July 10, 2006
An open letter to Archbishop, Bishops, priests and lay participants of PMPCIII
Major issues to be addressed at the PMPCIII
The delegates to the PMPC III would be gathering at the end of August 2006 for the all important convention which is to chart the course of the church in the years to come. As we strive to build God’s kingdom on earth, we must face the realities in today’s world with particular attention to 2 prevailing conditions in our country:
1. There is a progressive erosion of the legitimate rights of the minorities in the country. We are confronted with an unreasonable authority which fails to adhere to established norms and refuses to engage in dialogue to solve common problems. There is real threat that the nation is slowly moving towards an Islamic state.
2. In today’s rapidly changing materialistic world, family life has become so complex and challenging. Bringing up children with good values is the biggest challenge and needs full time involvement of parents.Furthemore the cost of health care and education for the children is exorbitant. It can run into hundreds of thousand s ringgit and has become beyond the reach of the average Malaysian.
We must strive to develop our Catholic community to become self reliant in all fields, spiritual and social. Only by doing that we can overcome the “assault” by the unreasonable political authority we are subjected to.
We have the talent and capabilities within our community. We had successfully run schools, hospitals and welfare institutions before, why are we complacent now? We may be small and down but we are not out, and with Jesus on our side, we must and can rise up and become a force to be reckoned. All we need is the will and true faith in Christ and with these; I do not see why we should fail in our struggle to build God’s Kingdom here on earth. In fact we should become the conscience in hearts of those forces poised against us.
To achieve this, some pressing issues need to be addressed:
Due to too many administrative duties the clergy have lost the personal touch with people, which should be their overriding priority. Church is run like a political or business institution, devoid of compassion and forgiveness, in enforcing rules and regulations.
There is a need for a bigger and more responsible role for the laity especially in the administration of the parish. Laity’s voice, maturity and intelligence are often underestimated and not utilized.
This “I know all” and “take it or leave” attitude of the clergy belittles the intelligence and capabilities of the layman.
Establishment of a laity-clergy diocesan council may be the move in the right direction in the endeavor to overcome this unhealthy situation.
Promoting and developing BECs as basic functional units in the parish.
Pastoral care should focus on family and BEC. At present most BECs function at the whims and fancies of the leader and his selected people. No real discussion or dialogue with members regarding activities. Some leaders carry out projects for the wrong reason, self glory.
Active pastoral involvement, whereby the priest establishes inter-personal relationship with the people on the ground, would overcome this unhealthy situation. There is use in having BECs without the active involvement of the priest.
Open dialogue, transparency and accountability in the administration of parishes
There is a real need to have open dialogue, transparency and accountability in the administration of the parishes. We are living in the twenty-first century and must discard all authoritarian practices of the past.
The clergy must abdicate some of the administrative functions to the laity who may be more qualified and better trained in running those functions. This will also allow them more time for their pastoral duties which only they can provide.
In this regards the parish council must be elected and thereby accountable to the parishioners. It must seek the priest’s consent in all matters in the running of the church.
Frequent review of PMPC and feedback
There must be frequent review of the policies adopted for implementation and not once in 10 years. Avenues for feedback from the people must be made available and also actively encouraged. These suggestions and criticisms must be taken seriously regardless of who proposes them.
Parish newsletters and catholic publications like the Herald and Catholic Asian News must be given importance. Efforts must be made to publicize them among the Catholics. More space should be allocated for feedback and opinions from parishioners rather than stereotype reporting in favor of the authority, similar to our national dailies.
Declining Christian education .
With the decline in education as whole, we are also witnessing deterioration in even the basic universal human and moral values especially among the young.
We have lost all our Christian schools which used to be the main source of moral and religious education of our children. Our present school system has failed miserably in this aspect; it is therefore left to the parents, the church and the lay Christian community to take over the task of teaching the young the values and traditions of their faith.
The Church must take this seriously and set up a task force at the highest level comprising experts from all sectors to tackle this problem urgently.
There is need for the establishment of a national Christian Institute of leadership and teachers training
Growing crisis in marriage and family life.
There is serious concern over the ever increasing divorce rate which threatens family institution to the core. This is becoming rampant even among Catholics where divorce is forbidden. Uncompromising parents and rebellious children who do not respect elders are becoming common. There is a need to strengthen the family unit.
The declining morality among the youth.
Our children are exposed to the strong attraction of a misconceived culture that is prevalent in today’s world. This culture contradicts every established principle of all religions. Free sex, abortion and adultery are not frowned at anymore. Corruption and greed for wealth are becoming acceptable norms.
Over-emphasis on spiritual and neglect of social teachings
There is an unhealthy trend where there is over emphasis on spiritual development at the expense of social values that were the earmark of our Catholic faith. Holiness is just not just praying and observing church laws blindly without a feeling for the human heart. Jesus stressed on loving God and man and unless we combine the spiritual and social teaching we are not going to appeal to the vast majority of the people. There should be emphasis that spiritual development accompanying social values is not Christian. There is a general belief now that Christ is only present in the Eucharist, whereas in reality he is alive in every one around us.
Racial segregation in the church.
Racial segregation, initiated by the government, is creeping into our church and becoming a real problem. This is further aggravated by our practice of segregation of the races according to language groups. This was not a problem when English was the main language of the church in the seventies, why are we making it one now? We should not succumb to the forces that propagate a divide and rule policy but unite as one community because our strength lies in this unity in diversity.
Awareness of the socio-political developments in the country.
Islamisation and marginalization of minorities by the government will soon be accepted as a way of life. Christians are complacent hoping and praying that they will not be affected.
The church must make the members be aware of the serious repercussions of Islamisation on our religious beliefs. We should not just happy to pray and go home; there are serious problems ahead which must be addressed now.
We must make clear our uncompromising stand on rights abuses that are so frequent these days.
Unity with other religious groups
We are not alone in our struggle against injustice, racial and religious prejudice. We have the other Christian denominations and other major faiths with whom we must cooperate and interact. We should not adopt the misguided notion that ours is the best religion and all others are false. We must be open to the universality of God, where every faith leads to the same God along different paths.
Lack of basic facilities in small parishes
Every attempt must be made to improve the basic facilities in all parishes to develop them into centres of education, training and human development. Many of the buildings and infrastructure in small parishes are in a sorry state due to neglect.
A task force at diocesan level must be formed, comprising experts in the various fields, to upgrade the facilities in all parishes.
I feel these are some of the issues that need to be urgently addressed. The future of our church in Malaysia will depend on how we address these problems today. We need all the feedback, ideas and opinions from every member of the church, either active or inactive.
We pray that God would enlighten their minds of the participants and give them all the necessary wisdom and courage to come up ideas and solutions to the many pressing problems of the Church in Malaysia today.
The church authorities must make available avenues for this feedback and be open to them, especially criticisms, which are meant for the betterment of the Catholic community. We the Catholics hope and pray our bishops, priests and those in power listen to our passionate plea and be receptive to all the ideas put forward and act accordingly.