Kuala Lumpur (Fides Service) – “All our pastoral efforts focus on unity. We are working to render the Church in Malaysia a communion of communities, reflecting and putting into practice the spirituality of communion”. This was how newly appointed Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, described the mission of the Church in the Federation of Malaysia which has a population of about 21 million, 8.3%. Christian.
The Catholic community in Malaysia, the Archbishop explained, is still affected by linguistic and ethnic differences, because it is made up of two main ethnic origin groups Indian-Tamil and Chinese who were evangelised by missionaries from France and from England in the 19th century. The Malay group, the largest are mainly Muslims (47%). “Everywhere – Archbishop Pakiam explains – our Catholic communities grew up in separated language groups and this continued until independence was reached in 1965. When a local clergy was formed and a Catholic hierarchy was established (1973) it became clear that the community needed to be more united. We have been working at this for the past twenty years”.
One of the ways adopted by the local Church to build unity is the formation of Basic Church Communities (BCCs). The Archbishop told Fides Service: “In these communities the faithful come together to listen to the Word of God. This is a good way of bearing witness: strong in their faith Catholics come together and form a community where they share joys and sorrows. This is a new way for us to proclaim the Good News: living – as the Pope frequently encourages – the spirituality of communion”. The Malay Bishops have set up special pastoral teams consisting of priests and laity to promote Basic Church Communities in every diocese. Mgr Pakiam explains: “People need to experience the spirituality of communion, reciprocal understanding, acceptance, tolerance: this is very important for us, a small Church in a Muslim environment. The BCCs have strengthened bonds between communities of different languages, cultures and ethnic origins.”
With regard to relations with other religious groups the Archbishop says: “we are respected for our balance. We do not seek spasmodically to make conversions. Before celebrating a baptism we require at least one year of preparation, so that the person who desires to embrace the faith does so with full awareness. There has never been any proselytism in our 330 Catholic schools, which teach a total of more than 120,000 pupils, many of them Muslims and this had made it possible to build good relations with the Muslim majority. The Muslim leaders are on the whole open to dialogue, although fundamentalism does have a certain influence. Today Christians are a little afraid of the spread of fundamentalist ideas, but here in Malaysia most Muslims, aware of our schools, hospitals, and charity work, know and respect the Catholic Church”.
One major challenge for this local Church is to foster more vocations to the priesthood. “The number of vocations is not very high but we focus on quality rather than quantity in the formation of new priests, because the role of the priest is decisive for the growth of the community. It is also true that for witness in society we rely greatly on our laity, giving great importance to family pastoral”.
Archbishop Pakiam was one of the 42 new Metropolitan Archbishops who received the Pallium, the sign of his office, from Pope John Paul II on June 29 the feast of Saints Peter and Paul during a solemn Mass in St Peter’s Square. With regard to his new appointment, Archbishop Pakiam, who was auxiliary of Kuala Lumpur since 1995, says he aims to put into practice his motto Mercy and Peace. “Everyone bears wounds in his heart, families are broken, society is in conflict. The experience of God’s forgiveness heals wounds, binds of fractures, restores peace in hearts, in families in society”.
Malaysia has a population of 22.6 million, 47%Muslim, 8.3%, Christian and the rest Buddhists, Hindus and followers of traditional religions. There are about 770,000 Catholics gathered in 2 archdioceses and 6 dioceses. The Bishops are assisted in their ministry by 183 diocesan priests, 54 religious priests, 62 Brothers, 545 Sisters and 2,306 catechists. PA (Fides Service 17/7/2003 EM lines 55 Words: 656)