Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Racism in the church

Let's rid ourselves of the inherent racist trait from our hearts

One of the greatest problems that plagued mankind throughout the ages and continue to do so till today is racism. The Cambridge dictionary defines racism as the belief that people's qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races.

A racist is therefore someone who believes that other races are not as good as their own and therefore treats them unfairly. Basically all of us are racists to some extent as this feeling of superiority exists in the hearts all of us. As Christians we must strive to rid ourselves of the inherent racist trait from our hearts to regard all men as equal.

The Catholic Church has been a staunch critic of racism wherever and whenever it occurs, particularly in the administration of the country. Unfortunately the very evil that it condemned has now become one of the major problems confronting the church itself. This could be attributed to the education system that tends to segregate the races from a very young age which had created a generation of Malaysians who are highly conscious of their ethnic origin.

They prefer to regard themselves more as Malays, Chinese and Indians than Malaysians, interacting with those of their own race. They may appear to be living happily together side by side but the differences among them are dividing them more than the commonness that unites them. When we do not understand the cultures and traditions of our ‘friends’ from other races how can we be expected to respect each others differences?

This racially orientated culture has inevitably permeated into our church where it further aggravated the problem by creating the various language groups. In the fifties and sixties when English was the main means of communication there was greater unity among the various races in the church, namely Chinese, Indians and Eurasians. Today there is so much conflict of interest among the various communities that is threatening to split the church into the various language groups.

In fact today in most parishes the three language groups have become so polarized with each working in isolation. Their occasional encounters end up in misunderstanding and even quarrels. Multi-language masses to cater for all three groups have become a trend these days. This so called ‘rojak mass’ does not have any tangible benefits for any particular group. Instead it only unduly prolongs the service but benefits no one.

Whenever a new parish priest takes over there is so much lobbying by the Tamil and Mandarin speaking parishioners to have a priest from their own race. The situation is so serious that when an Indian priest comes the Chinese speaking members “migrate” out to other parishes leaving a largely Indian community in the parish. It is the same with Tamil speaking parishioners when a Chinese priest takes over. This unhealthy trend is becoming more entrenched and is creating so much hate and suspicion of each other instead of love and brotherhood that Christ promoted.

To make matters worse the new generation of priests themselves becomes racially inclined, being closely associated with members of their community. This creates suspicion and ill-feeling among the other community and all sorts of allegations and rumors surface, many of which may be unfounded and mischievous.

From the past we know that a common language will go a long way to integrate the various communities and it has to be either Bahasa Malaysia or English, the latter is preferable for obvious reasons. We have to realize that despite our differences we are all children of God and therefore share a common brotherhood in our Lord Jesus. Ill-feelings, hatred and suspicion for those of a different race are contrary to the very teachings of Christ who advocated love for all including our enemies.

The priests and church leaders too should conduct themselves in a manner that they are seen to be neutral and caring for all regardless of ethnicity. As parents we must show our kids an exemplary behavior that illustrates the right attitude towards our parishioners of different race. In short, what ethnic culture we belong to is not important, what is important is for us to adopt a Christian culture that is color blind which does not distinguish one by his ethnicity but by his comradeship as fellow humans. That is what Christ wants and that is exactly what we must do.

It is unfortunate that we have today a new generation of Malaysians, both priests, parents and the laity in general, who are so racially charged so much so they become very sensitive and intolerant to the comments and criticisms from members of other races. Under these circumstances forging racial goodwill and integration is a difficult task but if we do not start in our church how can we expect our politicians to do so at the national levels where it is far more complex and challenging?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bring Christ not politics into church ministries

Give opportunity for all to serve

Bernie de Rozario in her letter “Pray for our priests daily as they remain focused on God” (Herald July 19) expressed her frustrations of what is going in her parish. She seems to very disturbed that some parishioners ‘monopolize’ the priests so much so that others have no access to him. In fact the problems she highlighted are not unique to her parish but one that exists in many others as well.

In most organizations the leader is often surrounded by group of loyalists who will do anything for the leader. They would take great pains to please the leader often for their own benefits. They have a lot of influence on the leader and the way he behaves and deals with others under his care. Over time the leader if not careful becomes blinded by these loyalists and that is where the whole trouble starts.

The situation in most of our parishes is no different where the priest is ‘monopolized’ by a few to the extent an inexperienced priest succumbs to their influence. Both the priest and the laity are equally responsible for the problems that exist in most parishes that finally lead to a tremendous strain in the clergy-laity relationship.

Many of our younger priests lack conviction in their vocation and therefore are not focused in serving God through His people and therefore get distracted along the way. In a recent homily, the bishop of Penang, Rt Rev Anthony Selvanayagam, expressed lamented at the poor caliber of those entering the seminary these days. According to him they have a tough time making into them normal humans let alone turning into holy men of God. This is a shocking revelation and a very serious problem that could affect the future of our religion in the world that is becoming increasingly more materialistic.

Parents today fail in their obligation to instill basic human values in their children, abdicating that role to the church and schools which are also unable to fulfill that important duty. How can we expect the seminary to churn out good, committed and holy priests when in the first place they lack the basic human values to start with?

Often the young priests lack the maturity and wisdom that comes only with experience, to handle the various problems posed by the people .As a result they are easily swayed by those who get into their inner circle whereby their judgments become biased at times even unfair. Handling human beings is formidable task that need many years of painstaking experience to accomplish successfully. Every person is unique and the more people we have the greater and more complicated the task becomes.

The lay people are also largely to blame for the many problems that plague our parishes today. The uncompromising and selfish attitude of some in wanting to seek power and glory for themselves and their family puts the priest in a very difficult situation. They fail to realize these are the very evils that were detested by Christ himself. They do not show any love, forgiveness and humility in their dealings with others. They say they love God by becoming front-line worshippers but do little to show they love their neighbor as they are always at loggerheads with them. They are not very different from our national politicians of whom we all are very critical.

The vast majority of the laity do not want to get involved in the politics of the church and as the silent majority they prefer go on with their daily chores in peace accepting, often grudgingly, whatever decisions made by those in power. It is unfortunate the invaluable talents among this huge group of parishioners remain largely untapped due to the unhealthy politicking that goes on at the top around the parish priest.

The leadership of the various organizations must be elected and their terms in office limited to two, so that more parishioners are given the chance to contribute their knowledge, talents and skills for the overall physical and spiritual development of the parish. There is a large pool of gifted people in our community, why just allow a handful to monopolize and dominate the running of the parish and the parish priest, causing a great deal of unhappiness among the majority?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Furore over spying in church

Need to respect practices of other religions

The report in Al Islam magazine claiming its reporters had entered a church that was alleged to be converting Muslims into Christianity is very disturbing. They were also reported to have been spying to see whether the word “Allah” was being used in the church service. Furthermore these non-Christian reporters in disguise were also alleged to have participated in the religious rituals and practices that are strictly restricted to Catholic Christians only.

They were also reported to have ridiculed the rituals and insulted the ‘Eucharist’ that are held in great reverence by the Catholics. The actions of these reporters were very irresponsible and dangerous especially in a nation with diverse races and faiths. It sets an unhealthy precedence that could cause disharmony, ill feelings and hatred among the people of different religions.

The irresponsible actions of these reporters are considered sacrileges and have deeply hurt and angered the congregation in particular and the Catholic community in general. Some concerned members of the Catholic community have rightly made police reports to investigate the matter and take appropriate action without fear or favor. Will the police rise up to be more professional in handling this rather sensitive issue, which if not checked immediately will have drastic repercussions?

The freedom to practice one’s faith is guaranteed in the Federal Constitution and it must be respected by all parties. Religion and its rituals and practices, however peculiar they may appear to non-believers, is a very private and sensitive matter that must be treated utmost with respect and reverence. Similarly all places of worship must be accorded the sanctity they deserve as belittling them and the practices there-in would be amounting to acts of sacrilege that would incite anger which will have dangerous repercussions in a multi-ethnic country like ours.

Unauthorized entry into places of worship for the purpose of spying and belittling religious practices of others is a serious offense that must never be tolerated. The police must act quickly and decisively to stop such irresponsible people, regardless of the religion they belong, from creating chaos in the country. Bringing them to face the full wrath of the law will discourage others from resorting to such provocative actions. Failing to act will lead to the disruption of the fragile inter-religious harmony that we have in the country.

At the same time in a multiracial and multi-religious country it would be wrong and dangerous to try to convert someone from faith to another. It would only create suspicion, anger and hate that lead to violence that could tear the country apart like in some countries. I do not think there will be any Christian with a right mind would want to convert Muslims to Christianity. The majority of us want to live peacefully with our brethren of other faiths, with mutual respect for the religious practices and cultures of one another.

On the contrary, as all religions preach love, goodwill and forgiveness towards fellow men irrespective of their believe, it would be better to encourage people to be true to their own religious teachings and thereby become better humans in their own faiths.

After all, aren’t all religions the same as they all lead their followers to the one same God despite their bitter disputes, quarrels and times war that they wage against one another along the way, ironically in His name?

As Catholics we may be tempted to react with anger and hate against those who have desecrated our faith, but we must not act emotionally but it a time to demonstrate that despite their ridicule and hate we will strict to what Jesus himself taught and did - to love his enemies. His message to us “Lord, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” should remind us of the virtue of forgiveness even for our enemies.

It is timely for the bishops with the consultation of the various religious leaders of the MCCBCHST to issue an official statement strongly condemning the sacrilegious actions of the reporters concerned. This would persuade the national leaders to take the necessary actions to stop the religious fanaticism from taking deeper roots in our country.

Dr.Chris Anthony