Malaysia caught the attention of the world when Christians are forbidden by the Federal Court to use the Arabic word Allah to address God in the native Malay language in June 2014. That word is now declared exclusively for the use of Malaysian Muslims only. This decision has implicitly outlawed the Malay bible. This is worrisome because majority of our indigenous Christians are Malay speaking.
Meanwhile, court decisions in favour of spouses who convert to Islam to custody of their children have also made headlines, virtually removing the parental right of the non-Muslim spouses over their children. We have also experienced cases of conversion of underaged children to Islam without the knowledge and consent of their parents, and such cases are causing tremendous emotional and psychological strains to the families. Indeed, religious disputes are increasingly becoming a major concern affecting Christian families in our country. Given such background, I wish to address this Synod some pertinent points for consideration.
Mixed Marriages and Marriages of Disparity of Cult (cf IL No 126-128)
With reference to No 126 to 128 of the Instrumentum Laboris, the document does not seem to say much about mixed marriages between Catholics and those of other faiths, especially Muslims. In our multiracial society where Christians are only 9.2% and where Islam is a state religion, by legislation, non Muslims have to convert to Islam when they marry Muslims. Complications arise when such marriages fail; the non Muslim spouses are legally prevented from reverting to their original faith even though they are officially divorced from their Muslim partners. Many Catholics who have previously married Muslims are caught by this legal impediment.
As our civil courts refuse to deal with cases that involve the religion of Islam, Christian spouses who are previously married to Muslims are forced to seek redress in the Syriah courts which always favour the Muslim spouses.
We also have cases whereby, after the reception of the sacrament of matrimony, one of the spouses converts to Islam and remarries someone else, leaving the Catholic spouse alone in a dilemma, as the first marriage is still considered valid.
As such cases are peculiar to nations where political Islam reigns, we request that local episcopal conferences be granted “greater autonomy” to handle matters related to marriages between Catholics and Muslims. We also request that episcopal conferences be granted the power to dissolve a marriage In Favorem Fidei (in favour of faith) and also to dispense from a Non Consummated marriage, instead of sending it to Rome as is currently done. This would greatly expedite the process.
Family Ministry and Formation (cf IL No 94-97)
In view of the precarious religious situations in regions where Christians are the minority, we believe that the future of the local churches will depend largely on how the families are being pastored. We observe that families staying close to the Church have a higher endurance rate when encountering difficulties or challenges. As such, for the future of the Church in hostile regions and even those in Christian-majority regions, we propose that Family Life Ministry should be made the top pastoral priority in all parishes. More resources should be allocated to empower families to become witnesses of God’s love and mercy in a secular world. In relation to this, seminary formation should be more oriented towards ministry to the Family by having it as part of the syllabus, so that future pastors are better prepared and equipped to accompany married couples, particularly in the area of healing and parenting. Issues regarding declining birth rate among professionals and working couples are greatly affecting the demography of Christians. We to design appropriate measures to arrest this trend.
Marriage Preparation (cf IL No 84-86)
If marriage is a vocation, then we should do more to help couples to discern properly before they enter into married life. In our region, attendance in pre-marriage course is a pre-requisite to the reception of the sacrament of matrimony. However, it would be helpful if a handbook for such course could be made available so that Catholic couples receive the same preparation all over the world.
Pastoral Attention towards Persons with Homosexual Tendencies (cf IL No 130-132)
We fully support the call to treat those with homosexual tendencies with respect in their human dignity and to be received with sensitivity and great care in both the Church and society. However, since such matter is still very much a cultural taboo in our oriental societies, it will take some time for our people to remove prejudices towards them. We believe that it will be pastorally beneficial to us if doctrinal aspect of homosexual tendencies could be further clarified, debated and adopted through a proper forum or synod. This will pave the way for a cultural reorientation of our people to be more compassionate towards persons with such tendencies.
Persons who are Separated, Divorced or Re-married (cf IL No 112-125)
We agree that individuals who are wounded by failed marriage should be allowed to experience the infinite mercy of God. Such mercy should be manifested in the way they are treated in parishes, especially through the healing dimension of the sacraments. However, we need to first prepare our parishes to understand and put on the mercy and compassion of God. Only after that the parishes should allow divorced and re-married persons to receive Communion provided their second marriage is stable.
As we prepare ourselves to enter through the Door of Mercy to celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we have the courage to be merciful like the Father in pastoring the families entrusted to our care.