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Malaysia

ARCHBISHOP SOTER FERNANDEZ REFLECTS ON MAJOR CHURCH EVENTS OF 1988

Updated: December 13, 1988 05:00 PM GMT
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Tremors of the 1987 government crackdown on critics are still felt as Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad´s government continued to apply the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) and made more arrests in 1988.

Introduced in the period of British colonization, the ISA empowers the government to arrest and detain political dissidents without an open trial.

Despite or due to the ISA arrests, Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur believes that "Christians are alive here in Malaysia...all the more because the political, social, and economic realities in our country, especially after the Oct. 27, 1987 arrests, have in my considered opinion, shaken us from our complacency."

"The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel," he told UCA News.

"Thus, what was said by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, that the split between faith which many profess and their daily lives, deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age," the archbishop added.

"Our program and plan in our lives is to make the responses to the impulse or the Spirit fully and faithfully."

Archbishop Fernandez cited another 1988 event as important for the Church: the conditional release of LaSalle Brother Anthony Rogers on Aug. 25.

Brother Rogers had been arrested at the archbishop´s house in October 1987 and held for 10 months until released with several other Malaysian detainees.

He continues to serve as assistant director of the National Office for Human Development, of which Archbishop Soter Fernandez is chairman.

Archbishop Fernandez contended, "The ´charges´ made in the White Paper and the reply to it are well known. It seems Brother Rogers was the scapegoat."

Another important Church event for Malaysia in 1988, according to the archbishop, was the canonization in Rome of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

Many had been students or staff of the College General in Penang, he noted.

"The very fact that there is a link with the martyrs and College General, the candidates who are preparing themselves will better realize what it means to be a priest today, just as it was in their days for the martyrs," he said.

"The way we have responded to these events and others," he stressed, "have not only strengthened our faith but have also given hope to many who live in fear. Much has happened because of the laity who have been generous in their faith response. This should continue even further for the common good."

On what the Peninsular Malaysia Church was to emphasize in 1989, he said the Church´s common plan is the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs).

Archbishop Fernandez commented: "During the last five years that I have been in Kuala Lumpur, I saw great improvement each year. Our last archdiocesan annual general meeting had the best participation so far by the laity, religious and clergy, including the participation of youth representatives.

"We have come to understand that the BECs are the hope of the Church in Malaysia and, of course, it begins with and depends directly on the family."

On Church-state relations: "There is much to be desired on both sides. We meet only when there is a need with the relevant Ministers...We hope for better communication and understanding."

"Because of the closeness of the bishops with the faithful, through pastoral visits and other encounters," he added, "there is in general very good rapport between bishops and the faithful. The priests in the parishes help the bishops in these pastoral visits and meetings, and I owe my gratitude to them."

END

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