Malaysia: Faithful, diplomats, religious leaders at Thanksgiving Mass for first cardinal
by Joseph Masilamany

The Malaysian Catholic community celebrates its first Cardinal. For the faithful, the choice of the Pope's support for a "Pilgrim Church" that fights against Islamization and "subtle persecution" of minorities. Card. Fernandez invites those present to respect the founding principles of the nation and its unity.


Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The Catholic community of Malaysia gathered in recent days to celebrate, with a solemn Mass for the elevation of their Archbishop Emeritus of Kuala Lumpur Anthony Soter Fernandez (pictured) to the College of Cardinals.

He is the first cardinal from the Southeast Asian nation and a further confirmation of Pope Francis’ attention to the "young" Churches of the world, as he has repeatedly stressed in his public speeches.

The solemn Eucharistic celebration was held in conjunction with the celebrations for the Epiphany in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, in Kuala Lumpur. The Mass was attended by faithful from all over the country, who wanted to show affection and closeness to the first Malaysian cardinal.

A ceremony lasting over two hours, and broadcast live on YouTube, was attended by diplomats, foreign dignitaries, representatives of the Federal Government and leaders of other religious faiths.

Among the hordes of people was Rebecca Nathan who travelled all the way to Kuala Lumpur on a four-hour train journey from Johor Baru in the south. She told AsiaNews aptly: “I came to witness the special thanksgiving ceremony here, as the appointment of Bishop Fernandez is indeed a kind of ‘manifestaion’ for the local Church. Nathan is thankful that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has seen it fit to raise a cardinal from Malaysia.  She said: “This is a sign of greater things to come, as ours is a pilgrim Church struggling with the impact of Islamisation and racial polarisation as well as ‘subtle persecution’ against minorities in the country.”   In a climate of growing "Islamization" and "radicalization" of the positions, Caroline Tan hopes that the cardinal will "strengthen" the spirit of the people of Malaysia and enhance "unity."

Presiding over the solemn Eucharistic celebration the current Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Msgr. Julian Leow, pointed out that the elevation of Fernandez as cardinal is a sign of the value, the role and presence of the local Church in the world. A reality, he added, which should be ready "in the service and mercy."

Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia, Archbishop Joseph Salvador Marino speaking during the service said: “The Holy Father is aware of the richness of diversity and universality of the Malaysian Church. The Holy Father is also aware of the deep sense of faith among Malaysians, not only Catholics and Christians but also the people of the other faiths.” 

His Eminence Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez who addressed the congregation towards the end of the service pledged his loyalty to the King and country and to uphold the rule of law and to endorse the high principles of morality always.  Fernandez who is well known for his sense of simplicity and humility also pledged to uphold the Federal Constitution and abide by the Ruku Negara (The tenets of National Principles) which is dedicated to achieving greater unity among Malaysia’s diverse population of Malays, Chinese, Indians and a potpourri of other minor ethnic groups. 

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