Catholics in the Workplace

Being a Catholic usually conjures an image of a person going to church for Mass every weekend, makes the sign of the cross, prays the Rosary and wears a crucifix on a necklace around his/her neck.

Jul 07, 2023

Being a Catholic usually conjures an image of a person going to church for Mass every weekend, makes the sign of the cross, prays the Rosary and wears a crucifix on a necklace around his/her neck. In Pope John Paul II’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, titled Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World), he encapsulates in a single sentence how Catholics ought to live their vocation as workers. “The lay faithful must accomplish their work with professional competence, with human honesty, and with a Christian spirit, and especially as a way of their own sanctification.” (CL43)
In the society we live in today and in the place where we work, how often do we recognise or acknowledge a fellow colleague, a customer, a superior or a supplier as someone who shares the same faith and religion as you?

A priest once asked the audience in a talk, “Are you a teacher who is a Catholic, or are you a Catholic teacher?” We can just as easily replace the profession with any other profession and repeat the same question. Are you a marketing executive who is a Catholic, or a Catholic marketing executive? Are you a lawyer, or a doctor, or an engineer who is a Catholic, or a Catholic lawyer, doctor or engineer? At first read, it sounds the same. In reality, it is not.

The difference between Catholic workers and others comes not from the work itself, but from HOW we perceive and execute the tasks in which we specialise. When we do our job well, we bring glory to God in whose providence the task has a role, however tiny. Trust God to see to it that we will not starve or go hungry. For Catholics, the added satisfaction of knowing that the work pleases the Creator should suffice.
Back in 1997, a small group of Catholics working in Kuala Lumpur City Centre embarked on launching the Catholic equivalent of cell groups in the workplace, adapting the idea from our other Christian groups. The idea was to emulate our Christian brothers in setting up fellowship groups within the workplaces, where they could gather regularly during lunch time to pray together and have fellowship. These gatherings were meant as a platform where Catholics working in the same vicinity (e.g. same building, same company, neighbouring building) could meet, pray and support each other spiritually, and praise God as a small Christian community at their workplace.

The first challenge was to find a venue. It had to be somewhere convenient, walking distance from most offices, accessible during lunch time and could accommodate a small gathering. Ideally, it had to be free and with full consent from the business owner.

The first gathering was attended by four people in the office of a Catholic business owner at his office in the Concorde Hotel office block. Due to the limited time and lack of agenda, they decided to recite the Rosary together, read and discern on the Gospel message for the day, and end with sharing and of course a quick simple lunch. Then, back to work.

As they continued to meet weekly, word went around, more people were invited, and the size of the gathering grew. Not long after, another Catholic business owner offered his conference room at the Promet building nearby, where they could accommodate more people, with some variations. In addition to prayer, they began with praise and worship, followed by Gospel reading for the day and group sharing.

By 1998, as the size of the group grew to over 40 people, a new venue was needed, especially when they invited priests to celebrate Holy Eucharist during the lunch hour. The third location was Menara TA’s auditorium, courtesy of a Catholic director of the company. His generosity was indeed a blessing as this venue could accommodate up to 150 people, and came complete with air-conditioning, sound system and audio-visual systems.

Guest speakers could now be invited, and Yahoo groups (this was long before WhatsApp or Facebook groups existed) were created to disseminate the information to a larger audience of Catholics. At its peak, there were up to 120+ people connected via Yahoo groups to this Catholics In the Work Place (CIWP), as they called themselves then.

Local and visiting priests, prominent speakers from various Church ministries and organisations, became a regular item for the CIWP lunch time gatherings. Lunch time Mass was also one of the hits that attracted more attendees. Facilitators, coordinators and speakers all helped to manage and plan each weekly session, as the expectations rose. The variety of speakers was really a blessing and impressive, as it is never easy to impart a spiritual message, inspire and deliver God’s Word within 45-60 minutes, inclusive of praise and worship, prayers and some announcement time. At Menara TA, the gatherings also had other Christian attendees, invited by their Catholic colleagues.

At its peak, the CIWP groups had eight locations meeting weekly, each conducting their gatherings differently from the other. In YTL Plaza, they used the Workplace Alpha format. In other locations, in the absence of invited speakers or priest, the group would do simple prayer sessions, Gospel reading and sharing. Over time, as people changed jobs and offices moved locations, it became increasingly difficult to continue. By 2019, only Menara TA remained open, until it too was closed just before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

(Richard Chia has been actively involved in Church since young. He held full-time corporate jobs while serving in ministries and groups at various church levels for the past four decades.)

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