Editor’s Note

As we approach our 65th National Day on August 31, let’s take a brief look at the legacy of the Catholic Church here in Malaysia.

Aug 12, 2022

As we approach our 65th National Day on August 31, let’s take a brief look at the legacy of the Catholic Church here in Malaysia. When the missionaries brought Catholicism to our shores more than 400 years ago, they went on to establish Catholic-based institutions and charities across the country, in which a holistic approach to education not only encouraged academic excellence but was committed to the development of the individual so that he or she would be a credit to society.

These institutions have become a part of many Malaysians who received their education at a Convent or La Salle school. These schools have produced outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to society and to the nation.

On the public health front, medical institutions such as Assunta Hospital in Petaling Jaya or Hospital Fatimah in Ipoh provided affordable medical aid to Malaysians from all walks of life. The Little Sisters of the Poor run nursing homes for the elderly while the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary manage orphanages such as the Assunta Children’s Society.

When natural disasters strike, institutions like Caritas Malaysia come to the fore, ready to provide aid to the victims.

Sadly, there have been some organisations and ministries initiated by the missionaries or the dioceses that have not survived. Natural attrition, lack of financial support from the government of the day and the public at large, combined with staffing issues have all contributed to their demise.

All organisations, whether they are faith-based charities or large corporates, face challenges in different forms. The question is how do we deal with these challenges? Do we roll up our carpet and leave or do we take measures to overcome the obstacles and soldier on.

Some of us might recall the Carl’s Kitchen Feeding Programme which used to operate from the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development (AOHD) in Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur. The programme began in 2001 to provide lunch to the homeless and poor without any kind of discrimination. In 2018, the programme was suspended due to the relocation of AOHD office. In addition, the Carl’s Kitchen team discovered that there were already a sufficient number of feeding programmes in the area.

Another case in point is the Welcome Community Home in Batu Arang. The hospice/care was established in 1998 as a transition house for men living with HIV/AIDS. At the home, they were given proper care in order to enable them to return to their families and to society. Unfortunately, difficulties in hiring qualified nurses, trained counsellors and other general workers forced Welcome Community Home to close its doors in December 2019.

On the flip side, other faith-based institutions have emerged strongly in recent times providing similar aid as Catholic charities. One prominent organisation is the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, or Tzu Chi Foundation, as it is commonly known. The organisation was founded by Master Cheng Yen in 1966 in Taiwan. The Malaysian chapter was established in 1995, and within a short span of 27 years, Tzu Chi has established offices and centres across Malaysia.

With a wide network of dedicated volunteers, Tzu Chi manages clinics, dialysis centres, kindergartens, educational centres, recycling centres, and book shops.

Is it ironical that the Catholic Church which has pioneered so many institutions for education and health be facing such a huge challenge to survive while newcomers from other faiths are flourishing? What has happened to our Catholic institutions that has caused them to not only decline in resources such as manpower but to also find the physical infrastructures built many years ago is in dire need of repair and resurrection from their current dilapidated state? Why are we reduced to playing second fiddle to others who have actually learnt from the Catholic Church on how to conduct outreach programmes?

What are we as Catholics doing to help? Are we as the Catholic Church in Malaysia merely ‘existing’ and not living Jesus’ call to mission? In order to revert to its glory days of being pioneers in mission work, the Church does not need to relearn from other faiths. Instead, parishes, ministries, schools, and all Catholic charities need a wake-up call. There must be an awakening followed by a deep desire to fulfil the Church’s primary mission of spreading the Kingdom of God, of making disciples of all nations.

Let us not be intimidated by those in authority, by the lack of resources or by obstacles that we may face. Instead let us find strength and courage in Jesus who has told us – “Yes, I will be with you till the end of time”.

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