Felicitations and congratulatory messages continue to pour in for Cardinal-Elect Anthony Soter Fernandez from various communities and countries. He is the first Cardinal from Malaysia and it is a fitting recognition and honour for the millions of Christians, especially Catholics, in our diverse country.
Anthony Soter Fernandez is a leader with a mission and vision and his appointment by the Papacy will serve the Catholics, Christians and the country well. This time around many of the newly-appointed 17 Cardinals Pope Francis had chosen come from smaller countries. The Malaysian Catholic community had long hoped for greater recognition by the Holy See and now it has been rewarded.
Malaysia had only last year sent its first envoy, Bernard Dompok, to the Vatican to begin official diplomatic representation with the country. This initiative bodes well for Malaysia and will lead to greater goodwill, interaction and understanding among the various religious communities especially between Christians and Muslims, which has been lukewarm over the last few years.
These two events - the establishment of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Vatican and the election of Anthony Soter Fernandez as Cardinal could herald a Papal visit soon to Malaysia at the invitation of the government. It will be beneficial for the government to extend a formal invitation to Pope Francis to pay a visit to Malaysia. Malaysia is one of the few countries the Pope has not visited.
The nation’s Christians especially Catholics will be delighted to see the Pope on Malaysian soil embracing and shaking hands with the people, not only Christians but also those of of other faiths.
As is well known, Pope Francis has been much vocal on political and socio-economic issues especially those concerning the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the environment and other problems concerning all mankind and world leaders acknowledge his contributions, comments and insights.
He has been an active campaigner for global multi-religious acceptance and seeks to mend the frayed relations between Christians and Muslims mainly brought about by the military intervention of the West in the Middle East nations. He has also spoken stridently on the issue of the Middle Eastern refugees migrating to Europe and has urged the Christian nations to be more sympathetic and caring.
A papal visit will also enable Pope Francis to know first-hand the nation’s racial and religious diversity and the Pope, who is the leader of the billion-plus worldwide Catholic community, could also become a supporter of the moderation concept initiated by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak as a means to prevent religious extremism, misunderstanding and conflicts.
Malaysia is unique in the world in that even though the majority population is Muslim, the percentage of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who number in the millions is possibly the highest in the world as compared to the overall population of 32 million.
Talking of religious acceptance and tolerance there has been of late a sense of concern and worry in the Christian community in peninsular Malaysia that the local authorities and others want the Christmas decorations and celebrations to be toned down for no apparent reason.There has also been some new restriction on carolling and other activities.
As it is at present, many of the city and districts councils hardly put up any Xmas decorations, banners, buntings or coloured lights - unlike for other festivals - to brighten up the year-end festive atmosphere.
Christmas decorations in the malls and shopping complexes are a major draw for locals and tourists alike. However, the federal and state governments should be complimented for continuing the tradition of the Christmas Open House which continues to shower goodwill and understanding for the well -being of our diverse country.
Malaysians need to take note that th Christian community has always been loyal and patriotic and has contributed more than its share for the progress and development of the country.