By Ivy Chai
KUCHING — A seminar on Nation Building was organised by the Social and Political Awareness Ministry (SAPAM) of Blessed Sacrament Church at the BSC hall on 15 February which attracted over 100 participants.
The main speaker for the seminar was Fr Dr Clarence Devadass, a moral theologian, Consultor of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and Executive Secretary of Theological Concerns in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference.
In his opening address, Fr Felix Au, Advisor to SAPAM, touched on the crafting of the Acts of Congress in August 2012. A review was conducted five years later in August 2017, with an action plan to encourage politics as a vocation to serve the common good, and to empower the faithful to be involved through responsible political engagements. Political decisions have an impact on our lives.
Fr Clarence’s talks were two-fold. Part 1 – Christian Social Vision: Catholic perspective and principles, and Part 2 – Nation building in Malaysia: Living out the Catholic Social Teachings in a multi-religious context of Malaysia.
He had often been asked: “Was Jesus political?” His response was “in some ways” because Jesus was concerned for the life of people, but not in a strict sense.
Catholic Social Teaching – Catholic perspective and principles
Fr Clarence explained that the church’s social teaching comprises a body of doctrines, which is articulated as the church interprets events in the course of history, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. It is interdisciplinary in its nature, and always evolving, always intended for the good of the whole universe, irrespective of age, ethnicity, religion or nationality.
The foundation of Catholic Social Teaching is Catholic theology (moral theology) which is not just about what is right or wrong, but also about right living with others. Catholic theology encompasses anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, politics and philosophy.
It stems from creation to election as can be seen from Adam and Eve (individual), Abraham (tribe), Israelites (nation) and the holy land (kingdom).
Catholic social teaching focuses on 7 major themes:
1. Life and dignity of the human person – all life is sacred.
2. The common good – promotes the well-being of people in the family, community and society.
3. Rights and responsibilities – fundamental right to life.
4. Option for the poor and vulnerable – the needs of the poor and the vulnerable will be the yardstick.
5. The dignity of work and the rights of workers – to be protected and respected.
6. Solidarity – we are one human family.
7. Care for God’s creation – goods of the earth are God’s gifts intended for everyone.
Nation building – Living out the Catholic Social Teaching
In Malaysia, we find a mixture of diverse cultures, fluidity of languages, convergence of culinary ingenuity, intermingling of communities, freedom of movement, interreligious and intercultural marriage, and so on.
To begin nation building, we have to realise that although Catholics only form approximately five percent of the Malaysian population (1.15 mil Catholics), it should be clear from all these teachings, Catholics have a role to play in shaping society, which is more than just “pray, pay and obey.”
Prayers, Fr Clarence noted, “inspire action, and action inspires us to pray.” They actually go hand-in-hand, hence nation building is the path to holiness.
So what can Catholics do? Fr Clarence is of the opinion that we need to show we can live in harmony and peace and care for creation by working for others. We are all pilgrims on a journey, walking in one direction…towards God.
He recommends doing the following:
• Change our mindset – our involvement in the “common good” of society is an integral part of the Catholic faith.
• Be grounded on the Church’s teachings – we need to be grounded in our faith in Jesus and on the church’s teaching.
• Communal support – contribute together with politicians.
• Understand the mission of the Church – to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
It is the duty of all citizens to contribute towards nation building, and demand for truth, justice, solidarity and freedom for all, to prevail. We are to rewrite a new people’s narrative, and not pander to the politicians’ narrative. “We need a new narrative, we need a people’s narrative,” Fr Clarence concluded.
Simon Siah, a lawyer by training, ended the seminar with tips on how to engage with elected representatives, aided by a practical workshop.