become lost in the individualism of the city.

This is a description of the situation for which no one is at fault. It is not a question of lack of formation or lack of a deep faith, etc. It is simply a new surrounding in which they find themselves, that is, an encounter of two experiences of life and two different cultures.

In that context, the only response is a pastoral response, and for that, I am aware that the Churches in Peninsular Malaysia have put into practice pastoral programmes and even engaged pastoral workers to care for them. It requires of us much patience and understanding, much love and compassion. The heart of the priests and religious must be that of Christ who searched out the lost, the very last one, so that not one would be lost. Those words of the Lord resonate so deeply within this question, so that not one be lost.

Therefore, I wish to encourage that the dialogue which took place at the Clergy Assembly continue with intensity, especially among you, the bishops of Malaysia. I ask that this matter be the primary topic as you meet, exploring openly, and with frankness, every possibility to solidify the pastoral activities already underway in Sarawak and Sabah, as well as within the dioceses of the Metropolitan Province of Kuala Lumpur.

I know that often, there is that desire to integrate those who move to this side immediately. I would suggest that perhaps we may be asking too much too soon. Integration will naturally take place over time, especially realising that those who come, especially the first generation born here, will most likely never return. This generation will naturally adopt the mentality, languages and way of life of the Peninsular. It is those who come first who must not be lost, and that is your responsibility as Bishops. There is another area of the relationship between Peninsular Malaysia and the areas of Sarawak and Sabah. We are all aware of the many particular challenges that the Church in Sarawak and Sabah are facing. There the numbers and percentages of Catholics are much higher than this side of Malaysia and yet, you are aware that such demographics can easily change for a variety of reasons. Consequently, it is incumbent upon the Bishops of Sarawak and Sabah that they continue in their pastoral approach in dealing with this matter. Of ten times, an adequate pastoral approach requires financial commitments and in that regard, I would like to encourage the Bishops of Peninsular Malaysia to do all that is reasonably possible in assisting your brothers financially.

Continuing on this last part, I would like to address a word to the Archbishop of Singapore, asking that the Archdiocese there, coordinate its missionary outreach in terms of financial assistance to the needs of the Churches in Sarawak and Sabah. It would be a concrete manifestation of your concern for the sister Churches inasmuch as you are all members of this one Bishops’ Conference.

Therefore, within the new reality of Malaysia, one way for the Church to express itself is to solidify the communion between the two realities of Church in a coordinated approach to meeting the ever emerging pastoral challenges.

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