Catholic Call To Social Justice, Action And Mission

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Anne Hooi, the organising chairman

The life of the 12th Malaysian Parliament will expire on April 29, 2013 upon completion of its 5-year term under Article 55 of the Federal Constitution.

Unless dissolved sooner, a general election (‘GE’) must be called within 60 days of Parliament’s dissolution. Election fever is now at our doorstep.

This fever has spread to Kristus Aman, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

It opened its doors to a forum on November 18, 2012 to herald the “Catholic Call To Social Justice, Action and Mission” to parishioners to play their role as voters for the coming GE-13.

Sharing their faith and experience with the parishioners were Martin Jalleh, a well known Catholic speaker, motivator, social/political writer and commentator; Joy Appukuttan, President of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur (CLS) and Francis Pereira, Past President of the CLS. Election volunteer Tony Kong was at hand to register voters and brief the attendees on the voting process.

In his opening address, Parish Priest Fr. Surian Durai Raj reminded Catholics that their faith is not just limited to religious and sacramental obligations. Scripture and teachings of the Church is also intertwined with social justice. The dimensions of the Church include values of God’s kingdom, peace and solidarity, justice, morality and bioethics of society.

Being the salt of the earth, parishioners must exercise their rights and obligations by being informed and be registered to vote the government of their choice.

Lay faithful

Martin concured with this laity’s call and mission as propounded by His Holiness Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Christifideles Laici’ (‘CL’) (The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People’) during the special synod of 220 bishops at Rome in 1988.

The laity’s mission is seen as consisting of 4 interrelated ‘callings’; namely,

  • the Call to Holiness (CL, 16),
  • the Call to Community (CL, 18),
  • the Call to Mission and Ministry (CL, 21), and
  • the Call to Christian Maturity (CL, 57).

In the CL the Holy Father highlighted the divine call to fully participate in the evangelization by citing the parable of the vineyard. The laity are called to labour in the vineyard and the vineyard is the world (Mt 13:38).

We live in a world today where economics, social, political and cultural affairs gives rise to difficulties in the light of the descriptions provided by the Vatican Council (CL, 3). For this reason, it is necessary for the laity to have a watchful eye over the world and be involved in the world.

But who is the laity?  Pope John Paul II identified the laity as ‘not simply instruments of the hierarchy or of religious congregations but rather the free and responsible members of the Church’. Baptism is the basis and source of this calling.

Pope John Paul II cautions the lay faithful to resist two temptations “which they have not always be known to avoid”. One is having a strong interest in Church services and tasks but fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world. The other is the legitimizing of the unwarranted separation of faith from life i.e. a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world (CL, 2) which according to Pope John Paul II is ‘one of the major errors of our time’.

Pope John Paul II further exhorts that the role and mission of the laity is separate, special and secular. Separate in the manner that the clergy, the religious and the laity have different roles and callings. The special role of the laity stems from the special lay character that is theirs. Secular because their task, their apostolate is the transformation of the entire temporal order. The laity’s mission is clearly secular because the world has become the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation destined to glorify the Father in Christ (CL. 15).

Pope Benedict XVI on October 17, 2012 warned of the profound crisis of faith affecting many people. Christians often do not seem to know the force of their Catholic faith - the Creed, thus leaving room for a certain syncretism (attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures or schools of thought) and religious relativism without clarity on the truth to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. Unless Christians understand their faith and live by it fully, they leave themselves prone to the forces operational in a profoundly changed society scarred by many forms of barbarism.

Confronted with this challenge, Martin reminds us of our social duty to be involved in the democratic process while the Church and the clergy remains non-partisan and apolitical.

Your rights

Joy continued the spiritual journey by citing passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

[No.1913-1915] It is necessary that all participants, each according to his position and role, promote the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. As far as possible, citizens should take an active part in public life;

[No.2239] It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom; and

[No: 2240]-Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country.

Joy pointed out that the eight demands of the Bersih movement for free and fair elections are consistent with the Catholic teachings. Also by comparing and analyzing the demographic characteristics of the Malaysian population and past election results, for a population of 28 million, he showed that the ruling party will be decided by only 15-20% of the population. For example, in GE-12, only 7.9 million voted (76%) which meant that 2.6 million eligible voters (24%) did not vote. Are you one of those who did not vote?

Every citizen has a political responsibility to vote to ensure that our constitutional guarantees are alive and not trampled. We have the responsibility to vote for the future of the nation and also on behalf of those who are not yet eligible to vote -  your future generation.

Recent events have impacted on our freedom of religion which is protected under Article 3 of the Federal Constitution. The Bishops of Sabah have protested to the authorities where Christian students enrolled in a matriculation center in Labuan have been subjected to anti-Christian talks at the college.

On November 16, 2012 the Catholic Church won the right to be heard on a judicial review to quash the authorities’ decision to acquire part of the land on which the St. Thomas school. Kuantan is situated.

Our political responsibility and eligibility is enshrined in Article 119 of the Federal Constitution. Every eligible citizen should register as a voter and encourage others to register. Parishioners can make arrangements for regular voter registration exercises at their parishes. Encourage those turning 21 to register as voters. Ensure that everyone you know vote during the elections.

Absent voters are also allowed to vote by post. Under Reg. 2 of the Elections (Registration of voters) Regulations 2002, these are for members of the Malaysian Armed Forces and spouses, civil servants serving abroad and spouses, and full time Malaysian students abroad and spouses. But to date, there are no amendments to allow Malaysian citizens living abroad to vote by post.

Personal testimony

Francis narrated his personal testimony of his encounters with the authorities in his professional life and the subsequent impact on his personal life with respect to human rights as seen through the lenses of an ordinary citizen, lawyer and Catholic.

For that belief and conviction, he was tear gassed and arrested. Citing specific cases, there is a worrying concern of our fundamental rights to be trespassed, tossed and trampled with impunity in the face of the law.

Francis emphasized the necessity to take our constitutional rights seriously and defend it. But his advice is that each person must find his own level of commitment and sacrifice to do so.

Balloting Process

Tony dismissed some election process myths during balloting day. The ballot paper is serialized for security reasons and there is no need to request for a separate “not in numbered series” ballot paper. There should be no fear to accept the issued serialized ballot paper. Having said so, voters should be aware that there are allegations of the existence of “new Malaysian” voters and “helicopter” votes.

Explaining the balloting process, the first officer will read the voter’s name and NRIC for polling agents to follow. The second officer will tear off a portion of the ballot paper to hand over to a third officer. The third officer will emboss the ballot paper and hand it over to the voter. The voter enters into a cubicle to mark the ballot paper before dropping into a transparent ballot box. But note that the second and third officers are not allowed to hold any writing instrument to jot down the serial number against the electoral roll.

Voters can instantly check their registration by SMS entering “SPR SEMAK  xxxxxxxxxxxx  to 15888. (xxx..xx is NRIC No without space in between) or go online http://www.spr.gov.my. The voter registration exercise is conducted by SPR quarterly. The closing date for the next quarter is December 15, 2012 to be eligible to vote by April 2013 if GE 13 is decided by then.

The vine must bear fruit. Faith should lead you to go out there to transform. Stand out for the common good. In the name of the Holy Spirit go forth to vote wisely, wilfully and wittingly.

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This article is written by Stephen Khaw a parishioner of Kristus Aman, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.

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