Nothing To Fear As God Is With Us, Says Priest At Centre Of New ‘Allah’ Row

The beautiful white church in Port Klang was small but parishioners filled all the pews for the first Sunday worship of 2014 to hear Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew celebrate the morning mass.

With Christmas decorations of red and green still adorning the church, including a replica of the manger where Jesus Christ was born still sitting at a corner, the Catholic weekly Herald editor told his flock to disregard any fear over recent incidents affecting Christians in Malaysia.

"In the news portals they are asking where is the prime minister, but in our churches we know that God is here with us," he said in his sermon to the parishioners, who include those from Sabah and Sarawak.

Christians must keep calm in facing the challenges ahead, added the priest at the centre of the latest row over the word Allah, which Malaysia insists is exclusive to Muslims although it is used mainly by Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.

Last October, Putrajaya won its case against the Herald at the Court of Appeal, after it overturned a 2009 High Court ruling that the Herald has the constitutional right to use the word Allah.

The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) said last week it would remind the churches not to use Allah as spelt out by a state law and a recent royal decree, but Father Andrew had said the Islamic authorities had no jurisdiction over them.

This sparked protests, and hundreds of police reports were filed against the priest, leading to Jais raiding the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) last Thursday, and seizing 320 copies of Malay and Iban-language Bibles containing the word Allah.

Several conservative Malay and Muslim groups also threatened to protest outside churches in Selangor but police persuaded them to demonstrate elsewhere while tightening security around the churches.

Today, Father Andrew also thanked parishioners for getting together and guarding the church over the last two nights.

Before and after mass, many parishioners went up to him and held his hands in theirs, offering him words of support and encouragement.

One lady, who said she was from rights group Suaram, quietly walked up to him, clasped his hands in hers and said: "You have our support, Father".

More than the usual number of Catholic lawyers also attended the Sunday mass at the church today as a show of support and also to be at hand if any untoward incidents took place.

One of them was KL Catholic Lawyers Society president Viola Decruz, who had gone to the church of Our Lady of Lourdes before coming to the church in Port Klang.

"It was good to see Muslims there at Our Lady of Lourdes church who did not come to protest but who came to support the church's stand on freedom to be able to practise one's religion," Decruz said.

Another lawyer, Ramesh Supramaniam, said he came to defuse the situation in case protestors turned up.

Klang MP Charles Santiago, who came to hear Father Andrew say mass, said when he was at the Our Lady of Lourdes church earlier in the morning, a Muslim wearing a songkok walked up to him and told him, "Please tell your priest we are here to support him".

Santiago urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to censure Selangor Umno chief Datuk Seri Noh Omar over his statements on the issue.

"He should stop threatening the peace and security in the country. We know that Umno is doing this for its survival but as PM of all people, he should take stern action against Noh Omar," he added.

He also lambasted the burning of Father Andrew's effigy by protesters several days ago.

"The Prime Minister must speak up on this issue or risk being labelled an extremist as well," Santiago said.

A parishioner, Vanitha, 41, said she was pained to see Father Andrew's effigy being burned.

"We are so hurt but we are not going to react because of our faith in God.

"Those people who did it are answerable to God," she said, looking downcast.

The very people the 'Allah' issue was centred on, the Bahasa Malaysia speaking community in peninsular Malaysia, also expressed sadness over the current goings-on affecting their faith.

"How can it come to this. Go to the interiors of Sarawak, we all call God, Allah. We are the same people from those interiors who are here now working in small jobs as factory operators.

"All we want to do is to earn a decent living and pray in our language. Why are people denying us that basic right," said one mother holding a newborn baby in her arms after attending Father Andrew's mass.

Her friend added, "Will they now come to our homes and threaten us like criminals because we use the Alkitab?" she asked, referring to the Malay translation of the Bible.

"Is this the 1Malaysia they are talking about, denying us our right to pray in our own language?" said the woman of Iban origin.

As parishioners left the church compound after Sunday school ended peacefully, it was not quite over yet for the church, in particular for Father Andrew.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to meet Selangor state councillor in charge of Islamic affairs, Sallehin Mukhyi.

But he will not be alone. Santiago and Sri Andalas assemblyman Dr Xavier Jeyakumar, who was also in church today, told Father Andrew they would accompany him for the meeting.

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