Friday, July 30, 2010

Building a people-friendly church

Arrogance will drive away many

I sympathize with “A concerned Catholic’ from KL for his bitter experience in his church as contained in his letter “Is the Church turning away its faithful?” (Herald,July 25)

He was right in saying that nobody wants to come late for church and in most cases there could be genuine reasons for coming late or leaving early. Drastic action like closing the door to late comers or passing rude remarks from the pulpit is unwarranted and could only be seen as an act of arrogance.

Such high-handed behavior would only drive away many members who truly love the church. It is this love and concern for the church that prompts people to complain about what they see as not right. The church must consider such complaints seriously if it wants to remain relevant to the people. Instead of appreciating the efforts of those who care, regrettably there is a tendency to marginalize and penalize them.

I fully agree that people must be disciplined to be punctual. It is distressing to note punctuality has become a rare commodity among Malaysians. While I fully agree that late comers must be discouraged but it should not be at the expense of the many who are late for genuinely unavoidable reasons.

In a life that is so challenging people have numerous problems to handle and they go to church to get some solace, encouragement and guidance to manage their problems in the way Christ would like them to do. Many among them may not be able to cope with certain crisis in their lives and families and may be considering resorting to drastic measures like violence, divorce and even suicide as a means to escape from the pain and agony. It could be a tragedy for the church to drive these desperate people away by rude remarks and actions without trying to understand their plight

It is time for the Church and our priests to be more people-friendly. They must learn to appreciate the problems of the people and not just implement laws as they wish without considering their effects on the faithful. Laws are there to enhance our relationship with one another not hinder our Christian life by provoking anger and hatred towards one another.

It may be relevant for us to ponder on the recent remarks of Pope Benedict XVI, regarding the sexual-abuse scandal in the US and Europe, “The greatest persecution of the church doesn't come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sin within the church." If sex scandals are causing the downfall of the church in Europe and the US, arrogance, if not checked, may cause its downfall here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Time for a greater role of the laity

Parish Councils should be given due recognition

One of the major problems facing most parishes is the role of the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC).The Church is very clear on the role of PPC - it is purely advisory in nature and the decision-making lies with the bishop of the diocese or in the case of the parish, with the parish priest.

The advisory role PPC could have served well in the past when people were generally simple and not well educated and the priest could handle all the problems in the parish all by himself. In fact many of them did that wonderfully. Today life has become so sophisticated with the tremendous advances in technology that no one individual can solve all the problems by himself.

There is a need for the concerted efforts of all to manage the many complex problems we face in this highly challenging world. The priest alone is not in a position to handle all these demands of the people satisfactorily and this gives rise to the disputes between clergy and laity in many parishes. The time has come for the PPC to be given more executive powers in non-spiritual issues.

Fortunately the Church is not short of qualified expertise in all fields and it would be foolish not to utilize their services to enhance the overall management of the parish. The parish priests should confine themselves to catering for the spiritual needs of the people, for which they are specially trained, and leave the financial and social management to the members of the laity, represented by the PPC, who are better trained to manage that.

The PPC must represent the interests of the parishioners not just those of the priest. Its leader and members must be duly elected by the parishioners at their Parish Assembly and not ‘appointed’ by the parish priest as it done in many parishes. Although the role of the PPC is advisory, is only proper that it be given due recognition and importance it deserves, which I am afraid may not be so in many parishes.

It is very sad that there is little or no dialogue between the priest and the PPC in many places. There are no qualms as to priest making the final decision, but he must give serious consideration to the views of the PPC and the people and provide proper explanations and justifications if he has to reject their proposals for whatever reasons. In short he must respect the PPC and be accountable to it as it is the supreme body in the parish that represents the people.

Unsatisfactory management and unaccountable unilateral decisions by the parish priests in many parishes have driven away many talented members of the laity from active participation in the various organizations. If this continues I am afraid our Church will soon end up being just an institution that just carries out rituals and magic to cure the ills of mankind, rather than bringing the love of Christ to them.

Gone are the days when the priest or any one single individual can dictate how the parish should be run. Today dialogue and debate should be the proper means to run the parish more effectively and efficiently for the benefit of all. In this respects the time has come for drastic changes to give the laity greater role in the administration of the parish. The sooner the church realizes this the better or else it will become irrelevant to the modern man.

In the meantime let’s be more professional in training our own priests and lay people to be good leaders. A good leader is one who listens and respects the wishes of the people and is accountable to them when making major decisions. If he doesn’t then he will be no different from our own politicians, of whom we are very critical.