Heartiest congratulations to Cardinal Soter Fernandes on his appointment as the first Malaysian Catholic to be appointed as a cardinal by the Pope. This is indeed a great honour to the Roman Catholic Church of Malaysia.
I am happy to have been acquainted with him while serving in the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) and we have had a cordial friendly relationship in our capacities as senior office-bearers in the executive committee.
I was serving as the president from 1999 to 2001 when he became the deputy president. The next term of leadership by rotation he became the president from 2001 to 2003 and I served as the vice-president.
The two of us had a good understanding of each other and were able to get along well with our counterparts in the Buddhist, Sikh and newcomer the Taoist groups. The need to have a consensus in all our decisions was our common principle.
It was then that we had the experience of a period of changes going on in the political scene of Malaysia! Earlier the non Muslims were badly the victims of the adoption of Act 121(a) in the Parliament in 1988. Then came our struggle against its implementation in the 90s.
But in 1999, the DAP made a deal with PAS as an electoral understanding for the 1999 general election. Anwar Ibrahim, whom our council had considered as a champion of Islamisation, had formed a new political group to join the opposition. Most within our council were not happy with the situation and had divided views.
A division of views could have caused a split within the council. However this was averted due to the understanding of the leaders of all of our different groups of the day. Cardinal Fernandez, then known as Archbishop Soter Fernandez, played an equal role in maintaining the unity of the council.
I have found the cardinal to be a very amiable and lovable person and am yet to see him without his smile. In my active participation of our duties together, I found him to be very humble treating all in a very humane manner. He is a fine human being. May the almighty God bless him.
A VAITHILINGAM is a former president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).