Catholics celebrate first Malaysian Cardinal

Msgr. Anthony Soter Fernandez was appointed yesterday by Pope Francis along with 16 other cardinals. He was archbishop of Kuala Lumpur from 1983 to 2003. Director of the Catholic weekly The Herald: "He is a man with a clear vision of what the Malaysian Church needs. He promoted interfaith dialogue and fought for justice. This appointment is a sign that the local Church is maturing".


Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Malaysian Catholics "are happy and satisfied with the appointment of the first cardinal in the history of Malaysia. This makes us aware that our country is finally on the map, and that the local Church has reached a certain level of maturity" Father Lawrence Andrew, Jesuit priest and director of the Catholic weekly The Herald tells AsiaNews, commenting on the appointment of Cardinal-designate Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop Emeritus of Kuala Lumpur. The prelate was appointed yesterday by Pope Francis along with 16 other cardinals.

Card. Fernandez, 84, was first Bishop of Penang (1978-1983) and later archbishop of Kuala Lumpur from 1983 to 2003. Fr. Andrew describes him as “a man with a clear vision of what the Church in Malaysia needs. As archbishop he led the community in the process of understanding the importance of being a Church. He promoted the growth of the basic ecclesiastical communities".

When he was Archbishop, continues the priest, "he fought for justice and peace. He spoke out against injustice, even against the Internal Security Act (ISA), which he called immoral". Isa, now abolished, was an emergency law passed in 1960, criticized by many internationally. It permitted unlimited detention for criminal suspects, they could be beaten, even tortured and arrested after the court had ordered the release.

Fr. Andrew continues that Cardinal-designate Fernandez "was a great bishop who took care of his people and walked with people of different faiths. Has promoted inter-religious dialogue, he worked for the poor, and is a man of great spiritual strength".

He is a holy man, adds the Jesuit, "and it is a great blessing for us now to have him as a cardinal. He will be the Cardinal of Malaysia. For many years we have been waiting to have a cardinal in our Church, but it was a surprise that it has become an archbishop emeritus over 80 years of age. A wonderful surprise”.

Malaysia is a nation of over 28 million inhabitants. The large majority are Muslims (60%), Christians are the third religion (behind the Buddhists), with 2.6 million (9.2%). There are over one million Catholics (3.7%). Out of a population of over 11 million people, Catholics in Kuala Lumpur are over 180 thousand.