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Trust God, says Malaysia’s first cardinal

soter_editedVATICAN CITY –  In an interview with news portal Zenit. org on 22 Nov 2016 here, Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur said it is best to trust God.  He is the first Malaysian cardinal.

He said‘Trust in Him, like your own father. If there is some challenge, be assured that He sees something good in it…’

The pope announced the prelate would be receiving his red hat, along with 16 others, during his Oct 9 Angelus Address.  Cardinal Fernandez is one of the four new cardinals over 80 who are being honoured for their long service to the Church.

The cardinal spent a few hours speaking with Zenit in the pope’s residence, Casa Santa Marta.

‘The bishops nicknamed me ’33,’ the Asian prelate said, because he impressed upon everyone this passage which reads:

Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’ I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment (EG # 33).

After the consistory on Nov 19, the cardinal informally spoke again with Zenit and shared how the Holy Father encouraged him in his promoting ‘Number 33’ and in serving the poor.

Ordained a priest on 10 Dec 1966, the Malaysian cardinal celebrates the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination next month.

On 17 Feb 1978, he was ordained Bishop for the Diocese of Penang, and on 10 Nov 1983, was installed Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. He led the archdiocese for 20 years before stepping down at age 71 for health reasons. Even after ‘retiring,’ he still served his archdiocese. He later was assigned as a spiritual father to College General, Major Seminary in Penang.

The cardinal still serves as the president of the bishops conference of Malaysia, and as chaplain at the Saint Xavier Home for the Elderly in Cheras. While technically he retired from serving his archdiocese in 2003, his assistant Father Pereira traveling with him in Rome argued that the new cardinal’s definition of ‘retired’ is relative.

When Zenit asked what was his reaction to the nomination, he smiled, responding: ‘It wasn’t something I wished for or desired, but trust always the will of God. Also, having been sick, I realise he gives me strength to do all.”

The cardinal also said that in 1978, when appointed Bishop of Penang, he chose an episcopal coat of arms with ‘Justice and Peace’ as his motto. He noted that today even more so than before, justice and peace have such an important role to play, especially in the social and political spheres of his multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.

The Malaysian prelate also spoke about his affection for St John Paul II. He noted how after being ordained bishop, he was able to meet him for the first time at the ad limina visit, which takes place every five years. “The first thing I thought. Thank God this Pope speaks English because I didn’t study Latin,” he said smiling.

“So many times I came and I saw him,” he noted, recalling in particular their exchange after he had been appointed archbishop: “I told Pope John Paul II: ‘Holy Father, I want to thank you for the confidence you have in me, appointing me as the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur’ and he embraced me and said ‘I am your brother.’”

The cardinal also spoke on some pastoral challenges faced by his multicultural, multi-religious nation.

“Mixed marriages,” he said,  are “a classic example of this.  A lovely Catholic girl, she insisted he must be Catholic and he said he’d convert to Catholicism. Then the day they got married, he said: ‘That’s it. You are my wife. No Catholic business. Thank God she didn’t consummate the marriage. It took years for the annulment to come. So many things are happening like that unfortunately.”

When asked how he describes the situation of Catholics, he noted, “still the basic ecclesial communities come together, actually all the races come together. Territorial parishes come together. Where the Lord is placed, all come together.”

“In our country, there is diversity…the races are many, there are many Muslims.” When responding to whether the fact that Malaysia is a largely Muslim country affects the Catholics, he noted there are efforts for dialogue and everyone co-exists. –

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