Bishop Paul Tan: Permanent deacons have been a ‘real help’

First, let me speak of “vibrant practice of the faith.” As things stand at present, there is no parish in the diocese which can be called an ideal parish or exemplary parish or model parish. Our parishes are, for the most part, very ordinary. It varies from parish to parish.

May 02, 2014

You have led the diocese for the past 10 of the 40 years of its existence. What are its priority needs and what are you doing to provide for them?
i) Vibrant practice of faith
ii) Formation of the clergy
iii) Formation of the laity

First, let me speak of “vibrant practice of the faith.” As things stand at present, there is no parish in the diocese which can be called an ideal parish or exemplary parish or model parish. Our parishes are, for the most part, very ordinary. It varies from parish to parish. Some are more active than others; others are struggling; still others are very alive that can stimulate the faith of our people. In some Churches, the Sunday liturgy is not well planned but in others it is well executed. A few friends of mine who came from Europe were very impressed by the good parishes’ liturgy and the participation of the people. But of course, one cannot compare the European Church with that of Malaysia. The previous is old and rather stale; the latter is young and has not suffered the consequences of secularization. Before, throughout many years, it was always a handful of people who ran the show. After we laid down the rule that a person can only hold position in the Church for a term of two years renewable only once, the parishes have improved in that with new blood after every two years, new ideas and changes have come in although not all changes are for the better. Having said this, I can honestly say that the Church in the Diocese has still to undergo a lot of changes for me to say that there is a vibrant practice of faith.

As for the formation of the clergy, every month in our clergy recollection, our permanent deacon, Rev. Dr. Sherman has organized an on-going formation in various forms: talks by specialists, discussions on different topics., etc. Has our clergy improved in knowledge and holiness? It is difficult to measure this. However, I can say there is a good number of them who have profited from this formation programme.

With regards to the formation of the laity, there is a galore of formation programmes. Rev. Dr. Sherman, as Head of our Pastoral Institute, has been labouring to streamline these programmes and is still trying to perfect them. Definitely, many of our lay Catholics know more of their faith. Have they grown in holiness? Only God knows. However, this is my hope and desire.

As Bishop for the past 10 years, what do you think were your achievements in the diocese of Melaka-Johor? Could you, please, mention three?
i) Systemization of the Pastoral Institute at Majodi Centre to train the laity biblically, catechetically, liturgically and doctrinally. ii) Formation and ordination of Permanent Deacons.
iii) Continuing Training for Clergy (doctrinally and pastorally) in every Monthly Clergy Recollection.

You have more permanent deacons in your diocese than the other dioceses in the country. How has this measure helped to cater to the needs of the faithful in your diocese?
i) Creation of the Permanent Diaconate in the diocese is in keeping with the mind of the Church. Vatican Council I encouraged the re-introduction of it; Vatican Council II ordered its reintroduction and Pope Paul VI reinstated it in 1970. Many Arch/dioceses in the world now have Permanent Deacons. We have 9 Permanent Deacons.
ii) Permanent Deacons are not servants of the priests. They are not even their helpers. They have their specific vocation. The Order of the priesthood consists of the Bishop who possesses the fullness of the priesthood which he shares with priests and Permanent Deacons. We all share in the one priesthood of Christ in different and specific ways.
iii) However in some or many cases, deacons have their own specific apostolate. That is to say they are in charge of a specific ministry in the Church. For example, Deacon Sherman is in charge of the Diocesan Pastoral Institute, which is the nerve centre of the diocese. Deacon Petrus is in charge of the Family Ministry. Deacon Adrian is in charge of training the youth, etc.
iv) The Permanent Deacons are called by the Bishop and priests when they need help. A concrete example: When I have to say Mass in the Tamil language, I will call on an Indian Deacon who can speak and read Tamil. He will read the parts that I cannot read, e.g., the prayers and the Gospel and preach in Tamil.
v) Permanent Deacons can do everything except hear confession and celebrate the Eucharist but they are not lower than priests in rank.
vi) They have been a real help because of (iv) and (v).

My term is coming to an end but if I were to continue, which I hope not, I would like to form and ordain Mandarin-speaking and Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Permanent Deacons.

Were there mistakes made, wrong courses of action taken which you now regret or at least think could have been done differently? Could you, please, mention one or two?
When we sit back and review, we always realize that, on hind-sight, things could have been done differently. I wish I had a better trained clergy; I wish I had a more vibrant and dynamic laity in the parishes of the diocese. But, we also realize that there is only so much we can do with whatever energy and goodwill we have at our disposal.

Were there reforms you wanted to implement which you did not or could not? Could you specify the reason or reasons?
When I became Bishop of this diocese, I wanted to make Melaka-Johor Diocese a Church filled with holy and learned Catholics. Learned in the sense of knowing well the teachings of the Church. At the end of the day, I can honestly say that I did my level best to make sure that I spared no efforts in making Melaka-Johor a good diocese. But as time goes on, reality sets in. You can do only so much. My own energy level was on the decline. At the same time, you don’t get 100% co-operation both from the clergy as well as from the laity in the implementation of your goals and ideals. But in reality, I am very happy with the co-operation that I get from my priests and laity. I cannot ask for more.

How do you see the diocese going in the next 10 years?
Given its track record, I have no doubt that the diocese will move forward in the right direction in its future journey. The bishop will have a tremendous responsibility in moving the diocese in the right direction. Because it is the bishop who sets the tone and takes the diocese in the direction it needs to go.

If you have to do your episcopate all over again, what would you do differently?
Knowing who I am and what I am, I don’t know whether I would do things differently than I did in the past 10 years. Basically, I would do the same things all over again. There would be, of course, minor changes here and there when we do the same things a second time. That is all what I would say.

No doubt you are looking forward to laying down the burdens of the episcopate. What do you anticipate would be the challenges that will be faced by your successor?
Every institution will have its own challenges. The challenges stem from inside and outside. The internal challenges come both from the clergy - bishop, priests and deacons -- of the diocese as well as the laity of the diocese.

What is more, as far as Melaka-Johor is concerned, the challenge may also come from a nation that is dominated by Islam. The influence from a rapid changing world of technology is a major factor to be contended. Sifting the good effects from the bad is a daunting task.

Supposing you are given the authority to appoint your own successor, would you pick some one from Melaka-Johor or from outside the diocese? Why?
Thank God I won’t be given the authority to pick my own successor. Canonically speaking, the Pope can name any priest within or without the diocese to be Bishop. But usually, Rome looks for some one who is smart, capable and upright in character to be made Bishop. Because he does not know all the priests of the world, he generally depends on his nuncios.

What would you like to do during your retirement? Will you be writing some books?

As long as I am physically able and mentally alert, I will continue to write. I have not decided on what I would like to write.If there are social issues, touching on religious freedom and morality or issues of national importance, I won’t mind writing to newspapers as I have done every now and then.

Total Comments:0