By Charles Bertille
KUALA LUMPUR — With the increasingly complex social issues that we are facing as Church and people in Malaysia, and in the light of the current global pandemic, we need to develop an active, caring and capable social-pastoral ministry in every diocese and strengthen existing and ongoing efforts.
Thus, in January 2020, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia established Caritas Malaysia. Caritas meaning charity or love, is “an essential part of the Church” and it “institutionalizes love in the Church,” says Pope Francis. Caritas Malaysia, therefore, seeks to bear witness to God’s love in public spaces through its mission to attend to the poorest and the neediest, assist in humanitarian emergencies, care for creation, and help to spread justice and peace, in the light of the Gospel and social teachings of the Catholic Church.
Caritas Malaysia includes and consists of the nine diocese Caritas offices and the National Office such as existing Office for Human Development (OHD) or Commission for Mission and Human Development (CMHD). It is established under the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malaysia and is also open to affiliates from congregations or Catholic organisations engaged in the field of charity and integral development at a national level.
The National office has been set-up at the Archdiocese Pastoral Centre (APC), Kuala Lumpur. While National Caritas organisations are autonomous under their bishops, they too combine as part of the Caritas Asia and Internationalis confederation, which is a recognised body of the universal Church, and has the status of a “public juridical person” under Canon Law.
Caritas is a confederation of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service organisations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. By being an active member of the international Caritas family, the Malaysian Church can benefit from capacity building, regional networking, professional expertise as well as work in solidarity with other Caritas to serve the marginalised and vulnerable communities.
Caritas Malaysia endeavours to reach out and help these communities by taking the path of men and women of today through the local diocese consultation process. Helping is good, but it is not enough just to “have a good heart.” Sometimes we can actually do more harm than good with our intentions to help. We can be condescending or looking down in our approach without realising the full reality of another person’s life.
The solution that we think ‘is the best’, may not really be the best or wanted by the person or family. We are dealing with each unique individual. As St John Paul II pointed out, “This man” [this woman, this child] is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission … “(Centesimus Annus, 54).
The diocese consultation is a step-by-step process that begins with listening. Listening with curiosity opens our minds and hearts in surprising ways. We learn how to empathise by listening. It helps us to understand life realities, where people are, what are their needs, aspirations or concerns. A focus group discussion (FGD) is a method used for listening and documenting what we hear from the voices on the ground.
In August 2020, three FGD trainings for facilitators took place. A total of 69 staff and parishioners participated in the online training using Zoom.
Comments from the participants of the training:
“Baru sedar betapa pentingnya PKB. Dan tujuan PKB ni sangat menarik perhatian dan minat saya. Kerana bagi saya, gereja jarang mendengar suara umat, tanya apa keperluaan umat and aspirasi umat. Latihan fasilitator ini sedikit sebanyak mengajar saya, bagaimana menjadi seorang pendengar yang baik.” –Bassie, Miri
(Translation: “Just realised how important FGD is. And the aim of FGD caught my attention and is very interesting to me. Because for me, the church seldom listens to the voices of the laity, asks what are their needs and aspirations. Training for facilitators more or less taught me how to be a good listener.” –Bassie, Miri)
“The concise session covered the needful why, what and how for a focus group discussion which left me feeling sufficiently equipped to organise one!” –Andrew, Johor
Step 1: Listening
The local context – social, political, ecological, local needs and challenges, dreams and hopes.
Situation of the diocese – socio-pastoral ministries and current activities.
Analyse to understand > Synthesise – our needs, strengths and dreams.
In this phase, we work to get a complete picture of the situation, historically and structurally. We do this by exploring how a particular situation has developed and changed over time and what structures such as politics, the economy, social, environmental and cultural norms affect the people and situation. We ask the question, “What is happening? And why is it happening?”
The insights from the FGD will guide our next step in discerning the way forward at our local diocese level in responding to the needs of the people on the ground.
Step 2: Discerning
Study and reflect with the Gospel, Catholic Social Teaching, and Catholic Moral Teaching.
We bring to prayer our learning and insights. We reflect with the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching. We ask the question, “What do the situations and events mean to my/our faith?” We share and pray together. We turn to the Lord. We seek clarity on our priorities and commitments – as parish, diocese and national.
Step 3: Responding
Planning the way forward – activities, calendar, budgets, structures, roles, evaluation, celebration, etc.
We bring together all the conversations, experiences and insights.
We ask the question, “How shall I/we respond in faith and solidarity?”
The dioceses will present their preliminary findings at the Caritas Malaysia online launching on 6 and 13 November 2020. This will be followed by discussion and planning process at diocese and national level.
With the ongoing diocese consultation process, we can become more like a Church as Pope Francis envisions: A church with the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; A church that is near to her people; A church like a field hospital after battle. And we start by listening to the voices on the ground.