Needs of the poor have to be at the forefront of decision-making

The ‘birth’ of Caritas Malaysia this month is the accumulation of over a year of meetings, consultations, dialogue, deliberations and many other preliminary preparations.

Nov 21, 2020

 By Gwen Manickam
The ‘birth’ of Caritas Malaysia this month is the accumulation of over a year of meetings, consultations, dialogue, deliberations and many other preliminary preparations. Archbishop Julian Leow, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, in his opening address, reminded participants how the late Cardinal Soter was a champion of human rights, an advocate for the poor and marginalised, and that he promoted social justice programmes under the National Office for Human Development.

“Had he been here, I believe he would be extremely proud to witness the official launch of Caritas Malaysia.”

Archbishop Leow thanked everyone involved in the process. “It is gratifying to note we did not allow the restrictions caused by COVID-19 to hinder our work leading to the launch today. It is now, more than ever, that we need to go to the peripheries, to lend a hand to those in need – the poor, the vulnerable and people on the margins – to offer them some hope and assistance in these desperate times.”

He said our communities need to know how to bring comfort and consolation to the poor and suffering.

“I am confident that we, the Malaysian Church, can do much more than is currently being done, through the initiatives and endeavours of Caritas Malaysia. Our Christian identity is both given by our response to the Gospels and discovered as we encounter Christ in each other and in strangers.

“Caritas Malaysia will be part of  our local Church’s outreach to those in need, the poor, regardless of who they are, and what their faith is.”

The inter-diocesan collaboration is to give the church-in-action a stronger visible presence in the marketplace. Uniting under one purpose enables the churches to leverage the strength and talents of its diverse members from the dioceses in Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, the diocesan Integral Human Development offices and other local social outreach groups within dioceses.

In addition, by being an active member of the international Caritas family and Caritas Asia, the Malaysian Church can also benefit from capacity building, regional networking, and professional expertise, as well as working in solidarity with other Caritas members to serve the marginalised and vulnerable communities within this Region.

In response to the Gospel’s call (Mt 25: 35-40), the Church has worked for and alongside the poorest people in the world throughout its history. Yet Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas  Est, published in 2005, presented an official doctrine on charity for the first time. And it puts charity at the heart of the mission of the Church.

In it the Pope writes: “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia) and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.”

Similarly, Pope Francis once said, “There’s no Church without charity.” And like many of the popes before him, our Holy Father has repeatedly challenged us as the Church to be poor and for the poor.

“But who are the ‘poor’ amongst us? Jesus says we will have the poor with us always, and it’s true. They are a reality we cannot deny. But often the poor are hidden because we choose not to see them. They are there but we don’t see them: they have become part of the landscape; they have become ‘things’ and we have become like the rich man who chooses not to see Lazarus sitting at his gate. 

“However, unlike the rich man, we must ask, ‘Who is at our gate?’ Who is Lazarus and where do we find him? This is the moment to hear the call of Jesus and respond.  We need to search for and identify those who have been excluded from our table – the migrants, the refugees, some forcibly displaced, with nowhere to call home. They too are our brothers and sisters. It is these people, and many more, who are the companions of Lazarus,” said Archbishop Leow.

On a national level, he said we must call upon our leaders to put the children, women and men living in poverty at the forefront of their decision-making, as well as at the forefront of their hearts and minds.

In preparation to battle and eliminate poverty, Archbishop Leow proposed we look towards the parable of the Good Samaritan as highlighted in Pope Benedict’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

In it the Pope said, “Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and  healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc.” 

Next, “The Church’s charitable organisations, beginning with those of Caritas (at diocesan, national and international levels), ought to do everything in their power to provide the resources and above all the personnel needed for this work.”

Thirdly, “Individuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent: they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it and committed to continuing care.”

And finally, “While professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. … a ‘formation of the heart’. The programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus — is ‘a heart which sees’.”

In conclusion, Archbishop Leow said, “Caritas Malaysia must reflect the loving face of Christ who brings relief and comfort, respect and recognition. We must be witnesses of Christ’s love and we must do it with enthusiasm. Like the Good Samaritan, we must be able to bring hope especially to the forgotten because Jesus never walked past anyone who was suffering, and His love is there for those who are forgotten and who are pushed to the margins of society. Just as His mission was not only for the people of Israel, but for everyone, and just as He is the ‘light of the world’, so should it be with us as we follow in His footsteps. God walks the earth in disguise. I pray we recognise him!”

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