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Quiet burial for Malaysian cardinal who engaged Islam

Pope Francis recalled Cardinal Fernandez's long-standing commitment to ecumenism and interfaith dialogue

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: November 02, 2020 07:15 AM GMT
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Quiet burial for Malaysian cardinal who engaged Islam

The body of Malaysian Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez placed for a wake service in Kuala Lampur on Oct. 29. (Photo: YouTube

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Malaysian Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez chose to have his episcopal motto in his native language when he became a bishop in 1977. That was a decade after the Second Vatican Council when Latin was still the language of bishops.

Cardinal Fernandez, whose funeral was conducted on Oct. 31, loved Malaysia and the Second Vatican Council's inculturation idea. It prompted him to promote the national language, Bahasa Malaysia, in his local Church.

He chose his episcopal motto as "Keadilan dan Keamanan" (justice and peace) when consecrated as bishop of Penang in 1977. He used to say the use of the local language shows the Church's "commitment and love for our country."

Malaysia's first and only cardinal died on Oct. 28 at the age of 88. The retired archbishop of Kuala Lumpur had an 11-month fight against tongue cancer.

Knowing well that titles were no measures of a man, Cardinal Fernandez preferred to travel the path of social justice and interfaith dialogue and teamed up with various faiths to fight oppression, corruption and greed.

In a predominantly Islamic country of 32.6 million people, Cardinal Fernandez pioneered interreligious dialogue, helping the universal Church to come closer to political Islam.

As the Church's head in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur since 1983, he was the leading figure in the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. He headed the interreligious body as its president in 2001.

Until he retired 20 years later at the age of 71, Cardinal Fernandez was an outspoken critic of detentions without trial and went to the extreme by declaring as "immoral" the Internal Security Act that empowered authorities to detain suspects without criminal charge and hold them without trial.

Pope Francis elevated 84-year-old Fernandez to the College of Cardinals in 2016, making him the nation's first cardinal.

In a condolence message to Archbishop Julian Leow Beng Kim of Kuala Lumpur, the pope recalled the late cardinal's "generous service to the Church in Malaysia and his long-standing commitment to the promotion of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue."

Late vocation

Cardinal Fernandez was born in beautiful Sungei Petani in Kedah and fell on hard times after his father died in 1946. He had to give up his education to feed his family. He became the breadwinner for the family by working as a hospital assistant from 1947 to 1954.

His encounters with the late Monsignor I.J. Aloysius and the late Archbishop Dominic Vendargon led him to the priesthood. At the age of 26, he was sent to the minor seminary in Singapore in 1958.

He was ordained a priest in 1966 at the age of 34 by Bishop Dominic Vendargon, whom he replaced as archbishop of Kuala Lumpur on Nov 10, 1983.

Quiet burial

His further studies were conducted in the Philippines at the International Training Institute for World Churchmen and the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila and National Biblical Catechetical-Liturgical Centre in Bangalore, India.

Cardinal Fernandez was diagnosed with cancer in November last year and was undergoing palliative care at the Little Sisters of the Poor home. His health deteriorated in the past two months.

As he was known in Malaysia, Cardinal Soter had the knack of bringing out the best in others. According to his colleagues, tenderness, kindness, simplicity and humility were the hallmark of his Christian faith.

"The private and quiet funeral is likely to bear true witness to the person he was," the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur said in an obituary note.

Cardinal Fernandez was buried without any public participation because of the Malaysian government's Covid-19 protocols.

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