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Updated: September 18, 1994 05:00 PM GMT
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After 10 years of planning in a big way, a Malaysian archdiocese is trying to improve matters by taking smaller steps.

Kuala Lumpur archdiocese´s parish priests, Religious and lay leaders have been meeting over the past decade at archdiocesan pastoral assemblies (APAs) to discuss issues affecting Church life in Malaysia and the archdiocese, read the signs of the times, reflect on the archdiocese´s vision and mission, and make plans for its future.

However, Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandes of Kuala Lumpur believes a more local scope for assemblies would better serve Church needs, so he announced at the APA last November that future assemblies would be held at district levels.

Noting that nothing moves at the top if there is no movement from below, the archbishop explained that "what takes place at the grassroots in our parishes and districts will determine what is going on in the archdiocese."

Archbishop Fernandes also justified the shift on grounds that "we must be sensitively aware our Catholic community is made up of groups that speak English, Chinese, Tamil and Bahasa (Malaysian national language)."

"To be truly representative of the Church, these language groups must be respected," he asserted as he called for assemblies to meet at parish and district levels so as to allow greater use of the vernacular languages.

He also forecast that more activity at district assembly levels would foster greater lay participation than in the past when only two or three leaders from each parish were required to attend the APA.

Less than a year later, the first such assembly has been held in an effort to build the local Church from the base rather than from the top.

The pioneering district pastoral assembly was held Aug. 31, Malaysia´s National Day, in Kuala Lumpur South, one of the archdiocese´s eight districts.

The other seven districts are: Jaya, Klang, Kuala Lumpur Central, Kuala Lumpur North, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang-Terengganu and Petaling Ulu Selangor.

Meeting under the theme "One Father, One Family" at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, about 400 Catholics from the south district´s three parishes -- Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Holy Family -- took part.

Father John Gnanapiragasam, who as pastor of Sacred Heart coordinated the assembly, remarked, "This coming together of all of us is a significant event in the life of our parishes, both as forerunner of many more assemblies to come and as a stepping stone to the APA that will be held periodically."

"We are called to be a new way of being Church in the 1990s," he declared, "a community Church, a participatory Church, a dialoguing Church, a prophetic Church ... one people journeying together to make God´s Kingdom come."

Among the Kuala Lumpur South assembly conclusions, four pastoral concerns were deemed particularly important and relevant for the district:

-- Pastoral ministry to the multitude: comprehensive parish pastoral planning, services and formation in three languages, and a district pastoral planning team.

-- Pastoral care of small groups as basic ecclesial communities (BECs): to restructure BECs into effective communities, parish family life ministry, and commitment to student, youth and single adult ministry.

-- Pastoral services: priority given faith formation (Sunday school and other religious education programs).

-- Pastoral agents: a district pastoral training team and a district pastoral formation team.


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