Malaysia gets its first cardinal

History was made in the Malaysian Church when Pope Francis named Most Reverend Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop Emeritus of Kuala Lumpur as Cardina

Oct 14, 2016

a: Pope Francis greets Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez at the Vatican earlier this year.

KUALA LUMPUR: History was made in the Malaysian Church when Pope Francis named Most Reverend Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop Emeritus of Kuala Lumpur as Cardinal.

The announcement was made by the Holy Father on 9 Oct 2016 during his weekly Sunday address.

Cardinal-elect Fernandez is among the 17 Roman Catholic prelates from around the world who has been promoted to the high rank of cardinal in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Known as “princes of the Church”, cardinals are the most senior members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy after the Pope and serve as his principal advisers around the world and in the Vatican.

Cardinal-elect Fernandez, who retired from his position as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur in May 2003, is one of the four new cardinals over 80, who are being honoured for their long service to the Church.

In living out his Episcopal motto of ‘Justice and Peace’, the 84 year-old Archbishop emeritus is known for his courage and tireless fight for justice. His elevation to the status of cardinal as described in a foreign media is also in acknowledgement of his role in promoting dialogue.

During his tenure as archbishop, Cardinal-elect Fernandez created a significant road-map for the Peninsular Malaysia Church through his clear vision in understanding and identifying the needs of the Church in Malaysia. He led the community in the process of understanding the importance of being Church and promoted the growth of the Basic Ecclesial Communities.

This was aptly described by St Pope John Paul II in a personal letter to Cardinal-elect Fernandez in conjunction with the latter’s 25th Episcopal ordination in Feb 2003. “Your ardent commitment to duty not only benefitted the flock entrusted to you but was manifestly clear to all in Asia … your role with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia-Singapore- Brunei shines forth as well in your strenuous efforts to give direction and purpose to the Church in West Malaysia,” said the Pope in his letter.

Similarly, Cardinal-elect Fernandez in reflecting on his 25 years of episcopacy said in an interview back then, “I am not looking for success. We only sow the seeds. We do God’s will and try to be faithful to him. We must also be in the world and respond to the needs of the people. We need to listen to the people.”

These resounding words are certainly being rewarded, as described in a recent commentary … ‘A glance at the biographies of the new cardinals reveals that Pope Francis has clearly chosen pastors who are humble men, not aspiring to be princes; men of dialogue, not culture warriors; men who know how to show mercy in their ministry’.

Cardinal-elect Fernandez who celebrates his 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination this year, was born on April 22, 1932 and ordained a priest on December 10, 1966. He was ordained as Bishop for the Diocese of Penang on February 17, 1978 and later installed as the second Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur on November 10, 1983. He helmed the archdiocese for 20 years before stepping down at age 71 due to health reasons.

Following his retirement, he continued to serve the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and was later assigned as Spiritual Father to College General Major Seminary, Penang. Upon completing his term at the seminary, he returned to the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and continues to serve as Chaplain at the St Francis Xavier Home for the Elderly, Cheras.

Archbishop Archbishop Julian Leow of the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese expressed joy on the recognition given by Pope Francis to the Malaysian Church in the appointment of Archbishop Emeritus Fernandez as Cardinal.

Explaining that cardinals were generally chosen from countries which had a large Catholic population, Archbishop Leow said that of late, the Holy Father has chosen cardinals from countries that had a minority Catholic population.

The archbishop who is also the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia described the timing of the appointment as perfect as the recently concluded Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention IV had decided that the church needed to be a greater ‘voice’ for the people.

He added that this appointment would mean that the Catholic Church in Malaysia would ostensibly have a greater say in Rome. Cardinal-elect Fernandez is expected to travel to Rome for the consistory on Nov 19, where he will be officially installed as a cardinal.

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