Viewpoint: "I see, I feel" - By Rev. Fr. Lawrence Ng CDD

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Fr. Lawrence at the Bersih Rally 2012

April 28th (2012) was a special day. It was the last Saturday of April. It was also an Eventful Day – the People’s Day, the Yellow Peace Rally Day – ‘Bersih’ and the Green Peace Rally Day – ‘Say No To Lynas’.

It was the first time that I have attended a peace rally on the street, in the capacity as a priest. I would never forget what happened that day. I was deeply touched and saddened. Every scene that past before me, the look on the people’s faces, the songs I heard, the noise and the cries, has cast a lasting impression and would stay forever in my mind.

A week before April 28th, or simply “428”, I expressed my interest to join the peace rally but hesitated when family and friends advised me against it. They were concerned and I understood it. Soon I was surrounded with fear. I checked myself whether what I was going to do was appropriate and would inflict any legal implications, whether it was aligned with the teachings of the Church or would I cause embarrassment to the Church? Or whether such an act was purely out of my own interest? By being present at the 428 peace rally, would I be trapped or manipulated by the politicians? (Note: Code of Canon Law (#285) restricts the clergy’s participation in politics)

With all these thoughts at the back of my mind, I consulted a few parties in the Church, including my own superiors as well as several legal counsels of the Church and I gathered different opinions. Some superiors suggested that I should attend the event on my own accord and should not expose my identity of a priest. According to Mr. Joy Appukuttan, President of the Catholic Lawyers’ Society, he felt that it was appropriate for a priest to be concern with social issues. In addition, he said that no law had been violated if a person attended a peace rally in the priest robe or wearing the roman collar. Eventually he said to me, ‘Father, if you encounter any problems or if any legal actions are taken against you, I will step in to support you.’ I was very touched and comforted by his words.

Too many changes took place before the 428 rally. On top of my own lingering fear, voices ran high against the mayor of Kuala Lumpur’s who banned the rally participants from entering Dataran Merdeka, while my choice of identity to attend the peace rally was yet to settle; something happened causing a turnaround to the situation. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) issued a press statement on April 25th, expressing its support for Bersih’s right to assemble peacefully at Dataran Merdeka. It also called upon the authorities to allow the rally to proceed as planned and provide their cooperation.

Even though I knew very well that there were some (out of concern) who did not agree with my participation at the 428 rally but after much reflection and prayer, I finally decided to attend and participate at the 428 rally in my cassock (priest robe). I was conscious that I did not join the 428 rally to claim any credit or wanting to be famous or to be a martyr. Rather, it was premised solely on the call to stand up against all social injustices. I choose to be present in my cassock to demonstrate that the church is with the people, that she is sad to see all these social injustices that has violate the people’s rights. With my presence at the 428 rally, I hope to increase people’s awareness towards social justice and that religion is to serve the people. If there is suffering, the church cannot be oblivious to it.

Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II two eminent popes of the mid-twentieth century, as well as the Vatican Council II had on numerous occasions issued the message of peace. I merely have to quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Clause 494 which states that,

“Peace is a value and a universal duty founded on a rational and moral order of society that has its roots in God himself, “the first source of being, the essential truth and the supreme good”. Peace is not merely the absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity.”

Therefore should priests join peace rallies along the streets? It all depends on how sensitive one is to social injustices and one’s awareness towards social issues. If the act does not contradict the teachings of the Church, then I see no reason why priests cannot join such rallies!

By Rev. Fr. Lawrence Ng, CDD

Disclaimer: This article has been translated from Mandarin to English. The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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