Your Holiness, your Eminences
Distinguished Fathers of the Synod
I represent the Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei Episcopal Conference from the Southeast Asia region. The
three countries that form this conference have a total population of around 33 million people of which Catholics are slightly around 3.5 percent. The Christian faith was brought to us by missionaries from Europe less than 200 years ago with the exception of Malacca where it was dated back to the time of St Francis Xavier in the 15th century. Though freedom of religion is enshrined in our National Constitutions, in practice however, we are subjected to subtle discrimination of various forms.
My Hope in the Synod
I am happy to be given a chance to address this 13th General Assembly where we come to study, discern and deliberate on the complex situations faced by peoples in the present era, and where the Church is called upon “to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to the blind people new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (cf Lk 4:18-19).
With the guidance of the Spirit and our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, I hope that this Synod will bear fruits, fruits that will impact on the lives of those directly under our pastoral care and also those who are not of our fold (cf Jn 10:16). I believe that each of us is looking forward to return to our countries and pastoral responsibilities, with a greater zeal and conviction that the coming Year of Faith is a time of grace, “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world” (No 6, Porta Fidei).
On Sectors of Evangelisation (Comments on IL, no 51-67)
To justify the urgent need for a New Evangelisation, the Instrumental Laboris has provided a good elaboration in Chapters One and Two on its theological foundation (IL no 18-24) and what that “newness” means: new “in its ardour, methods and expressions” (IL no 45). This presupposes a realisation that our present methods and expressions are no longer attractive and may not appeal to the modern world where societies are caught up by, drifted along and even pushed by changes that swept across the globe; changes that are expedited by advancement in science and technology, and by insatiable human greed. The sectors affected by such changes briefly described in the document (IL, no 51-67) show that the whole spectrum of society today is not spared, not even the Church.
On Changes in the Religious Sector (Comments on IL, no 63-67)
Reading through the section on changes in the religious sectors, I wish to add the dimension of “a movement towards fanaticism and extremism.” We have witnessed in recent years the increasing incidences of destruction of lives and properties in the name of religion. Viewpoints and positions taken by extremist groups and individual are given wide coverage and are sensationalised in global media. Such trend, which is perceived to be manipulated by certain factions in the world for political and economic gains, is making the global environment less conducive for peaceful dialogue.
On Interreligious Dialogue (Comments on IL, no 73)
If interreligious dialogue is an essential part of the Church’s evangelising mission, then we need to ensure that the basic rights of Christians as minorities in certain regions need first to be protected, and at the same time, their faith be strengthened before they make interreligious dialogue a forefront of their mission. Since the laity are the ones who are in daily contact with people of other faiths and cultures, they need to be formed to understand this dimension of the mission as Church. They too need to be trained to respond to critical situations where their faith is being threatened.
Recognising the Crisis of Faith and our Inadequacies (Comments on IL no 68)
On the other hand, we need to recognise that the tsunami of changes in the world today is leading towards a “crisis of faith” among the believers. This is manifested in the shrinking number in church attendance. In regions where the number remains big, faith is often tainted by cultural religiosities. As the individual right is becoming the hallmark of modern democracies, faith is kept within one’s private and personal sphere, disconnected from life. All these signs are supporting the statement that “there is a crisis of faith today.”
We have gone through numerous reflections and conferences at various levels after the Second Vatican Council, trying to read and understand the signs of the times. We have also issued various Statements and Exhortations to different continents for local Churches to respond to the changing situations with courage and hope. But the messages have not been able to transmit fast and wide enough.
Now, with the inauguration of another Year of Faith, we need to first humbly admit that our past responses to the cries and anguish of the people were outpaced by changes in the world. Our pastoral agents and institutions are simply unable to provide solution to individuals and societies who are trapped in the structures and occasions of sins. Our voices are either being suppressed by national laws or by powerful forces that control the media.
On the need to review our approach to Priestly Formation (Comments on IL no 109)
In cultures where filial piety and respect for elders prevail, church leaders are expected to live an exemplary life of faith and holiness. But where scandals, bad leadership, materialistic lifestyles, loss of pastoral zeal and so on are rampant, such leaders become liabilities to Christian evangelisation. The exposure of paedophile priests in recent years is counter-productive to our evangelising mission.
In a world that is filled with lies, hypocrisies, contradictions and exploitative elements, people are looking for witnesses who point them to the higher values of love, kindness, simplicity, forgiveness, patience, honesty, trustworthiness; all of which are explicit elements of the Gospel values of Jesus Christ. If church leaders themselves are unable to withstand the changes in the world, how do we help our flocks? We are reminded that “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than teachers, and if he listens to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no 41).
In view of the special status of the ordained ministers in the Church, I propose that seminary formation is to be seriously reviewed. The quasi monastic, “cut-off,” intellectual, easy and comfortable life in the seminaries has failed to some extent to serve the present pastoral environment.
Promote fully the Social Doctrines of the Church (Comments on IL no 124)
Finally, the question arises as to how to help our people to remain credible witnesses of the Good News in such changes. I wish to propose that we make our Social Doctrines, the so-called “best kept secrets of the Church” on the shelves, be more audible and visible through the lives of our communities. This would imply that the social doctrines are to be systematically taught in our seminaries and formation houses, conscientiously integrated into our catechesis for adults, and courageously adopted in the life of the Church. The Good News explained through the social doctrines may be more palatable to the inquisitive mind of the modern man.
Let us implore the intervention of the Holy Spirit, the principle agent of evangelisation, in this Year of Faith. Thank you.