This year’s 113th Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference…
JOHOR BAHRU – ‘Hari Ini Dalam sejarah.’ That is how Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur began his welcoming address at the 1st Malaysian Catholic Clergy Assembly (MCCA) in Majodi Centre on 16-21 July 2018. It was truly a historical moment for the Malaysian Catholic Church, where 278 clergy, comprising of arch/bishops, priests and deacons from the nine arch/dioceses in Malaysia gathered together in discernment, prayer and fellowship.
May they be one (John 17:21) i.e, the high priestly prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John was the theme of the assembly. In his address at the opening Mass, Archbishop Joseph Marino, the Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, highlighted the call to follow Jesus in our humanity as priests and to be conscious of the struggles of the people of God. He added the Malaysian Church must continue to be a welcoming church and a sign of love after the heart of Jesus.
Archbishop Emeritus John Ha led the assembly into a recollection the following day. He emphasised that the Church as a community of Christ’s disciples is called to be a beacon of unity in Malaysia. In response to this call, the first Malaysian Catholic Clergy Assembly was convened in the belief and conviction that deeper communion among the clergy will lead to a greater unity amidst our diversity among the dioceses in Malaysia.
Thus, the first day of the assembly was a time for building new friendships among the clergy and rekindling old ones among brother priests. Many who were classmates in the seminary years ago had the pleasure of strengthening their bonds of friendship. In addition, the clergy were brought to visit South Johor Vicariate parishes to experience and witness first-hand, the reality of Catholics from Sabah, Sarawak and Semenanjung living together in communion and mission. They were welcomed by the parishioners dressed in their traditional attire and treated with food and drinks prepared by the various ethnic groups who were part of the parish community. This reinforces the notion of unity in diversity which is a distinct character of the Malaysian church.
The second day was a time of learning the history and journey of the Catholic faith in each of the dioceses in Malaysia. This was done through multimedia presentation of interviews and sharing from clergy and laity on the culture and time in which the seed of the Catholic faith was sown and later grew into the Malaysian church as we see and experience today in the respective dioceses of Malaysia. The clergy were also given the opportunity to meet in small groups to share on their inspirations to the faith and towards serving God as deacons, priests and bishops. They also shared on their hopes and aspiration for the future of the Malaysian Church.
The third day was a time of addressing the challenges they face together as Malaysian Catholic clergy. Issues on the family, youth, vocation, secularisation, faith formation, evangelisation and mission witnessing were among some of the topics that were addressed in the hope of greater collaboration towards living the mission entrusted to us by our Lord Jesus in Malaysia.
Archbishop Simon Poh in his talk on Pastor after Heart of the Shepherd spoke on the crisis in the church. He cautioned them against clericalism and urged them to be accountable and transparent in all their dealings.
At the close of the assembly, the three cochairs namely, Bishop Bernard Paul (Malacca- Johore Diocese), Bishop Richard Ng (Miri Diocese) and Bishop Julius Gitom (Sandakan Diocese) spoke on the history and growth of the Malaysian Church. This MCCA is the first step taken to achieve the desire first voiced during the Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention IV in 2016 that is, to have the 1st Pan Malaysian Pastoral Convention in 2026. The next step would be an assembly for all the religious — sisters, brothers and priests.
During the Mass on the last day of the assembly, Bishop Sebastian Francis, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei in his homily said, “The Holy Spirit is asking us, as the Malaysian clergy, to make a commitment to strive for unity, so that the world and Malaysia will believe that the Father has sent us. We do not want an elite church. We want a church for the masses — the People of God.”
Towards the end of the Mass and as a sign of new growth, each member of the assembly was given a palm oil seed as a sign that something did take place. “It is a reminder to connect with your ground — the history, situation and culture wherever you are planted,” explained Bishop Bernard.
“Befriend your situation, befriend your history, befriend your culture and befriend your people. Learn from one another’s stories, embrace your challenges as they are also your opportunity,” he added.
Then the members of the organising committee lit their candles from the paschal candle and handed them over to their respective arch/bishops. These candles signify the light of Christ. The arch/bishops who are the shepherds of their arch/dioceses are a symbol of unity who care for their priests, religious and laity.
The assembly came to an end with the clergy praying the MCCA prayer. — CWC team, Herald Malaysia