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Archbishop Soter Fernandez Resigns, Auxiliary Becomes New Archbishop

Updated: May 25, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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Pope John Paul II has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur as the new archbishop of Kuala Lumpur.

The apostolic nunciature in Bangkok, where the apostolic delegate to Malaysia is based, announced May 24 that the pope made the appointment that day after accepting the resignation of Archbishop Anthony Soter Fernandez of Kuala Lumpur. The installation of the new archbishop is scheduled for May 29.

Archbishop Fernandez, 71, who celebrated his silver jubilee as a bishop this past Feb. 17, resigned in accordance with section 2 of Canon 401. The canon says that a diocesan bishop who because of illness or other grave reasons has become unsuited to fulfill his office is requested to offer his resignation.

A Church source told UCA News that Archbishop Fernandez resigned due to his poor health. The source, who asked not to be named, explained, "He has a heart problem and his eyesight is failing. He tendered his resignation to Rome last year, but the Holy See chose not to make a decision until now."

Capuchin Father Ravi Alexander, assistant parish priest of Immaculate Conception Church in the southern state of Johor, confirmed that assessment of the health of Archbishop Fernandez. He told UCA News, "As you know, he had a bypass operation not so long ago. He was beginning to feel very tired. It was all too much for him. It´s no joke being an archbishop for this many years." Father Ravi added, "He told me last year that he wanted to resign this year. He could not wait until he turns 75, the mandatory age for retirement."

Before named archbishop of Kuala Lumpur on July 2, 1983, Archbishop Fernandez had been bishop of Penang, a position for which he was appointed on Sept. 29, 1977, and ordained on Feb. 17 the next year. Besides Archbishop Fernandez, Archbishop Emeritus Dominic Vendargon, now 93, also led Kuala Lumpur archdiocese.

Archbishop Pakiam was born Dec. 6, 1938. He was ordained a priest on May 10, 1964, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Kuala Lumpur on April 1, 1995. The new archbishop has a master´s in moral theology from Alfonsianum College in Rome and a master´s in guidance and counseling from La Salle University in Manila.

According to the 2003 "Annuario Pontificio," the Vatican yearbook, Kuala Lumpur archdiocese has 91,951 Catholics among the 7.9 million people who live in its territory. Its 30 parishes are served by 30 diocesan priests and 22 Religious priests. It also has 22 members of men´s Religious institutes and 132 members of women´s Religious institutes.

The Catholic Church in Malaysia has two archdioceses and six dioceses. Kuala Lumpur archdiocese and Melaka-Johor and Penang dioceses are in West Malaysia, situated between Thailand to the north and Singapore to the south. In East Malaysia, on the north side of Borneo Island, are Kuching archdiocese, plus Keningau, Kota Kinabalu, Miri and Sibu dioceses.

Besides the latest developments in Kuala Lumpur archdiocese, another recent change in West Malaysia was the appointment of Jesuit Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing to head Melaka-Johor diocese. He was ordained on May 15.


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