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Over the 3-day gathering, in a spirit of fraternity, 25 Superiors of the various religious congregations in both countries met to plan, discuss and share various concerns pertaining to their ministries and the Church.
Included on their agenda was a field trip to learn more about Christian stewardship. The topics of Ethical Investment and Passive Income Generation were brought to a reality when the Superiors visited the grounds of the Marist Brothers in Port Dickson where the brothers develop renewable energy through solar panels. At the estate of the Brothers of St Gabriel in Kuala Pilah, the Superiors learned how oil palm farming was supporting the mission of these Brothers in Malaysia. An engaging presentation by Bro John Albert, sg on the subject of Evangelical Use of Resources illustrated how Economy and Mission together play a vital role in Consecrated Life today.
The third and final day of the meeting started with a mass celebrated by Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Marino, who affirmed the Religious in an edifying homily. He expressed his appreciation for their presence and work to continue the mission of Christ while inviting them to be “creative and versatile” in attending to both the human and spiritual needs of those they serve. He reminded the Superiors of Pope Francis’ desire for a Church that is not concerned with itself and its rules but a bruised Church which opens its doors to exclude no one.
Archbishop Marino’s words set the tone for a symposium on Islamisation and Dialogue which took place after the Mass. Zainah Anwar (Sisters-in-Islam founder and lawyer), Professor Syed Farid Alatas (NUS Sociology Professor and Head of Malay Studies) and Marina Mahathir (journalist and activist) were the guest panelists.
Ms Anwar spoke on the challenges of the politicization of Islam in Malaysia. Her work in “Sisters-in-Islam,” which pushes for procedural change, hopes to provide an alternative and clearer vision, amidst the cacophony of diverse voices, so as to focus on the rich heritage of Islam which can serve society today. She stressed the need to build public outrage and outcry when injustices occur in the name of religion. A bipartisan approach and judicial training are among the proposals she advocates to counter the problem of the politicization of Islam.
Professor Alatas expressed his concern that the tolerance of other faiths is under threat in Malaysia due to an increase in xenophobic beliefs which at the same time violate Islamic values and norms. Blaming reckless politicians who allow these issues to remain unresolved and extremist Islam leaders who propose anti multi-culturalism, he sees the path towards a multi-culturalist “One Malaysia” only possible through education, the creation of a world class Islamic education system, critique of extremism, inter-religious dialogue and peaceful civil disobedience. He also proposed that a constitutional monarchy is needed to protect all races and religions in Malaysia.
Marina Mahathir, who has empathized with the Catholic community openly on the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications, spoke on dialogue requiring both language and freedom of speech. Yet language, she says, is contested these days. She illustrated the evolution of the word “pluralism” which today in Malaysia is not just a benign word meaning more than one but an ideology that has to be banned. She echoed Professor Alatas view that xenophobia is very real in Malaysia and proposed a need for inter-religious dialogue in the local languages and at a level that can be understood by all. Also a member of Sisters-in-Islam, Ms Mathathir uses social media to create awareness on the reciprocity of kindness and solidarity among Christians and Muslims around the world. While being banned to speak in public schools, she continues to accept invitations to speak at private institutions.
The symposium proved to be an enlightening insight to the multi-layered challenges posed by extremist Muslim leaders in Malaysia today. Bro Robert Teo, fms, said, “It was good to hear about the struggles of the Muslim sisters and to be aware that the trend is more and more against human rights and freedom. Hopefully more collaboration among NGOs from all sectors can help to bring new hope for all.”
Bro Ambrose Heng, fmma, found the inputs enlightening especially on “what is going on with the Muslim extremist ideas. We are not alone trying to convince and clarify the real practice of Islam. One should then not be afraid and confused but must try our best to encourage one another rather than pointing fingers, especially with the global Muslim unrest.”
Sr Francisca Tan, rc, expressed the sentiments of the rest of the CRMS members when she said, “It was touching and edifying to have three prominent Muslims making time to be with us, sitting down with us and sharing such informative material.”
Archbishop Marino in his opening address had stressed that Inter-religious dialogue remains important and vital for the Church today to promote peace and justice. He described the nature of dialogue as the meeting of “friends in the life of faith on the same journey to find God without whom life is incomplete,” and quoted Pope Francis, saying, “The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences.”
The next CRMS meeting will be in July this year. – Sr Wendy