The archbishop of Kota Kinabalu and the bishop of Keningau, both in Malaysia, called on Malaysians “to rise above” the challenges brought about by the pandemic and find “alternative ways” to “national recovery and unity.”
“This prolonged pandemic has turned life upside down. There are uncertainties in every dimension of life,” said Archbishop John Wong on Kota Kinabalu on September 16, the 58th founding anniversary of the country.
“To many, the new norms are ‘abnormal’ because they are quite alien to the very nature of man as a social being,” said the Church leader, referring to the global health crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Wong said people “need to rise above all [the challenges] and find alternative ways to express our sense of nationhood, especially towards national recovery and unity.”
“As believers, let us turn to the Lord to seek His consolation and wisdom,” said the archbishop, addressing the country’s Catholic minority.
“The trials and tribulations we go through as individuals, families or a nation are sometimes beyond our comprehension,” he said.
“To a certain extent, our social analysis may lead us to identify the root causes of the situation,” he added.
“But unless we transcend these obstacles and resort to our faith to help us through at this difficult moment, the ‘blame game’ will lead us nowhere,” said Archbishop Wong.
Political leaders urged to be models
Meanwhile, Bishop Cornelius Piong of Keningau called on the country’s leaders to be “exemplary role models” to inspire everyone to be upstanding citizens.
In his Malaysia Day message, Bishop Piong called on all Malaysians to have a sense of pride in their identity as citizens of a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.
He went on to remind political leaders to be fair in the distribution of the country’s wealth and to ensure that everyone is treated equitably.
He said that it is vital that everyone, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, feel a sense of belonging to the nation.
He warned that this can only be achieved if leaders govern with “fairness and justice” and are attentive to the welfare of all.
Bishop Piong also urged everyone to commit toward saving the environment “that God created for us and for future generations.”
Only 9.2 percent of the 32.7 million population of Malaysia are Christians.
According to the most recent census in 2010, up to 61.3 percent of the population practices Islam; 19.8 percent, Buddhism; 6.3 percent, Hinduism; 1.3 percent, Confucianism, Taoism, or other traditional Chinese philosophies and religions; and less than 1 percent each of other religious groups that include animists, Sikhs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Baha’is.
Almost all Muslims practice Sunni Islam of the Shafi’i school. Ethnic Malays, defined in the federal constitution as Muslims from birth, account for approximately 55 percent of the population.
Rural areas – especially in the peninsular east coast of the country – are predominantly Muslim, while the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo have relatively higher numbers of non-Muslims.
Two-thirds of the country’s Christian population inhabits the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Archbishop Wong said that over the years Malaysia has proven that “nation building is possible within a multi-ethnic and multi-religious setting.”
He admitted, however, that “the diverse cultures, demands and aspirations” of the population have “put pressure on interethnic and inter-religious relations, and have at times resulted in some tensions.”
“But, praise God, sense and a spirit of tolerance have kept us going,” said.
The archbishop said the pandemic has deprived the people of Malaysia of the real celebration “that could have been manifested through fellowship and social interaction.”
Some Malaysian Christians would usually hold fasts ending on Malaysia Day and pray for Muslims during the celebration in a show of promoting religious harmony and the celebration of religious freedom.
Since 2000 the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, with 2,800 member churches, has been organizing fasts.
Archbishop Wong said that the spike in COVID-19 cases and casualties in recent months has diverted and drained much of the people’s energy, resources and attention.
“Our public health system is stretched to the limit and frontliners are simply burnt out. The economic sector suffers tremendously, and many are hit by loss of job and income,” he noted.
He said that while people rely heavily on media technology, divisions in communities are “further widening,” especially between those in the rural and urban areas.
“Squabbles on the political front too are not contributing well to the already stressful situation,” said the Catholic Church leader.
“As disciples of Christ, we are called to be ‘salt of the earth and light of the world,’” he said, addressing the Christian population.”
“Instead of cursing the darkness, let us each light our own candle and, together, we can find a way out,” said Archbishop Wong as he assured the people of prayers that this year’s Malaysia Day observance “will be an occasion to make the difference.”
“Where there are lies and deceit, let us uphold truth and integrity. Where there is hatred and vengeance, let us show pardon and forgiveness. Where there are bullies and exploitations, let us stand firm and defend the human dignity of everyone, irrespective of color or creed. Where there are negative forces at play, let us defeat them with the forces of love,” said the prelate.
He concluded his statement with a call on all Malaysians to let their love for the country “bring out the best in us as we march forward through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”