By Patricia Pereira
KUALA LUMPUR — The pioneer batch of Malaysian laity enrolled in the Distance Education Programme in Theology (DEPTh) saw the culmination of their 3.5 years of studies with a graduation ceremony held February 22 at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre.
A total of 58 graduates received their Diploma in Theology, while another four received a Certificate of Completion from the renowned Vidyajyoti College of Theology, India.
In 2016, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute (API) under the directorship of Dr Clarence Devadass, became the first institute in the Asian region to collaborate with Vidyajyoti to offer a distance education programme in Theology for the laity here in Malaysia.
In his opening address at the graduation ceremony, current API Director Dr Steven Selvaraju, thanked his predecessor Fr Dr Clarence for initiating the programme in Malaysia so that the laity could receive quality theological formation from a reputed academic institution and which was best done through a distance learning course. He also thanked his immediate predecessor Msgr Mitchel Anthony for ensuring the continuation of the programme and enabling a smooth transition when he took over as the Director of API in 2018.
While acknowledging that having to work with an institute which was based in India was both challenging and enriching, Dr Steven expressed his gratitude to Fr Joseph Rajkumar, SJ the Director of Vidyajyoti who was always on hand to support, advise and assist him in many ways. Fr Rajakumar, who had planned to be at the graduation, had to unfortunately cancel his trip due to the coronavirus threat.
Fr Clarence, when addressing the graduates and guests, said that the graduation ceremony marked yet another step in the long journey towards theological formation for the laity. “This journey is not solely the product of a collaboration between the Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute and Vidyajyoti College of Theology, but a journey that was started in the minds of the priests and bishops who were gathered at the Aggiornamento 1976 in Penang, where they identified formation (apart from Unity, Integral Human Development and Interreligious Dialogue), as one of the important fruits of the Second Vatican Council, that is the empowerment and formation of the laity.”
Fr Clarence went on to say that it was his predecessors at API, namely Fr Paul Tan, SJ, Fr Peter Kim, SJ and Fr Dr John Gnanapiragasam who, together with other clergy and lay collaborators, initiated the theological journey for the laity. Though the methods and programmes were different, he pointed out that it all had the same objective – offering empowerment of the laity. “Today we are here simply because of these men who tirelessly worked for the spirit of Vatican II to be incarnated in our Archdiocese and set us on this ongoing journey.”
Addressing the graduates, Fr Clarence said that their graduation must serve as their launch pad into the life and ministry of the Church. He cautioned that if they do not move in that direction, all this effort would be considered futile in the greater scheme of God’s plan.
Making reference to St James’ epistle on faith and good works … “faith without good works is useless … faith is dead if it is separated from good deeds”, Fr Clarence paraphrased saying that theology without action is useless … theology is empty if it is not complemented with ministry. “Good theology needs good pastoral action; good pastoral action needs good theological foundation. Therefore, all the theology that you have done in the past 3.5 years must now bear fruit in good pastoral action.”
As a parting advice, he said, “The Archdiocesan Pastoral Institute and Vidyajyoti College of Theology have provided and taught you the tools of understanding theology but now it is time to find the space where you want to do theology. Knowing theology and doing theology are parts of one puzzle and they cannot exist one without the other.”
Archbishop Julian Leow, who presented the graduates with their diplomas and certificates, congratulated them for their perseverance, determination and self-discipline. He advised them to use the knowledge gained to expand their mission in becoming witnesses of the Gospel. The archbishop also welcomed the new cohort of students for the 2020-2022 intake and expressed hope that in the course of their journey, the students will be able to deepen their Catholic faith and search for avenues of greater participation in the Church.
Source: HERALD MALAYSIA