As we leave the year2013 and step into 2014 it is timely for us as Christians to pause to reflect on our experiences of the past year so as to enter the new year with greater hope and zeal to do what Jesus commanded us.
Two major events in 2013 were significant for the church locally and worldwide. The first was the Allah issue in our country. While the whole world, including the Muslim world, accepts the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, our government and our judiciary, refuse to grant that freedom for us in Malaysia. In fact a simple issue has been turned into a major political one that has adversely affected the Muslim-Christian relationship in the country and threatens the peace and harmony between the majority Muslims and minority Christians in the country.
It is extremely sad that our judiciary had succumbed to the pressures of their political masters to totally disregard all the historical and legal facts that favour us in our fight to safeguard our religious and constitutional rights that are enshrined in the Federal Constitution and clear for everyone to see.
The Christians must be commended for their patience and willingness to take blows of injustice peacefully without hatred for their fellow Muslim brothers.This action of Christians is indeed Christ-like who took all the blows before his death with love and compassion,even forgiving all those who struck him mercilessly to death.
The Allah issue is just the tip of the iceberg, as the bigger issue at stake is not religious but political. The fear of proselytization of Malay Muslims by Christian Bumiputras from Sabah and Sarawak whose population in Peninsula is increasing steadily is causing shivers to Umno which has a strong hold on the Malay Muslims in the country. Any dilution of this Malay-Muslim population will be a severe blow to its strength in the federal government. Therefore it has to go all out to stop this influence of Christians on the Malay Muslims.Umno is least bothered about the Chinese and Indian Christians as they know the Malays will not be significantly affected by them.
The Muslim-Christian relation has come to a dangerous standoff that must be diffused with care.One party must give in and the question is who should be that one who can swallow their pride and give in for the sake of greater peace and harmony in the country.
Will the year 2014 be any different for inter-religious harmony?It all depends on the moderate Muslims in the country who make up a mere 10% of the Muslim population.Can the Christians appeal to this minority who are sympathetic to their to champion their cause for religious freedom? Will the moderate Muslim Malays rise up and try to influence their brother Muslims to get rid of the unfounded fear of their fellow Christian Malaysians?
What more can we do to regain our rights? As true followers of Christ we cannot fight them by confrontation, we cannot beat by force them but can only win them over with love. Are we prepared to do that? The answer depends very much on us and the Allah issue is not that matters as there are much more important issues at stake for us Christians and other non-Muslims in the country.
The other important development in the Church in 2013 was the election of Pope Francis as the new Pope of the Catholic Church. Although a relatively unknown figure in the Vatican hierarchy, Pope Francis very quickly moved to put a his stamp on the Church with his concern for the poor and marginalised who were long forgotten by the church.His election comes at a time when our Catholic Church was going through some very difficult times,leading to a real crisis of confidence in the world community.His simplicity,humilty and down to earth attitude touched the hearts of millions around the world both in and outside the church.
Pope Francis gave his up luxurious life in the ‘Pope’s residential palace’, the bulletproof Pope mobile preferring instead to drive around himself in a second hand car, dines with the poor man from streets, hugs and kisses the sick and disabled,forgives sinners saying “who am I to judge them?”, tells priests and bishops to go down to the people especially ‘rebels’ and sinners,personally calls those who write to him for help and visits the slums and illegal immigrant camps.These Christ-like revolutionary actions earned him the TIME’s Person of the Year Award for 2013 describing him as the pope who pulled the Church out of the palace and brought it onto the streets.
As Christians we must not just write off these actions of the Holy Father as a one off phenomenon that is personal. God has sent him for a purpose which we must all reflect on.What message is God trying to convey to us through Pope Francis?His simplicity,his humility and his love for those in pain and suffering should inspire us to adopt those virtues in our own lives.If these are not Christ-like what are they?
At a time when the people are losing confidence in the Church for failing to uphold the principles of Jesus in a highly materialistic modern world that is question the very existence of God, Pope Francis is taking us and the Church into a new era,an era to restore its lost credibilities.Will he succeed in such an hostile and sinful environment?
The year 2014 promises some exciting times ahead with Pope Francis leading the way carrying his new banner bearing the words – The Church must be poor. As we move into 2014,let us follow the leadership of our Holy Father in becoming more Christ-like in all we do and say.It is not enough to just to read or preach His Word but to live by the Word.We too much strive to become a little poorer in wealth but richer in love.
Let us build a Church that takes care of the needs of all the parishioners, poor and rich alike, regardless of whether they are active, inactive or even lapsed as they are all children of God who need to be kept intact in His flock.
Wishing all a Peaceful and Meaningful New Year