Diversity can enable pluralistic progress


Cardinal Sebastian Francis says Malaysia’s diverse cultures and religions offer Catholics and people of faith a chance to create a pluralistic society where everyone progresses together.

“It is the pluralism of cultures and ethnic groups that makes Malaysia a ‘miniature Asia'” the cardinal says.

“The coexistence of different components allows the Catholic community to experience the interaction of differences that takes place in diversity” says Francis, who is the bishop of Penang.

Malaysia’s cultural and religious diversity is “reasonably healthy” he says.

“The Malays are protected and are only Muslims, as enshrined in the Constitution. But a democratic nation like ours cannot today choose to be completely monocultural or monoreligious.

“Our country is characterised by an interesting pluralism that makes it a truly Asian country, a microcosm in which one can experience the constituent dimension of Asia.”

Ethnic mix

Ethnic Malays make up about 60 percent of Malaysia’s estimated 34 million people.

About 24 percent are Chinese, seven percent are Indians and ten percent are indigenous non-Malay communities.

The ten percent Christian Malaysians are based mostly in Sarawak and Sabah.

Synodality and diversity

“Synodality” and “dialogue” are keys to overcoming differences, the cardinal says. They are also key to forming a society based on the richness of diversity.

Francis says despite ethnic and cultural differences within Catholic communities in Malaysia, the Church is always available to serve everyone.

As an example, the Church there celebrates the liturgy in four official languages. Traditions from diverse Catholic immigrant groups add to the varied mix.

Pastoral opportunities

The cardinal says that, although Catholics are a minority, the Church has the resources for pastoral life.

Missionary religious orders compensate for Malaysia’s paucity of priestly and religious vocations.

Faith formation and empowering the laity are important, Francis says.

“We care about the Christian life of the laity and after the Second Vatican Council we have emphasised the formation of the laity, especially through training courses or continuing education events in the parishes.”

Political change in Malaysia has however had negative impacts on the Church’s mission.

“Our influence in the field of education has decreased enormously because the Government has taken control of education in public schools, both state and private” says the cardinal.

“If we want to be present in the field of education, we must act as private actors, but the Government also controls private education, decides on the curricula and pays teachers their salaries.

“We own the real estate and the land on which the schools are built, but it is the Government that controls school life.

“So technically we own the buildings but not the system. We contribute, but we cannot give concrete shape to the education system.”


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News category: World.

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