In a telegram of condolences, Pope Francis cites his “generous service to the Church in Malaysia and his longstanding commitment to the promotion of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – His Eminence Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez, archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, passed away on Wednesday.
Reacting to the sad news, Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to the current Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Julian Leow Beng Kim.
In his message, the pontiff noted Card Soter Fernandez’s “generous service to the Church in Malaysia and his longstanding commitment to the promotion of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue”.
The first cardinal born in Malaysia, Mgr Anthony Soter Fernandez was convinced that the Church had an important role to play in Malaysia’s development and growth. To this end, he devoted himself to the integral development of his people, fighting against social injustices and promoting dialogue in a multiracial and multicultural society.
Born to a family of Indian origin on 22 April 1932, in Sungai Petani, about 300 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur, the cardinal completed his primary studies first at the Holy Infant Jesus convent in Taiping and then at the Saint Theresa and Ibrahim schools in Sungai Petani.
Before entering the diocesan seminary of Singapore in 1958, he worked as a hospital assistant for ten years. Ordained a priest on 10 December 1966, he was assistant vicar in Taiping and Penang, and vicar in the church of Saint Louis in Taiping from 1969 to 1971.
In July 1971 he began a period of in-depth preparation, starting at the International Training Institute for World Churchmen and the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila, followed by the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, in Bangalore, India.
After returning to Malaysia in 1973, he taught in Penang until 1975. This was followed by two years as dean of the College General Mayor Seminary.
He played an important role in the 1976 meeting of Malaysia’s bishops and priests who came together for the first time to elaborate a pastoral plan in the light of the Second Vatican Council.
Since then, the Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention has been convened every ten years.
Appointed bishop of Penang in 1977, he was called to succeed the first archbishop of Kuala Lumpur in 1983, where he remained until 24 May 2003.
During this period, he was a member of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and of the Pontifical Councils for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue.
He held other positions as well, such as president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei (from 1987 to 1990 and from 2000 to 2003), and chairman of Christian Federation of Malaysia and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism, where he one of its first members.
After becoming archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur on 15 April 2003, he served as spiritual director and dedicated himself to the training of priests.
Pope Francis made him cardinal in the consistory of November 19, 2016, assigning him the title of Sant’Alberto Magno.
The cardinal’s funeral will be celebrated tomorrow, 31 October, in Kuala Lumpur’s cathedral. Due to health restrictions, the service will not be open to the public, but will be streamed live on the Archdiocese's YouTube channel.
The current Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Julian Leow invited members of the Malaysian clergy, consecrated and faithful to "remember His Eminence Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez in your Masses and prayers".