Tribute to Fr. OC Lim - A Man For All Seasons

It is always hard when we lose someone dear. It becomes harder when that person is Rev. Fr. O. C. Lim, who returned to the Lord on 5th June 2020.

Most in the Catholic Church in Malaysia and senior members in the legal profession in Malaysia will know of his background. Let me nevertheless share a bit of Fr. OC, as he is fondly known.

Born Lim Ooi Chai in 1943, Fr. OC had his secondary education initially at St. Xavier's Institution, Penang and completing them at St. John's Institution, Kuala Lumpur. He pursued his tertiary education at University Malaya before reading law in England. He was called to the English Bar of Inner Temple and on his return was called to the Malaysian Bar, where he practiced for 14 years.

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During his practice at the Bar, his contemporaries reminiscent of his astuteness, dedication and determination. Some of his cases included, Heng Cheng Swee v Bangkok Bank (1976) 1 MLJ 267, where Suffian LP expressed the following, “On behalf of the bank, it is argued by Mr. O C Lim before us that its claim should be decided simply on the terms of the letter of guarantee.” The case remains the authority in Malaysia on the principles of continuing guarantee.

He had a successful legal career that would have guaranteed a good life. That to him was insufficient in the pursuit of life. He had a greater calling. He left legal practice and joined the Society of Jesus religious order in 1985. He was ordained a Jesuit priest on 1st May 1992 at the Church of St Francis Xavier, PJ (SFX). He explains his journey from legal practice to the priesthood as follows,

“My calling to be a Jesuit priest has given me a new impetus to my belief that faith would be meaningless without the promotion of justice. I see one aspect of my vocation as a continuation of my work in the legal profession in my 'past life’, but charged with a faith dimension, defending the ‘poor’, the ‘exploited’ and the ‘innocent’ and promoting their rights while not forgetting that the well-to-do also have their rights.” (June 1992 edition, CANNEWS)

It is clear that he did not leave behind his legal knowledge that he acquired at law school and from practice when he joined the priesthood. Rather, he had encapsulated them further through his priestly vocation. CLS member, Annou Xavier captures this transition eloquently in the following words,

“From Law to Holy Orders,
From Pulpit to Justice.”

Apart from his pastoral work, he held various positions that included being the director of the Catholic Research Centre, a resource and publication centre under the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, editor of Catholic Asian News, Hon. Asst. Secretary, Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS), actively involved in the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), Regional Superior of the Jesuits in the Malaysia-Singapore Region, Asst. Parish Priest of SFX and this list goes on.

But of importance to us for the purposes of this article is his involvement in the CLS. He joined the ranks with the likes of the late Sir Dato Peter Mooney to help kick-start the CLS in 1992. It was at his invitation that I joined the CLS. From thence on, I learned to love his determination to right the wrongs. His constant challenges to the authorities for the violations of human rights, freedom of religion and human dignity, to name a few, has pricked the eyes, ears and minds of those in authority and power.

Similar sentiments are expressed by Francis Pereira, past president of CLS in the following words,

“He was our founding Spiritual Advisor. CLS during her early years found strength and wisdom to live out her calling guided by our very own indefatigable outspoken defender of human rights in the person of Fr OC, our Spiritual Advisor. As an Advocate Priest he spoke out against injustice without ‘mincing’ his words. He spoke truth to power and did so fearlessly.”

He was actively involved with the CLS during his tenure as its Spiritual Director. He was always encouraging and supportive of our actions. He not only advised the CLS, but led by example.

He spoke not only from the pulpit but openly over the injustices caused to various political personalities including Anwar Ibrahim (1998), Lim Guan Eng (1998) and Teresa Kok (2008), the latter for being incarcerated under the ISA. In fact, he was determined to visit her whilst she was under the ISA. But this was not to be, as she was released from detention prior to the scheduled visit.

He nevertheless held a thanksgiving mass on her release. Teresa Kok recalled the incident as follows,

“When I was detained for 7 days under ISA in September 2008, Father OC and lawyer Joy Appukuttan have been trying to meet me and to give me communion. They did not succeed to do that as I was released by the police prior to their proposed visit on Sunday. After I was released from ISA, he offered a thanksgiving mass for me, to thank God for my release. I truly appreciate his care and concern to me when I was under persecution.”

To demonstrate his support against the violation of various human rights, he would join candlelight vigils and other rallies held for these purposes. In 2007, he was present at the Malaysian Bar’s Walk of Justice in Putrajaya to show solidarity with Malaysians against oppressive laws.

Fr OC made it a point to be with those who were unjustly detained. The case in point was our very own past president Leonard Teoh, who was detained by the police in Pontian, Johor on 14th January 1998 for not revealing the whereabouts of his client, Nor'aishah Bte Bokhari. (RE The Detention of Leonard Teoh Hooi Leong, [1998] 1 MLJ 757).

Fr. O.C. Lim went down to Johor to visit Leonard at the lock up and gave him Holy Communion. Whilst Holy Communion gave Leonard the spiritual strength during one of his darkest days of his life, Fr OC’s presence did give him the courage and perseverance. Leonard cherished the visit and said,

“He visited me when I was detained in Pontian, Johor and stayed on when the police applied to court for an extension of my remand.”

He was also vocal on those who were detained for exercising their democratic right of peaceful assembly. This, he demonstrated when his fellow priest, Rev. Fr. Paulino Miranda and 21 others were arrested, detained and charged for their peaceful march in 2008. Fr OC was quoted by the then Malaysian Insider as follows,

"This is a process of intimidation to drive fear into people from exercising their democratic right of peaceful assembly," Catholic priest Rev. Father O.C. Lim told The Malaysian Insider.”

His unyielding stand on matters affecting the church was unwavering. CLS member Selvarajah who was the solicitor for the Shah Alam Church, recalls Fr OC's support in the matter. He says,

“I first met Fr OC Lim back in 1993 when he was advising the Shah Alam Church Building Committee in advancing our claim for allocation of land at numerous meetings with the Selangor State Government officials. Fr OC Lim's voice was strident and unyielding. He was also supportive of the subsequent legal action in the Shah Alam High Court in 2001.The realisation of the Divine Mercy Church was in no small measure due to his unwavering efforts. A truly able advocate of a just cause.”

His support also came in person. He was present at the meeting with the Deputy Home Minister on 27th August 2009, where CLS presented a memorandum to express displeasure over the acts of two journalist who consumed Holy Communion and desecrated the sacred specie.

In all, Fr OC’s support for the CLS is best described by CLS member Trevor Padasian when he said,

“The CLS has been fortunate to have Father O.C. Lim as its spiritual director which is a continuation of his work in the legal profession but one which was charged with a faith dimension. Like the Good Shepherd tending to His sheep, Father O.C. had from the very beginning presided over the entire spectrum of the CLS’s activities and functions, from prayer meetings, the Red Mass, St Thomas More feast day mass and spiritual retreats which he had conducted, annual dinners, annual general meetings and charitable causes.”

His sharing of his personal experiences whilst as a lawyer has been thought provoking for us. CLS member, David Charles recalls at one of the CLS retreats where Fr. OC was posed with a question about our call as Catholic Lawyers and dealing with “dishonest” clients. David explains Fr. OC’s reply as follows,

“Fr. OC then shared his personal experience with us of such a client. The client was a big gun with deep pockets. Fr. took up the case not knowing that the client had lied to him about the facts of the case. Fr. won the case. Fr. found out that the client had been dishonest & lied. After the case, the client came to see Fr. to settle his big fees. Fr. told the client off and said to him that he does not want his dirty money nor have anything to do with him anymore. Fr. may have lost a “big” client but his life spoke volumes of the riches that he had gained from God’s glory & eternal blessings that has been bestowed upon him from our Heavenly Father.”

Fr. OC was always a generous man. CLS member Nicholas Ch’ng who knew Fr. OC as a law student some 35 over years ago, shared his experience of Fr. OC when he said,

“He was also very generous towards me when I was a law student. His generosity prevailed even before he entered the priesthood.”

The above are only a fraction of Fr. OC’s contribution and support to CLS and its members. He remains a source of inspiration to us Catholic lawyers; to maintain our faith despite all adversities that afflicts us in the profession. CLS member, Maria Vivienne echoed Fr. OC’s reminder to CLS as follows,

“Fr OC, had reminded us not to be too complacent and fight for our rights.”

His ardent referencing to St. Thomas More in his encounters with us truly reflects his dedication and commitment to the Lord, as did the great saint.

Bernard Scott, remarked that at seeing Fr. OC on an occasion at the Mass for the Feast of St. Thomas More, referred to him as a ‘minor saint’. Fr. OC retorted, "Minor Saint, eh". “It became his starting words to me every time we bumped into each other after that. Of course, we joked about it for a while”, Bernard explains.

For sure, the good Lord has now gained a ‘minor saint’, who fought the good fight and aced the race. He is now with the greater saints of our times, in the likes of St John Paul II.

The Queen of England, who Fr. OC was ever fond of, is now short of one of her sons. While England may cherish his fondness for Her Queen and country, we too in Malaysia will cherish the many things he has done for Our Nation, for the Church and for CLS.

Au revoir & farewell Fr. OC. We will miss you dearly.

Joy Appukuttan
Past President, CLS
7th June 2020

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