Friday, September 29, 2006

Plight of migrant workers

29 September 2006

Our attitude towards migrant workers

We celebrated Migrant Sunday on 24 September 2006.Special masses were offered in churches all over the country. Special prayers, intentions, offertory and cultural performances were organized. In many places these were followed by fellowship and other forms of celebrations.

We feel very happy that our Church attaches so much importance and shows so much concern for these migrant workers in our country. We must be very grateful to all those who sacrificed so much time and energy for the welfare of our foreign brethren.

These celebrations alone are not enough to overcome the numerous problems faced by these migrant workers in our country. From the time of recruitment in their own country till they leave after their contract expires, they are subjected to inhumane treatment by the employment agencies and the employers themselves. I do not say all these agencies are evil but many of them are. Most of us employ such workers at home and factories and we do appreciate their problems.

The majority of these workers are promised the heavens but when in fact they are given hell. Inspired with the rewards promised, they mortgage their houses, sell their properties to pay for greener pastures in a foreign land. They leave their spouse, children and parents behind to earn extra for the well being of their future.

Only when they reach the Promised Land do they realize that they have been cheated. Some of them are smuggled into the country to become the fashionably called illegal immigrants. Many are left stranded in the airports and in some unknown places without food, shelter or money until some good soul comes to their aid. Others find themselves in police lockups where they are verbally and physically abused. I have the personal experience in helping to send such illegal immigrants back to their homeland.

Those who manage to finally reach the place of their work, new problems await them. Many domestic helpers were not even told the nature of their duties although we were assured they are fully trained in the tasks we require of them. Many of them were promised factory jobs but ended up with us as domestic helpers and this may explain their rebellious behaviour. Can we blame them totally for that?

Those lucky ones end up with considerate employers who treat with kindness and consideration but enlarge the majority of them are not treated well. For the first 4 months or so they are not paid as their salary is used to offset the exorbitant administrative charges incurred in bringing them over.

They are overworked, without proper food and place to rest. Some of them are asked to work in a number of households .They are not given adequate clothes and the expenses on basic amenities like soap, tooth paste, shampoo and sanitary pads are deducted from their already meager pay.

The other major problem is medical expenses. No proper arrangements are made to cater for medical treatment. Our Health system, both government and private, is not at all compassionate to these workers. We have known of workers who spend huge sums on unwarranted medical investigations and treatment.

As an individual it will be impossible to overcome this monumental problem that has become rooted deeply in our society. Man is prepared to anything at any cost for the accumulation of wealth in this misguided culture that is becoming a norm in our country.

As Christians it is important to reflect our own attitude to migrant and our own workers. Are we treating them in a humane way? Do we treat them with dignity and love? Are we sensitive to their feelings and needs? To put it simply in a nutshell, do we see Christ in them?

As a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday fell on October 2nd,it would be appropriate to reflect on his words regarding our attitude towards others, “Man, for instance cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side."

If we profess to really love God and want Him on our side, there is no other way then to love fellow men, especially those less privileged than us.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Gandhi and Christianity

29 September 2006

God’s Kingdom is within us. Part II

October 2nd.2006 will be Mahatma Gandhi’s 137th.birthday. He was proclaimed by many as one of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders, not of the century but of all times. He was ranked not just with Thoreau,Tolstoy and St.Francis,but with Buddha, Mohammed and even Jesus. In fact to me he is the human version of modern Jesus.

He was a devout Hindu but became the conscience in the hearts of all men,including the British colonialist who were predominantly Christian. He lost his life in the hands of his own Hindu followers for protecting the Muslim minority in India during the time of post-independence partition. His actions demonstrate what the ruling majority in a political system should do to protect the minorities under their rule.

Fr.John Dear recalls that when Gandhi was asked what advice he had for Christians, the great Indian independence leader wisely replied,

“First, I suggest that all Christians must begin to live more like Jesus Christ.

Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down.

Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity.

Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to people.”

His advice to Christians should make us ponder on our own words and deeds as the followers of Christ. Gandhi, a staunch Hindu has understood Christianity better than many of us as he recognized that love is central in Christianity.

The following words of Gandhi bear very special significance to all mankind especially Christians:

“The Kingdom of God is within us and that we can realise it not by saying, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but by doing God’s will and work. Therefore if we wait for the Kingdom to come, as something coming from outside, we shall be sadly mistaken.”

He continues “Do you know that there are thousands of villages where people are starving and which are on the brink of ruin? If we would listen to the voice of God, I assure you we would hear God say that we are taking God's name in vain if we do not think of the poor and help them. If you cannot render the help that they need, it is no use talking of service of God and service of the poor. Try to identify yourselves with the poor by actually helping them.”

Today most of us indulge in all sorts of activities like fasting, abstinence, meditations, offering masses, holding mammoth prayer sessions and so on, imploring the Kingdom of God to come to us to heal us from all ills. We wait for the Kingdom of God by carrying out all these rituals but fail to appreciate that His Kingdom is within us.

For us Christians, the Kingdom of God, is the love of Christ burning within our hearts, ready to be shared with others around us – our spouse, parents, children, priest, colleagues, friends, the poor and needy, the sick and dying and even our enemies.

Gandhi realized this love of God within him and shared that love with the millions of downtrodden in India. He saw God in the poor and the suffering and become one with them. By doing so he has demonstrated himself as a better Christian than many of us.

“Man, for instance”,says Gandhi, “cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side."

In the light of these words of the Mahatma, where do WE stand in our daily life?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Post PMPCIII disappointment

PMPCIII anticlimax

Finally the long-awaited PMPC III is over. About 600 representatives from all three dioceses took part in the 3-day deliberations that is supposed to charter the course of our Church in Malaysia over the next 10 years.

For months we were asked to pray, which we all did earnestly for the success of this Convention. Special prayers were included during all the Sunday masses. We asked God, through the Holy Spirit to guide our clergy and lay leaders to come up with definite concrete plans for the building of His Kingdom here in Peninsula Malaysia .

There was so much publicity and hype beforehand, but unfortunately the PMPC III itself was an anticlimax. We eagerly awaited some news of the outcome of the Convention but at the first post-PMPC III Sunday Mass, in many of the parishes, I understand nothing was mentioned about the deliberations and decisions at the meeting either from the priests or lay leaders who participated in this historic event. It was a real disappointment to all Catholics who prayed so enthusiastically for the success of the PMPC III.

This goes a long way to illustrate the degree of importance given to the lay members of the Church. We are continuously being reminded that “We are the Church” and “Being with the Church” but where it really matters we are totally ignored. How can we expect to build the true Kingdom of Christ when we do not reach out to the ordinary members of the Church?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pope’s humility,a lesson for all

September 21, 2006

Humility is not a sign of weakness

The recent controversy that arose from Pope Benedict XVI’s statement regarding violence and Islam created a lot of tensions in the world. The Pope was very right in saying that all religions renounce all forms of violence and that nobody should use these acts of aggression against anyone in the name of God.

Many are asking how the brilliant theologian-pope could have been so unaware of the political realities in today's world that he felt he could quote freely, without creating problems, from a 14th-century Byzantine (Orthodox Christian) emperor, then in conflict with the Turkish Muslims, who expressed a negative judgment on Muhammad and jihad.
The Pope, being no ordinary man, may have his own reasons for what he said but the statement was made at the wrong time when Muslim world is over-sensitive to criticism as a result of 9/11 and the events that followed. They have the wrong perception that Christians are waging a war against them. If only they realize that Christ preached love even to our enemies, they will not be suspicious of us and would be more receptive to the idea of dialogue for peaceful solution of inter-faith disputes.

What impressed me in this whole affair was the prompt apology from the Pope, not once but several times, when he realized what he said had hurt the feelings of the Muslims all over. Without much prompting and persuasion he quickly apologized when he realized his “mistake” could cause unrest and even death of innocent people. He has acted in the true spirit of the humility of Christ himself.

Not many of us can do that freely. In our daily lives we say and do so many things that hurt the feelings of others. Many a times we do not even realize that we have hurt others. Even when we finally realize our mistake our ego prevents us from apologizing.

By washing the feet of his apostles, Jesus had demonstrated the most extreme form of humility and love for man and this love resulted in the ultimate sacrifice of His life for us on the cross.
As the followers of Jesus, do we possess that humility and love for others, especially those below us? Are we willing to sacrifice whatever we can for the betterment of others? These are the questions we must pose to ourselves and ponder.
Our Holy Father’s action of humble apology should be a lesson for us in our relationship with those we encounter daily - our spouse, our children, parents, priests, friends and particularly our subordinates and those with dissenting views. If only we can admit our mistakes and say “I am sorry” to them, it would solve a lot of our problems, but that unfortunately, is the most difficult thing to do.

If only our political leaders possess this great virtue of humility, we would not be faced with the current problems in the world. It was the humility of Anwar Sadat that brought peace between Egypt and Israel. If only George Bush had been humble enough to meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations recently, his problems with Iran may be more easily dealt with.

Very often humility is seen as a sign of weakness when actually is a sign of strength and a divine gift to man.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tribute to Ven.Sri Dr.Dhammananda

14 September 2006

Tribute to “The Chief”

I was very impressed by the actions of our bishops who took their invaluable time off from the PMPCIII to pay their last respects to the late the late Most Venerable Dr K Dhammananda Nayaka Maha Thera J.S.M. who passed away on Thursday, August 31, 2006.( Bishops pay last respects to Buddhist Chief of Malaysia,Herald,September 10).

It was indeed a proud moment for us Catholics to see our bishops’ enthusiasm in reaching out the Buddhist community in the spirit of mutual cooperation and love which was reciprocated by a similar gesture by the members of the community present there. This is especially meaningful at a time when members of Buddhist, Christian and Hindu faiths are undergoing a real period of trial and tribulation in our country.

The demise of Ven Dhammananda, fondly called “The Chief”, is a great loss to us as he was one of the founder members and the current president of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS).

His name means "one who experiences happiness through the Dhamma (teachings of the Buddha)".

In his tribute to this great man of God, journalist Azlan Ramli, summed up by saying “Ven Dhammananda was a great Buddhist but more importantly, a great human being”. He described him as a very humble person. He continues “My brief encounter with him changed my perception and understanding of other peoples’ faith and drastically changed me for the better” (NST, September 4, 2006).

A statement like this about a Buddhist priest, coming from a Muslim today, is something extra-ordinary and it speaks a great deal for this great man.

Ven Dhammananda had the humility and love, in dealing with those from other faiths. As Christians we too need to have that love and humility not to convert but change others for the better. These are the virtues we should pray God to bestow us.

At a critical time as at present, unity with other religious groups is very important so that we are not alone in our struggle against injustice, racial and religious prejudice. We must be open to the concept of the Universality of God, where every faith leads to the same God along different paths. There is no one religion that is above the others, all are equal in the eyes of God.

Interfaith harmony appears to be limited to the highest level of our hierarchy and is sadly lacking at the level of grassroots and the masses. Unless interfaith dialogue and tolerance is transmitted down to the masses it is of no use and meaningless.

As Christians we must follow the example shown by our bishops to extend our hands of friendship and love to those of other faiths in our own communities at BEC and parish levels. We must become the catalysts for the promotion of inter-faith harmony and goodwill.

We should be free to attend their functions and ceremonies with an open mind as children of one God. In order to facilitate and enhance this interfaith interactions we as Christians must remove all barriers that we may have put up to shield ourselves from the “assault” by those of other faiths.

We should ponder over a number of issues before we can proceed on to promote true inter-faith harmony. Are we prepared to accept and recognize the practices of fellow Christians of other denominations? Do we accept that all religions are equal and will lead their respective followers to God? Do we accept that it is more important to be a good human than a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or of some other faith?

Ven Dhammananda may have a devout Buddhist but what was more relevant to man was that he was a great human. He may have left us but the following thoughts of his should remain as a stimulus to the continual promotion of inter-faith goodwill and brotherhood among us.

“Happy is he who has lofty and noble aspirations. Happy is he who enriches the lives of others. Happy is he who allows others to live in peace. Happy is he makes this world a better place to live in. Happy is he whose work,chores and daily tasks are labours of love. Happy is he who loves love”
-- Ven K.Sri.Dhammananda--

From the above words of Ven Sri Dhammananda,we notice he emphasizes that happiness comes with the little things we do out of love to others. This reinforces by firm believe that if we care for those around us, God will give us what we deserve.

Dr Chris Anthony

Monday, September 11, 2006

Our spouse,a gift from God

September 11, 2006

Unity among christian denominations

The divorce rate is increasing at an alarming rate all over the world. It is distressing to note that, in Malaysia, there were 19,800 cases of divorce in 2004 and this continues to increase over the years. The rate of divorce among Christians and even Catholics is on the rise. What is happening to our belief that marriages are made in heaven? Where have we gone wrong in upholding the sanctity of matrimony?

Lately I had the opportunity to attend a wedding of a friend’s son in an Anglican Church. The bridegroom was an Anglican and the bride a Lutheran.

The ceremony was presided over by the Anglican pastor and assisted by 2 others, one from the Lutheran and another from a Methodist church. I must admit that I am not too familiar with the real differences between these Christian denominations but one thing is common among them, that is the belief in Christ as the supreme Lord, which is also basis of our faith.

I really appreciated the three clergymen conducting the service harmoniously as though they were from one and the same denomination. I was even taken by surprise when the main celebrant, the Anglican pastor called upon the Methodist pastor to deliver the sermon which was originally scheduled for him.

As I was observing the proceedings in the church, I was wondering how wonderful it would be if only our own Catholic priests could join in such a service with those from other Christian denominations. Of course I know for sure that such a scenario will never materialize. It is easy to preach interfaith unity and understanding but difficult to practice it even with other fellow Christians.

I must admit however, despite the harmony in unity, one great factor was missing – the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The presence of Christ in the Eucharistic is what gives the solemnity to the sacrament of matrimony.

Despite this deficiency, I was impressed by the sermon delivered, which was simple, clear and very practical. I have yet to hear such an advice by our own pastors during our Catholic weddings.

The pastor said “The fact that Christ has sanctioned your marriage means that he has chosen the spouse for you. It implies that your partner is the best for you and you can never find someone better however hard you try”.

Turning to the bridegroom he reiterated “This woman is the best wife for you as she is chosen by Christ himself. It will therefore be futile and even foolish of you to leave her for someone better in the course of your life as you will never find one”.

Similarly he then turned to the bride and gave similar assurances on her husband.

With my own experiences over 20 years of married life, I can safely certify for sure the fact stated by the Methodist pastor that our spouse is God chosen and is the best for us. If we do not have that faith and trust in Christ regarding this simple fact, then it would be meaningless to call ourselves His followers.

Today even among Catholics, divorce is slowly being accepted as a norm. What is frightening is that it occurs even after many years of marriage. If only the couples, who took their matrimonial wows, in the presence of Christ, understood that they were chosen for each other by God himself and that they are the best for each other, they would have never considered divorce as the solution to whatever problems that they encounter.

Very often we see only the defects in our spouses. In fact it is much easier to see the bad than the good in them. It is easy for us to say “Lord, I love you”, and we do say that many times a day, but very difficult to say the same to our spouses even once. If only we realize that Christ reveals himself daily in our spouses, in their strength and more so in their weaknesses, then saying the phrase to our spouses will be become a joy.

Once when we are convinced that Christ would give us the best in everything, including our spouses, only then will we see the good in them and overlook their shortcomings. This would be the beginning of a lasting and unshakably strong relationship with them that will withstand the stress and strain which are common in the process of bringing up the family.

We preach so much about faith and trust in God and we often presume we have that faith in us at all times. It may be so in good times but the real test of faith is at times when tragedy strikes and our lives are thrown into disarray. That is the time we must recall our matrimonial wows we made to the person handpicked by God to be our partner in life, in the presence of His son, Jesus Christ, “I’ll be true to you in good and bad times,in sickness and in health ….”.

Dr.Chris Anthony