Malaysia's former prime minister Najib Razak speaks to the media after being questioned at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission office in Putrajaya on May 24. Najib was questioned over a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal that has left the country in massive debt. (Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP)
With their prayers answered for a peaceful election and change of leadership, Catholics in Malaysia are now pitching in to help the Muslim-majority country reduce its one trillion ringgit (over US$251 billion) debt.
Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur, in a letter to Catholics on June 4, said church collections during Masses held from June 22-24 would be donated to Tabung Harapan Malaysia as part of the church's commitment to assist rebuild the country.
Archbishop Leow said the bishops of Peninsular Malaysia had agreed to offer up one weekend's collection from all parishes towards the fund to help trim the nation's debt.
He asked that the donation drive be announced in parish bulletins and upcoming Masses this weekend, adding that there would be a single collection at each Mass during the forth weekend of this month.
"I thank you for your generosity and as one Malaysian church, let us continue to pray for our beloved country, Malaysia," Archbishop Leow said.
Churches in the two Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak are expected to follow suit.
The collection is expected to be significant as Catholics make up about 3.5 percent of the 31 million population of the country which has nine dioceses including three archdioceses.
The Council of Churches Malaysia has also urged Christians to donate to the fund in a "special appeal" to member of congregations to "play their part in this extraordinary effort".
The Tabung Harapan Malaysia (Malaysia Hope Fund) was set up on May 30 in response to Malaysians' concerns over the economic mismanagement by the former Barisan Nasional government.
It was started after social media users said they wanted to raise funds to help repay colossal debts that had accumulated under former prime minister Najib Razak.
The fund has been enthusiastically welcomed by Malaysians who are still celebrating the change of government following the May 9 elections.
The fund has so far collected over $8 million with groups of children and teenagers washing cars for contributions, businesses pledging a part of their profits and individuals and groups organizing donation drives.
Meanwhile, Najib is at the center of investigations around the world over the 1MDB state development fund, from which billions of dollars were allegedly stolen.
U.S. government investigators claim that he embezzled from the fund he was overseeing.
They alleged he transferred about $700 million of the fund into his own bank account, funding lavish shopping sprees for his wife. He has denied all wrongdoing but is now under renewed investigation in Malaysia after the fall of his government.
Anger over 1MDB helped the Pakatan Harapan alliance led by 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, the new prime minister, score a stunning election victory on May 9, ending the 60-year rule of the Barisan Nasional coalition.
On May 25, Malaysian police said they found $28.6 million in cash stuffed in bags during a search of several apartments linked to Najib.
The raids which were related to renewed investigation into 1MDB scandal, also uncovered over 30 bags containing watches and jewellery.