Living in a time of crisis

We are living in difficult times here in Malaysia. The ringgit is falling, high-level corruption is glaring and rampant. And economic indicators are alarming.

Aug 19, 2015

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
We are living in difficult times here in Malaysia. The ringgit is falling, high-level corruption is glaring and rampant. And economic indicators are alarming.

We have seen how certain leaders live in opulence, well beyond what their salaries and allowances can sustain.

Institutions of governance appear compromised. We see how public money has been ferretted away for private interests. Breathtaking amounts of money have landed in the bank accounts of those tasked to serve the interests of the common good.

Many are alarmed and concerned. It might be useful to look at some encyclicals to see what the Church has to say about all this.

Pope John XXIII, writing on Christianity and Social Progress in 1961 noted that in some countries, “the wealth and conspicuous consumption of a few stand out” in contrast to the extreme need of the majority. The “open and bold contrast with the lot of the needy” is glaring.

He also noted in other places, “excessive burdens are placed upon men in order that the commonwealth may achieve within a brief span, an increase of wealth such as can, by no means, be achieved without violating the laws of justice and equity.”

In some countries, enormous sums of money are spent on wasteful projects that do not benefit the common good. John said: “.. it happens elsewhere that a disproportionate share of the revenue goes toward the building up of national prestige, and that large sums of money are devoted to armaments.”

These are challenging times for the Church in Malaysia now. How should the Church respond during this period of crisis?

During the 1960s, Latin America was in the midst of great political and economic turmoil. The Latin American bishops met in Medellin, Columbia in 1968 and came up with a remarkable document. This document gives us an idea of what the present Bishop of Rome means when he says he wants the Church to be the Church of the poor.

“In this context, a poor Church

-- denounces the unjust lack of this world’s goods and the sin that begets it,
--preaches and lives in spiritual poverty, as an attitude of spiritual childhood and openness to the Lord,
--is herself bound to material poverty. The poverty of the Church is, in effect, a constant factor in the history of salvation.”

The Latin American bishops said that Christians are called to live in “evangelical poverty, but not all in the same way, as there are diverse vocations to this poverty, that tolerate diverse styles of life and various modes of acting”.

The bishops noted that they had the necessities of life and a certain security while the poor lack essentials and struggled in the face of anguish and uncertainty.

They also acknowledged certain instances when “the poor feel that their bishops, or pastors and religious, do not really identify themselves with them, with their problems and afflictions, that they do not always support those that work with them or plead their cause.”

“We, the bishops, wish to come closer to the poor, in sincerity and brotherhood, making ourselves accessible to them.” The bishops also stressed the need to raise their own awarness of solidarity with the poor. “This solidarity means that we make ours their problems and their struggles, that we know how to speak with them.”

To ensure that the Church was prophetic in its witness, we have to see things from the perpective of those who are oppressed. “This has to be concretised in criticism of injustice and oppression, in the struggle against the intolerable situation which a poor person often has to tolerate, in the willingness to dialogue with the groups responsible for that situation in order to make them understand their obligations.”

The bishops also expressed the desire to always be close to those working among the poor, in the apostolate with the poor, so they they would know the bishops were giving them encouragement and not listening to anyone “distorting their work”.

The bishops decided to lead by example. “We wish our houses and style of life to be modest, our clothing simple, our works and institutions functional, without show or ostentation. We asked priests and faithful to treat us in conformity with our mission as fathers and pastors, for we desire to renounce honorable titles belonging to another era.”

They also exhorted priests to “give testimony of poverty and detachment from material goods, as so many do, particularly in rural areas and poorer neighbourhoods.”

To this end, the bishops said they would seek to establish a common fund among all of the parishes and the diocese itself; also among the dioceses of the same country.”

The Church should be “free from temporalities, from intrigues and from a doubtful reputation; to be “free in spirit as regards the chains of wealth,” the Medellin document said.

In this way, the Church’s mission of service would be stronger and clearer as it grew to be “present in life and in secular works, reflecting the light of Christ, present in the construction of the world.”

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