Saying country at ‘crossroads’, new Catholic Archbishop calls for new narrative

Father Julian Leow posing with members of the clergy after his installation as the fourth Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur at the Holy Family Church in Kajang, October 6, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choo May
Father Julian Leow posing with members of the clergy after his installation as the fourth Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur at the Holy Family Church in Kajang, October 6, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choo May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 — Malaysians must rediscover the shared roots dating back to the country’s founding to overcome the divisive “script” that risks tearing the nation apart, the Catholic Church’s newly-installed Archbishop Fr Julian Leow Beng Kim said today.

While pursuing a “shared destiny of peace, prosperity and harmony together for the present and future”, Malaysians must not forget their history of “mutual respect, dependence and cooperation”, Leow said when outlining a “new narrative” for Malaysia.

“We are at the crossroads of our future as Malaysians, the future from a shared past that we as people of many faiths have built up and sacrificed much for,” the 50-year-old clergyman told a 12,000-strong crowd at his installation as the fourth Archbishop of the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.

“If we as a nation have not reconciled our past of how we have struggled side by side to build up this nation; if we do not acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices of so many people before us, even now and will come, we will continue to stagnate and will never progress to be who we can and should be as Malaysians,” he said earlier in his address.

When met later, Leow told Malay Mail Online “there are many from different races, faiths and even nationalities who have fought for our independence, and contributed much to nation-building”.

He also explained that if Malaysians lack a common understanding of the past and spend more time revisiting “issues of our past” instead of solving today’s problems, the country’s economy and “all aspects of nationhood” would stagnate.

Leow did not tackle any issues directly in his speech but Malaysia has experienced religious strife in recent years stemming largely from a Muslim-Christian tussle over “Allah”, the Arabic word for God.

The majority of Muslims in Malaysia view the word to be exclusive to Islam.

The case was initiated by Leow’s predecessor, who filed a legal challenge against a Home Ministry ban on the use of the word in Catholic newsletter Herald, which ended in June when the Federal Court declined to review an appellate court’s decision to uphold the restriction.

The Catholic Church last month applied for the apex court to review its ruling.

Today, the Seremban-born Leow said that interfaith talks were vital to address misunderstandings among the religions.

“Inter-religious dialogue is so crucial in a country like ours. This will dispel misconceptions and create a healthy atmosphere of mutual respect,” he told the crowd at the Holy Family Church in Kajang.

Leow also said he prayed that “common sense will prevail and that difficult but right decisions are made always by us and by our leaders”.

In his speech, Leow also said the “new narrative” would mean that Malaysians do not seek to compete with each other over who is “superior” or more successful, but should measure the nation’s strength through how it treats the “weakest and the most vulnerable”, adding: “The most neglected of our society must be our priority”.

Leow replaces Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam — the third person to hold this position until the latter’s mandatory retirement when he turned 75 last year.

The first Archbishop to lead the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese was the late Archbishop Emeritus Tan Sri Dominic Vendargon, who served for nearly 30 years from 1955 to 1983.

He was succeeded by Archbishop Emeritus Anthony Soter Fernandez, who was then replaced by Pakiam in 2003.

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