Malaysia’s catechists inducted into their ministry
By Robin Gomes
Encouraged by the creation of the ministry of catechist by Pope Francis, hundreds of lay catechists and volunteers in Malaysia have officially renewed their pastoral commitments to serve the local Church.
Two hundred catechists and their assistants from the Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Church of Mary Immaculate turned up for a special Mass on 23 January at the Sacred Heart Cathedral of Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese on the island of Borneo.
Pope institutes catechist’s ministry and Word of God
The ceremony took place on the Sunday of the Word of God, which Pope Francis instituted with his
Motu Proprio Apostolic Letter, Aperuit illis of 30 September. He established that the Sunday of the Word of God will be marked on the “Third Sunday in Ordinary Time”, for the “celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God".
Earlier, in another Motu Proprio Apostolic Letter Antiquum Ministerium of May 10, Pope Francis formally created the official ministry of catechist. He noted that those who already serve as teachers of the faith in places across the world experience a spiritual calling to do so and are often leaders in their communities.
A catechist is someone who teaches the core principles of the faith. In earlier centuries, catechists were often priests or members of religious orders, but now they are largely laypersons who volunteer or are sometimes employed at Catholic schools or parishes.
The Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has issued a rite for the conferral of the ministry.
Malaysia's catechists in a multiethnic context
The two churches in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state, held the bestowal of the catechist’s ministry on the Sunday of the Word of God, 23 January. It came a week before the Church in Malaysia marked Catechetical Sunday, 30 January, the theme of which was "Family life — the path of holiness."
Father Paul Lo, the parish priest of Sacred Heart Cathedral, led the 23 February ceremony, hailing catechists for their vital role in serving communities in a multilingual and multiethnic country like Malaysia where catechesis is conducted by different churches in three languages — Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and English.
"Through baptism, we children of God are entrusted with the mission of spreading the Good News of salvation and love to children, young people and all those who wish to join Jesus Christ and the Church," Father Lo said, expressing satisfaction that many laypeople were coming forward to serve as catechists.
During the rite, catechists and volunteers vowed to deepen their closer relationship with Jesus and to share the faith with others.
A Catechists' day
A week prior to the conferral of the ministry of catechist on the Sunday of the Word of God, the 200 candidates of the two churches of Kota Kinabalu attended the recollections conducted in their respective languages. They recommitted themselves to serve in Sunday Faith Formation for another year.
In a pastoral letter for Catechetical Sunday, Archbishop Julian Leow of Kuala Lumpur, president of the Malaysian Catechetical Commission, expressed his gratitude to catechists for their dedicated services and to parents and guardians and others for their collaboration.
The Catholic Church in Malaysia will organize a special day of prayer, meeting and fraternity dedicated to catechists on Sept. 17 on the feast day of Italian Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmine, the patron saint of catechists.
Pope installs catechists
The Pope himself bestowed the ministry on 8 catechists during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on 23 January. He told the 3 women from Spain, Brazil and Ghana and 5 men from Italy, Peru, Brazil and Poland they were called "to live more intensely the apostolic spirit, following the example of those men and women who helped Paul and the other apostles to spread the Gospel”.
They knelt before the altar as the pope said, "May your ministry always be rooted in a profound life of prayer, built on sound doctrine and animated by true apostolic enthusiasm." He gave each a crucifix similar to the crucifix on the crosier regularly used by St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II.
At the same Mass, the Holy Father also initiated 8 other men and women in the ministry of lector (reader).
The Church in Malaysia
About 60 per cent of 32 million Malaysian citizens are Muslims, 20 per cent are Buddhists, 10 per cent Christians and 6 per cent Hindus, according to government data of 2018.
In Malaysia, which comprises parts of the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo, the Catholic Church has three archdiocese and six dioceses with about 1.17 million Catholics.
Christians in the country are estimated to number 2.6 million and two-thirds of them are concentrated in Sabah and Sarawak states in the northern part of Borneo island, where they make up about 30 per cent of the population.
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei together form a single Catholic bishops’ conference (CBCMSB).