Saturday, October 31, 2009

First Holy Communion - Fellowship and Presentation of Certificates

The first holy communicants from the English and Mandarin section received their certificates this evening from Fr. Clement Lim. The presentation of certificates was followed by a cutting of cake and fellowship. The theme of this year's first holy communion class was "Soldier of Christ."

Saints in various religious traditions

Tomorrow, Christians (mainly Roman Catholics) celebrate the Feast of All Saints. Below is a brief comparative survey of 'sainthood' in the various religious traditions.

Roman Catholic Church

There are more than 10,000 canonized Roman Catholic saints. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it does not, in fact, make anyone a saint. Rather, it recognizes a saint. In the Church, the title of Saint — with a capital 'S' — refers to a person who has been formally canonized (officially recognised) by the Roman Catholic Church, and is therefore believed by this church to be in Heaven.

Also, by this definition there are many Roman Catholics believed to be in Heaven who have not been formally declared as Saints (most typically due to their obscurity and the involved process of formal canonization) but who may nevertheless generically be referred to as saints (lowercase 's'). All in Heaven are, in the technical sense, saints, since they are believed to be completely purified and holy. Unofficial devotions to uncanonized individuals take place in certain regions. Sometimes the word "saint" is used to refer to Roman Catholics still sojourning here on earth.

In his book, Saint of the Day, editor Leonard Foley, OFM, says this of saints: "[Saints'] surrender to God's love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ."

The veneration of saints, in Latin, cultus, or the "cult of the saints", describes a particular popular devotion to the saints. Although the term "worship" is often used, it is intended in the old-sense meaning to honor or give respect (dulia). Divine Worship is properly reserved only for God (latria) and never to the Saints. They can be asked to intercede or pray for those still on earth, just as one can ask someone on earth to pray for them.

A saint may be designated as a patron saint of particular causes or professions, or invoked against specific illnesses or disasters, sometimes by popular custom and sometimes by official statements of the Magisterium. They are not thought to have power of their own, but only that granted by God. Relics of saints are respected in a similar manner to holy images and icons. The practices of past centuries in venerating relics of saints for healing is taken from the early Church.

According to the Catholic Church, to be deemed a miracle, "a medical recovery must be instantaneous, not attributable to treatment, disappear for good."

Once a person has been declared a saint, the body of the saint is considered holy. The remains of saints are called holy relics and are usually used in churches. The saints' personal belongings may also be used as relics. Some of the saints have a symbol that represents their life.

In Church tradition, a person that is seen as exceptionally holy can be declared a saint by a formal process, called canonization. Formal canonization is a lengthy process often taking many years, even centuries.

The first step in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life, undertaken by an expert. After this, the report on the candidate is given to the bishop of the area and more studying is done. It is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.

If the application is approved, the person may be granted the title of "Venerable". Further investigations may lead to the candidate's beatification and given title of "Blessed." At a minimum, two important miracles are required to be formally declared a saint. At least one of the miracles must be posthumous. Finally, when all of this is done the Pope canonizes the saint.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church a Saint is defined as anyone who is in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth, or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various Prophets, the Angels and Archangels are all given the title of "Saint". Sainthood in the Orthodox Church does not necessarily reflect a moral model, but the communion with God: there are countless examples of people who lived in great sin and became saints by humility and repentance, such as Mary of Egypt, Moses the Ethiopian, James the Righteous, and of course Dysmas, the repentant thief on the Cross. Therefore, a more complete definition of what a saint is, has to do with the way that saints, through their humility and their love of humankind, saved inside them the entire Church, and loved all people.

Orthodox belief considers that God reveals his Saints through answered prayers and other miracles. Saints are usually recognized by a local community, often by people who directly knew them. As their popularity grows they are often then recognized by the entire church. The formal process of recognition involves deliberation by a synod of Bishops. If successful, this is followed by a service of Glorification in which the Saint is given a day on the church calendar to be celebrated by the entire church. This does not however make the person a saint; the person already was a saint and the Church ultimately recognized it.

It is believed that one of the ways the holiness (sanctity) of a person is revealed, is through the condition of their relics (remains). In some Orthodox countries (such as Greece, but not in Russia) graves are often reused after 3 to 5 years because of limited space. Bones are washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person's name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something miraculous is reported as having occurred; exhumed bones are claimed to have given off a fragrance, like flowers, or a body is reported as having remained free of decay, despite not having been embalmed (traditionally the Orthodox do not embalm the dead) and having been buried for some years in the earth.

The reason relics are considered sacred is because, for the Orthodox, the separation of body and soul is unnatural. Body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the “Holiness” of the soul of the saint. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession, however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in every Orthodox church contains relics, usually of martyrs. Church interiors are covered with the Icons of saints.

Because the Church shows no true distinction between the living and the dead (the Saints are considered to be alive in Heaven), saints are referred to as if they were still alive. Saints are venerated but not worshipped. They are believed to be able to intercede for salvation and help mankind either through direct communion with God, or by personal intervention.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the titles "Όσιος" for men and "Οσία" for women are also used. This is a title attributed to saints who had lived a monastic or eremitic life, and it is equal to the more usual title of "Saint".


In the Anglican Church, the title of Saint — with a capital 'S' — refers to a person who has been elevated by popular opinion as a pious and holy person. The saints are seen as models of holiness to be imitated, and as a 'cloud of witnesses' that strengthen and encourage the believer during his or her spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:1). The saints are seen as elder brothers and sisters in Christ. Official Anglican creeds recognise the existence of the saints in heaven.

So far as saintly intercession is concerned, Article XXII of Church of England's Articles of Religion "Of Purgatory" condemns "the Romish Doctrine concerning...(the) Invocation of Saints" as "a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". However, each of the 44 member churches in the Anglican Communion are free to adopt and authorise their own official documents, and the Articles are not officially normative in all of them (e.g., The Episcopal Church USA, which relegates them to "Historical Documents"). Anglo-Catholics in Anglican provinces using the Articles often make a distinction between a "Romish" and a "Patristic" doctrine concerning the invocation of saints, permitting the latter.

In high-church contexts, such as Anglo-Catholicism, a Saint is generally one to whom has been attributed (and who has generally demonstrated) a high level of holiness and sanctity. In this use, a saint is therefore not a believer, but one who has been transformed by virtue. In Roman Catholicism, a saint is a special sign of God's activity. The veneration of saints is sometimes misunderstood to be worship, in which case it is derisively termed "hagiolatry".

Some Anglicans and Anglican churches, particularly Anglo-Catholics, personally ask prayers of the saints. However, such a practice is seldom found in any official Anglican liturgy. Unusual examples of it are found in The Korean Liturgy 1938, the liturgy of the Diocese of Guiana 1959 and The Melanesian English Prayer Book.

Anglicans believe that the only effective Mediator between the believer and the God the Father is God the Son, Jesus Christ. But those who pray to saints make a distinction between "mediator" and "intercessor," and claim that asking for the prayers of the saints is no different in kind than asking for the prayers of living Christians. Anglican Catholics understand sainthood in a more Roman Catholic or Orthodox way, often praying for intercessions from the saints and celebrating their feast days.

According to the Church of England, a saint is one who is sanctified, as it translates in the Authorised King James Version (1611) 2 Chronicles 6:41

Now therefore arise, O LORD God, into thy resting place, thou, and the ark of thy strength: let thy priests, O LORD God, be clothed with salvation, and let thy saints rejoice in goodness.


"Scripture does not teach calling on the saints or pleading for help from them. For it sets before us Christ alone as mediator, atoning sacrifice, high priest, and intercessor."—A.C. Article XXI.[22]

In many Protestant churches, the word "Saint" is used more generally to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar in usage to Paul's numerous references in the New Testament of the Bible. In this sense, anyone who is within the Body of Christ (i.e., a professing Christian) is a 'saint' because of their relationship with Christ Jesus. Because of this, many Protestants consider prayers to the saints to be idolatry or even necromancy. Dead Christians are awaiting resurrection, and are not able to do anything for the living saint.

Within some Protestant traditions, saint is also used to refer to any born-again Christian. Many emphasise the traditional New Testament meaning of the word, preferring to write saint (lower case) to refer to any believer, in continuity with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.


While Methodists as a whole do not practice the patronage or veneration of saints, they do honor and admire them. Methodists believe that all Christians are saints, but mainly use the term to refer to bibilical people, Christian leaders, and martyrs of the faith. Many Methodist churches are named after Saints, such as the Twelve Apostles, John Wesley, etc. Although, most are named after geographical locations associated with an early circuit or prominent location. Some Methodist congregations observe All Saints Day if they follow the liturgical calender. Many encourage the study of saints, that is, the biography of holy people. The 14th Article of Religion in the United Methodist Discipline states, "The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God." John Wesley, the theological father of world Methodism, did not practice or permit Roman Catholic practices associated with the veneration of the the Virgin Mary or prayers to the Saints.


In the Lutheran Church, according to the Augsburg Confession the term "Saint" is used in manner as the Roman Catholic Church only insofar as denoting a person who received exceptional grace, were sustained by faith and whose good works are to be and example to any christian. The Augsburg Confession does explicitly state that "it cannot be proved from the Scriptures that we are to invoke saints or seek help from them." 1 Timothy 2:5[25] is cited as reason for this statement. The Confession continues to say "Moreover, according to the Scriptures, the highest form of divine service is sincerely to seek and call upon this same Jesus Christ in every time of need.


There are some groups which are generally classified as Protestants who do not accept the idea of the communion of saints. These groups, which are often more specifically referred to as Restorationists, do not believe in the efficacy of the intercession of saints. This is primarily due to two distinct, but opposing beliefs found within the various "Restorationists". Some believe all of the departed are in soul sleep until the final resurrection on Judgment Day. Others believe that the departed go to either Paradise or Tartarus, to await the day in which the living and the dead are judged.

Latter-day Saints

The beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons with regard to saints are similar to the Protestant tradition described above. In the New Testament the saints are all those who have entered into the Christian covenant. The qualification "Latter-day" Saints refers to the doctrine that members are living in the "latter days" before the second coming of Jesus Christ, and is used to distinguish the modern church from the ancient Christian church. Therefore members refer to themselves as "Latter-day Saints", or simply "Saints", most often among themselves.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Refers to "Those who are clean, particularly in a spiritual or moral sense; it also denotes persons set apart for the service of God, in heaven or on earth." The term Saints means Holy Ones and there are several references made in the Bible to those that were sanctified to Almighty God Jehovah. The term would also apply to those that were anointed with Holy Spirit after the death of Jesus Christ. The Bible gives a specific number of those Holy Ones that would rule with Jesus Christ in Heaven as being 144,000 (Revelation 5:10, 20:6.) The anointed Holy Ones are to rule as Kings and Priests over the Heavens and the Earth. Jehovah's Witnesses do not use the term saints nor have them in worship.

Other religions

The use of the term saint is not exclusive to Christianity. In many religions, there are people who have been recognised within their tradition as having fulfilled the highest aspirations of religious teaching. In English, the term saint is often used to translate this idea from many world religions.


Judaism speaks of a class of unidentified individuals known as Tzadikkim.


There are individuals who have been described as being Hindu saints, most of whom have also been more specifically identified by the terms Mahatma, Paramahamsa, or Swami, or with the titles Sri or Srila. Some Indian Saints avoided titles and fame such as Neem Karoli Baba. Buddhists hold the Arhats and Arahants in special esteem. Some groups of Islam hold the Hadrat (literally, Presence, a title of Sufi Saints) in similar esteem.

The concept of sant or bhagat found in North Indian religious tradition, is unrelated and a false cognate of "saint". Figures such as Kabir, Ravidas, Nanak, and others are widely regarded as belonging to the Sant tradition. Some of their mystical compositions are incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib. The term "Sant" is still sometimes loosely applied to living individuals in the Sikh and related communities.


Anthropologists have also noted the parallels between the regard for some Sufi figures in popular Muslim observance and Christian ideas of sainthood. In some Muslim countries there are shrines at the tombs of Sufi "saints", with the observation of festival days on the anniversary of death, and a tradition of miracle-working. In some cases, the rites are observed according to the solar calendar, rather than the normal Islamic lunar calendar.

Hazrat Babajan (c. 1806 - September 18, 1931) was a Baloch Muslim saint considered by her followers to be a sadguru or qutub.

Below is a picture of a shrine dedicated to a Sufi Saint in Georgetown, Penang.

Santeria (Voodoo)

The veneration of Catholic saints forms the basis of the Cuban Santería religion. In Santería, however, saints are syncretised with Yoruban deities, and are equally worshipped in churches (where they appear as saints) and in Santería religious festivities, where they appear as deities (orishas); however, this practice is condemned vehemently by the Catholic Church as sacrilegious and contrary to true Catholic practice.

Santeria, Haitian Vodou, Brazilian Umbanda and Candomble and other similar religions adopted the Catholic Saints, or at least the images of the saints, and applied their own spirits/deities to them, or 'Orishas' in Santeria, "Orixás" in Umbanda and Candomblé and 'Lwa' in Vodoun. The adoption of Catholic Saints was fairly common in the religions that were adapted by the slaves in the New World. It can be understood as an example of faux-Catholicism.

All Saints Day - November 1

All Saints' Day (officially the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows or Hallowmas), often shortened to All Saints, is a solemnity celebrated on 1 November in Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity in honor of all the saints, known and unknown.

In terms of Western Christian theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. Specifically, in the Catholic Church, the next day, All Souls' Day, commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven.

In the Catholic Church All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning going to Mass on the date is required (unless one is ill or elderly).

In the East

Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine Tradition, All Saints' Sunday (Greek: Αγίων Πάντων, Agiōn Pantōn), follows the tradition of commemorating all saints collectively on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI "the Wise" (886–911). His wife, Empress Theophano—commemorated on December 16—lived a devout life. After her death, her husband built a church, intending to dedicate it to her. When he was forbidden to do so, he decided to dedicate it to "All Saints," so that if his wife were in fact one of the righteous, she would also be honored whenever the feast was celebrated. According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.

This Sunday marks the close of the Paschal season. To the normal Sunday services are added special scriptural readings and hymns to all the saints (known and unknown) from the Pentecostarion.

The Sunday following All Saints Sunday—the second Sunday after Pentecost—is set aside as a commemoration of all locally venerated saints, such as "All Saints of America", "All Saints of Mount Athos", etc. The third Sunday after Pentecost may be observed for even more localized saints, such as "All Saints of St. Petersburg", or for saints of a particular type, such as "New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke."

In addition to the Sundays mentioned above, Saturdays throughout the year are days for general commemoration of all saints, and special hymns to all saints are chanted from the Octoechos.

In the West

The Western Christian holiday of All Saints Day falls on November 1, followed by All Souls' Day on November 2, and is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

The origin of the festival of All Saints as celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. The chosen day, May 13, was a pagan observation of great antiquity, the culmination of three days of the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists of the Middle Ages based the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints on their identical dates and on the similar theme of "all the dead".

The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world", with the day moved to November 1.

A November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on November 1 in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued "at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops", which confirmed its celebration on November 1. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471—1484).

The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between October 31 and November 6. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada, the Methodist churches, and the Wesleyan Church.

In the United Methodist Church, All Saints' Day is on the first Sunday in November. It is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those that have died that were members of the local church congregation. In some congregations, a candle is lit by the Acolyte as each person's name is called out by the clergy. Prayers and responsive readings may accompany the event. Often, the names of those who have died in the past year are afixed to a memorial plaque.

Laughing with the Saints - All Saints Day, 1st November

Tomorrow we celebrate All Saints Day. If we think being a saint is a serious thing, it's time to think again. Fr. James Martin S.J. describes how Catholic saints can encourage humour and foster laughter. Watch these youtube videos.

Announcements: October 31 - November 1

Sacrament of First Holy Communion
Fellowship and Presentation of Certificates for 1st Holy Communicants
(English and Chinese groups)

Date: 31st October 2009 (Saturday)
Venue: Visitation Hall, downstairs
Time: 7.30 pm

Sunday School will end early at 11.30 am this Sunday, November 1, due to the blessing of graves

All Souls Day - 2nd November (Monday)
Mass at 6.45 am (English)

Blessing of Graves - 1st November (Sunday)
8.30 am at St. Mark's Cemetery
12.00 pm at Sikamat Christian Cemetery

3.00 pm at Kg Sebir
4.00 pm at Kg Tekir
5.00 pm at Titi

Book of Remembrance
Feel free to write down the names of your departed loved ones in the Book of Remembrance, which is being placed on the Altar of our Lady of Perpetual Help. Lift up out departed loved ones in prayer.

Sale of Flowers for "All Souls Day"
The Form 3 students (3 languages) will be selling flowers on 31st October & 1st November 2009. Funds raised will be used for their forthcoming Confirmation camp. Kindly support generously.

Next Infant Baptism on 8th November 2009

Instruction for parents/godparents will be on 7th November (Saturday) at 7.30 pm in the classroom (Formation Centre)
Baptism forms are to be submitted by 4/11/09

Parish Pastoral Assembly 2009
22nd November 2009
Venue: Visitation Hall
Time: 1:30 pm to 6:00 pm
Compulsory for all BEC Core Team Members, Ministry Committee members. All other parishioners are invited to attend.
Registration after all masses this weekend

2nd Collection this Weekend (31st Oct and 1st Nov)

Second Collection will be for the Parish Integral Human Development Ministry in aid of the poor and needy. Please be generous.

Holy Hour - November 5 (1st Thursday)
There will be no Morning Mass. Mass will be celebrated in the evening at 7.00 pm followed by Holy Hour at 7.30 pm

Christmas Campaign for the Poor 2009

A meeting will be held on 8 November (Sunday) at 11.00 am at Visitation Hall (Downstairs). All component members of the PIHD ministry, BEC Leaders and members of the previous Christmas Campaign Committee are to attend this meeting. Interested parishioners are strongly encouraged to attend as well. Let this make this a parish effort to reach out to the poor and share the good news of Christmas.

"Exodus" Formation for Migrants and Refugees Collaborators
(especially for pastoral workers and collaborators involved in the care of migrants and refugees)

Date: Dec 3- 6
Venue: Majodi Centre, Johore
Closing Date: 22/11/2009
Please register with the Parish Office

District Altar Servers Camp
22nd (evening) to 24th (after lunch) November 2009
(3 Language Groups)
Venue: Catholic Centre
Compulsory for All Altar Servers
Please register with your respective leaders.

Love & Life Seminar 2009

(7 day programme organized by ASAYO_
Date: 10 to 16th December, 2009
Venue: I.J. Convent, Cheras
Fee: RM150.00
Ages: 17-22 years old.
Closing Date – 20/11/2009
Forms are available at the Parish Office. For further details please refer to the Notice Board

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rejoice and be Glad!

A Homily for All Saints Day: 1st November

Happy are you … Blessed are you … Rejoice … Be joyful. Seems strange and inappropriate to say these words to one who is poor, or someone down and out, or when one is mourning for the loss of a loved one. And yet Jesus, doesn’t pause for a moment to exclaim … happy are you … blessed are you … rejoice … be joyful.

What is this joy that Jesus speaks of? Is joy something that you get when your needs and wants are fulfilled? Is this joy something that we can experience now or only in the next life, after we die? Can there be joy in the midst of troubles, sorrow, pain and suffering?

In the eyes of the world, sorrow and joy are two separate matters. People tend to say: “When you are glad, you cannot be sad, and when you are sad, you cannot be glad.” In fact, our contemporary society does everything possible to keep sadness and gladness separated. We try to hide and forget about death, illness, human brokenness.

But the beatitudes, Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, gives us an entirely different picture. Jesus shows, both in his teachings and in his life, that true joy often is hidden in the midst of our sorrow. His life, death and resurrection alone is proof of this reality. The cross is a symbol of death and of life, of suffering and of joy, of defeat and of victory. In the cross, both joy and sorrow can exist together. That isn’t easy to understand, but when we think about some of our life experiences, such as being present at the birth of a child or at the death of a friend, great sorrow and great joy are often seen to be parts of the same experience. Often we discover the joy in the midst of the sorrow.

And so we come to understand that true joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. In other words, joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death – can take that love away. We are, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, the beloved children of God – this is our true identity – this is the source of our joy. To be a saint means to be joyful even in the midst of trials and sufferings.

When does this joy happen? The blessedness which belongs to the Christian is not a blessedness which is postponed to some future world of glory; it is a blessedness which exists here and now. True, it will find its fullness in heaven; but for all that it is a present reality to be enjoyed here and now.

Nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.

Throughout the year, we celebrate feast days in honour of the saints. They are the ‘name’ (famous) saints, the ‘big’ saints like St. Joseph, the Apostles, the martyrs. Today, we celebrate the unnamed saints, the ‘little’ saints. They are the people who quietly tried to lead good, Christian lives, and who in God’s plan never had the occasion to do anything really spectacular or extraordinary. These are the saints who look just like you and I.

Today in this Mass, we should praise and thank God for the little saints, past and present – even the saints that are present in our midst. Each of you have a baptism name, a name of a saint. Today is everyone’s feast day. Happy Feast Day to one and all of you!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Monthly ACTM Formation

You may have heard of the monthly ACTM Formations being announced at mass and in the parish bulletins but have remained clueless with regards to its meaning and purpose.

What does ACTM mean? Area Core Team Members!

The ensuing question follows: "Who are the Area Core Team Members?" The Area Core Team Members form the core leadership of every B.E.C (Basic Ecclesial Community). They are usually made up of the following persons, the Chief Coordinator, the Assistant Coordinator, the Messenger, the Youth Representative, the Liturgical Representative and the IHD Representative (apart from the main coordinator, the other roles may not be filled in some BECs). The ACT Members are of primary importance because they are responsible for animating the other members of the BEC and form the crucial link between the parish and the grass roots.

Every month, the parish offers a systematic formation for the ACTM, thus the ACTM formation, which usually falls on the last Wednesday of each month. The ACTM formations are conducted in 3 languages (the Orang Asli pastoral workers meet with the Orang Asli BECs separately at the different villages). The monthly ACTM formation is an opportunity to foster a “sense of Church” among the various BECs, cooperation and harmony among the 3 language groups, simulation and training for the conducting monthly reflections at area BEC level.

The formation sessions are conducted by the members of the Parish BEC Animating Team (BECAT). Apart from this role, the members of the BECAT's main responsibilities are to give clear understanding of the importance, identity and functioning of BECs at both ACTM formations and at periodic visits to BECs. They also collaborate with the Priests of the Pairsh in the formation, motivation and dissemination of orientation of Parish Pastoral Plan with regards to BECs.

For the past two years, the BECs of the Church of Visitation have been using the parish reflection papers which are targeted to help BEC members reflect on the themes and focus set by the Parish Pastoral Assembly based on the stages of the New Image of the Parish (NIP) 9 years parish renewal plan.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles: Wednesday the 28th of October

Little is known of these two Apostles, whose names are always linked in the Gospel accounts, St. Simon was surnamed the Zealot for his rigid adherence to the Jewish law and to the Canaanite law. He was one of the original followers of Christ. Western tradition is that he preached in Egypt and then went to Persia with St. Jude, where both suffered martyrdom. Eastern tradition says Simon died peacefully at Edessa.

St. Jude, known as Thaddaeus, was a brother of St. James the Less, and a relative of Our Saviour. St. Jude was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus.

Ancient writers tell us that he preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lybia. According to Eusebius, he returned to Jerusalem in the year 62, and assisted at the election of his brother, St. Simeon, as Bishop of Jerusalem.

He is an author of an epistle (letter) to the Churches of the East, particularly the Jewish converts, directed against the heresies of the Simonians, Nicolaites, and Gnostics. This Apostle is said to have suffered martyrdom along with St. Simon in Armenia, which was then subject to Persia.

St Jude is invoked in desperate situations because his New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances, just as their forefathers had done before them. Therefore, he is the patron saint of desperate cases. (The epithet is also commonly rendered as “patron saint of lost causes”.) However, there is another reckoning to this epithet. Many Christians have unfortunately reckoned him as Judas Iscariot and thus avoided veneration. Therefore he was also called the “Forgotten Saint”. Because veneration was avoided, only people in the most desperate circumstances would call upon him, and Jude, desiring to help, was willing to pray for even the most desperate or lost case. Therefore, goes the logic, Jude became the patron saint of lost causes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Y2Y - Youth To Youth - Catechetical Youth Ministry at Visitation

A couple of college youth, Justin, Glorian and Jill, took up a challenge that arose from a meeting of the Catechetical Ministry to start a ministry for secondary catechetical youth to complement Sunday School.

They have been meeting with a core group of students ranging from Forms 1-4 to initiate this project. They have truly been faithful to the name which they have chosen for this ministry- Y2Y or "Youth to Youth" Ministry.

Today, the core group and this group of youth advisors met with Fr. Michael Chua, Mrs. Elizabeth Chong (the Sunday School Coordinator), Mr. Peter T. (the adult advisor designate), and Mr. Desmond to discuss formalisation of the group and future direction of the ministry.

We will keep you posted with future developments, which will include a project for Christmas, the launching of a Facebook group, and weekly meetings.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

First Holy Communion in Visitation - Photos and Videos

First Holy Communion at Visitation

102 children will be receiving first holy communion this weekend. Their Sunday School catechists have prepared them for this special moment in helping to deepen their understanding and love for this Sacrament, the source and summit of Christian life. This is in order to familiarise the child with the Mass and encourage their full, active and conscious participation

Celebrating the Sacrament of Eucharist for the first time should be an integral part of the ongoing religious experience of a child. Through the sacrament of baptism, the children received their first initiation into the Catholic community, the Church. Receiving First Communion further initiates a child into the life of the Christian community.

As the primary educators of their child, the parents of these children have also been prepared through formations to undertake this important responsibility and to come to appreciate that they have a most important influence on the faith development of their child.

According to the law and practice of the Church, the children were prepared and have received their first penance (Confession) prior to receiving first holy Communion. Catechesis of the sacrament of penance does not merely help the child to have a healthy appreciation of the gravity and effects of sin but also allows the child to continue to celebrate God's forgiveness and reconciliation through this sacrament, which strengthens the bond of communion celebrated in the Eucharist.

Below is a video of Sam receiving his first communion. Let us pray for our children that they will come to encounter the Eucharistic Lord in this great sacrament and come to treasure him for the rest of their lives.

Below is another video meditation which is based on the words of institution said by the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Go our way or follow Jesus on the Way

Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday Year B

The story of Bartimaeus, the man who was once blind till he encountered Jesus, is a story of our journey in faith. Many of us, like Bartimaeus, are looking for something in life, some form of fulfillment, some kind of happiness, a meaning or direction in life, except that we feel absolutely helpless at times. We beg for love and attention, we beg for material things which we think will satisfy our longings, we beg for recognition and understanding. We wrapped ourselves in our own self-deceit, our own self-importance, our fears and our false sense of securities waiting for the answer to come along, someone or something who will free us from the bondage of our present condition.

Then Jesus comes along. Many voices stand in the way of discouraging us from reaching out to him. We hear the echoing voices of past failures reminding us of our folly and warning us of the grave possibility of repeating our mistakes. We hear the voices of cynicism that comes from past experiences of disillusionment. We hear other competing voices shouting out solutions and remedies. It’s hard to recognize the presence of Jesus in the midst of such cacophony. It’s easy to get lost and to just let Jesus pass by unnoticed.

But Bartimaeus was not discouraged nor daunted by these discouraging voices. He cried louder to Jesus. He cried so hard as if he had nothing to lose. He did have nothing to lose but so much more to gain. Someone once said that the only way in which we really get in touch with God is when we are down in the pits, when we come to terms that we are really and totally helpless and vulnerable. The drunkard who recognizes that he is no longer in control of his life, the sinner who realizes that he is totally loss without the light of God, the man who meets the dead end of his life and only has God as his only escape route.

Jesus invites Bartimaeus to come to him. It was as if everything led to this moment, and indeed it did. When asked by Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?,” Bartimaeus had only one request, the only thing he had been seeking for all his life, his sight. But Jesus gives him more. It is ironic, that we often see the small picture and lose sight of the bigger. We imagine that we want this or that, and that if we received it, it would be the happiest moment of our lives. And yet, what we really need is God, the salvation which Jesus meant in today’s gospel. The joy is not so much in gaining what we had been looking for, but recognizing the hand of the giver, the Lord God of Israel whom Jeremiah sings has “delivered his people.”

Jesus then gives Bartimaeus a choice, “Go your way …” But Bartimaeus, who can now see not only physically but also spiritually, decides that there is a better way, following Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus will no longer be satisfied being a beggar, sitting by the side of the road, waiting for something to happen or someone to come along. It’s time to take to the road, and follow in the wake of Jesus. This is his new direction and purpose in life. This is what had brought him new sight. This is the source of his salvation and joy.

Today, we all continue to look to Jesus with our own different needs, big and small. We have been given a choice. We can continue to receive from the hand of Jesus and go our own way, or we can choose to follow him on the way. This is the difference between the blind beggar and the seeing disciple. Which way will we take?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Homily for First Holy Communion: Seeing Jesus with the Eyes of Faith

Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday Year B

Who is your best friend? Isn’t Jesus your best friend? Who can be really called a good friend? A really good friend is one who will make time for you. He will always be with you, not only when you are happy, but also when you are sad. A good friend is someone you can turn to for help whenever you are in need. This friend may not be able to solve all your problems but his presence is consolation enough. A truly good friend also challenges you with the truth. He can tell things about you that you do not see in yourself. He does this out of love and not out of revenge. A good friend is one who is able to make all kinds of sacrifices for you. Without a doubt, Jesus is that good friend. He is our best friend.

In today’s gospel, we hear the story of how Jesus healed the blind man and made him see. Sometimes, we too are blind although we have eyes to see. We are blind when we don’t notice the poor and think of their needs. Sometimes, we are blind when we cannot recognize our weaknesses and mistakes. That’s why we need someone to tell us. There are also times, we fail to recognize and see Jesus in others, in our family, our parents, our friends, our school mates, our teachers. Because Jesus is our good friend, he wants to see as he sees. Jesus always loved the poor, those who were handicap, and those who were weak. Jesus also loved the little children and called all his disciples to become like little children. Why did Jesus do this? Jesus wanted his disciples to become like little children because little children see others without judging them.

Today, Jesus also wants to open your eyes to recognize him in the Eucharist. In order to see him, you must use your eyes of faith. Faith is a special gift which God has given to you and to every Christian who has been baptized. Faith allows you to see things as God sees them. Other people who do not have faith only see bread and wine. But if you have faith as your parents and godparents and all the people gathered here have faith, then you would see Jesus in this Eucharist. Do you believe that Jesus is present in the bread and the wine after father blesses it? Do you believe that this is really Jesus who wants to give himself to us?

Jesus gives himself to us as food. We need food in order to grow, and be strong and even to survive. Similarly, our faith needs Jesus in the Eucharist in order to grow, be strong and continue to give life. We must not be selfish when we receive Jesus in holy communion. After receiving Jesus in the communion, Jesus becomes a part of us. His body and blood becomes a part of our body and blood. So, whatever we do and whatever we say would affect Jesus because he is a part of us. Jesus gives himself to us so that we can give ourselves to others. How do we give ourselves to others? We must learn how not to be selfish. WE must learn to love others, even those people whom we do not like. We must help those who ask for our help. We must also help and love the poor, the elderly and those who are weak and not make fun of them. You must share the love of Christ which you receive today with everyone you meet.

Your teachers have told me that you have prepared very well for today’s first holy communion. You have paid attention to your catechism teacher every Sunday. You have participated in the Joy Camp. You have learnt to love Jesus and the Eucharist. Father would like to ask you now: are you ready to receive the Eucharist with faith and love?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Demolishing the Tower of Babel: Dealing with our Ethnocentricity, Part 3 (Final)

By Rev. Fr. Michael Chua

Paving the way outward and forward

Exposing the fundamental myths that underlie our ethnocentricity is only the first stage, albeit a necessary one. In order to move beyond mere recognition and tolerance of differences to a position where diversity is celebrated, more needs to be done. Apart from the tasks that he had suggested earlier, Bennet also writes about the need to learn more about our own culture and to avoid projecting that culture onto other people's experience. This stage is particularly difficult to pass through when one cultural group has vast and unrecognized privileges when compared to other groups. This problem is so invisible that persons in the mainstream are often mystified when representatives of ethnic minorities begin to react to them in a negative way.

In order to begin building relationships with persons of other beliefs and cultures, one must move to the next level of acceptance. This next stage in Bennett's model requires us to be able to shift perspective, while still maintaining our commitments to our own values. He calls this stage “acceptance.” Acceptance does not mean that we have to believe in the same beliefs and values as the other person. What it does mean is accepting the fact that other people are entitled to hold different sets of beliefs and values from us.

Accepting and even respecting the right of others to their belief and values may prove insufficient when a person wishes to begin exploring deeper levels of dialogue and cross cultural communication. Bennet speaks of the next stage of intercultural sensitivity as “adaptation.” This allows the person to function in a bicultural capacity. In this stage, a person is able to take the perspective of another culture and operate successfully within that culture. Church documents often speak of this level as “inculturation” or more accurately “inter-culturation.”

Although, Bennet speaks of a sixth stage of cultural sensitivity which he calls “integration,” this may not be possible or even advisable in the context of religious beliefs. According to Bennet, at this last stage, the person can shift perspectives and frames of reference from one culture to another in a natural way. They become adept at evaluating any situation from multiple frames of reference. He, however admits, that some representatives in cross-cultural collaboration may reach this level, but most probably will not. In the context of religion, such integration often creates a synthesis of two or more religious traditions, thus resulting in a form of religious syncretism. Products of religious syncretism are often treated as new religious movements rather than as an ongoing process of dialogue and interculturation between parties in dialogue.

Dealing with our deep seated prejudices and aptitude to stereotype and vilify others is never easy. Few of us are even aware of every form of prejudice and ethnocentricity that we possess. Perhaps, we would never be rid of them in our lives. It would be a constant struggle of coming to terms with our inner demons, exposing them to the light of faith and reason and allowing God to restore and heal the image that He had intended for us. For some, this life long struggle may appear to be a curse. But for us Christians, it is an opportunity and a challenge to make space and constantly expand it for God and for others. Years of learning, understanding and articulating our faith through Catholic lenses will not be threatened or thrown out by our decision to encounter the ‘other’ as friend rather foe. On the contrary, we would soon discover our encounter with the ‘other’ will lead us to a deeper encounter with God, who as St. Paul reminds us is “the same Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.” (Rom 10:12)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Demolishing the Tower of Babel: Dealing with our Ethnocentricity, Part 2 (of 3)

By Rev. Fr. Michael Chua

Levels of Cultural Sensitivity/ Insensitivity

The process of identifying our innate ethnocentricity and ability to move beyond it is much aided by the significant work of Milton Bennett, who authored the “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity”. Bennett describes six stages of development in intercultural sensitivity: denial, defense, minimisation, acceptance, adaptation and integration. The stages provide a good framework for determining how to work with and improve the capacity for intercultural sensitivity, collaboration and dialogue. Based on the stages enumerated by Bennet, Eric Law, in his book “The Bush was Blazing but not consumed: developing a multicultural community,” presented some of the same ideas in the form of 7 myths, false beliefs that underlie our ethnocentricity.

“Difference does not exist.” This is what Bennet refers to as the first stage of denial. It means that people in this stage are very unaware of differences or choose to ignore differences. What would be some of the reasons leading to this myopic world view? One can imagine someone growing up in an environment that is isolated from others. This denial is caused by isolation (either social, economical, physical) in homogenous communities. One may not need to examine the case of a person growing up in a religiously or ethnically homogenous village. Some self-contained exclusive urban neighbourhoods may also create the same effect. A few years ago, the Japanese Prime Minister commented that the Japanese are able to function more effectively than their American neighbours due to the homogeneity of Japanese society to the ire of the native aboriginal people, who often seem invisible to the larger majority. The task of creating cultural sensitivity at this stage is merely to recognise differences – “Differences do exist!”.

“Difference is confined to broad categories.” Most Malaysians, although there are certainly exceptions, may not fall into the first category but may find themselves in this second category of ethnocentricity. This second stage cannot distinguish finer differences among large categories. “All Chinese have straight hair.” “All Indians like to be involved in politics.” These are forms of stereotyping, meaning that they are oversimplifications in which all the members of a group are considered to be definable by an easily distinguishable set of characteristics. Stereotypes often form the basis of prejudice and are usually employed to explain real or imaginary differences due to race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity, socio-economic class, disability, and occupation, among the limitless groups one may be identified with. The task at this stage is to begin to understand each individual on his own merits. To know that a person comes from a certain religious or ethnic background does not tell us where they fit in terms of values or behaviors; rather, it alerts us to possible arenas of miscommunication.

“You are different; therefore you are bad.” Bennet refers to this form of ethnocentricity as “defense.” In a certain way, this is an improvement from saying that difference is bad or minimal. But this negative evaluation of differences leads to defensiveness and judgmental perception of the other. The task at this level of cultural sensitivity is to recognise and to become more tolerant of differences and to see basic similarities among people of different religions or cultures.

“Its okay for you to be different, but I am better.” Racial supremacy emphasises the positive and superior qualities of one’s own cultural and ethnic status while implying that others are inferior. It is often used to justify many political ideologies and systems based on race, e.g. Apartheid in South Africa, Arianism as justification for Facism and Nazism in Germany etc. The task here is to recognise that everyone deserves equal respect. In the context of religion, equality here means reciprocity rather than equality of beliefs.

“I am different; therefore I am bad and you are good.” Sometimes, the opposite of the previous position happens when one begins to denigrate one’s own culture in order to “fit into” the mainstream. This usually happens among small minorities who begin to assume the dominant cultural group’s attitude and sense of superiority by putting down their own cultural values. It is a form of self-assimilation into the main-stream. Many Orang Asli begin to dress and present themselves as Malay as a result of this dynamic, thus rejecting their own cultural roots in order to acquire a culture of the mainstream which is perceived to be superior to theirs. This form of ethnocentricity can also be the product of globalisation. We can see examples of this in the way of contemporary youth culture, hair-dye colour, dressing, speech and lifestyle aping Western culture.

“If you don’t include like I do, you are bad.” On the surface, such a statement appears to be inclusive. However, this belief often causes the person or group to negatively judge others who do not share their same values or think like them. Thus, the surface inclusion becomes a subtle and often unnoticed front for deep-seated exclusivism. While I was in the United States for a short stint last year, I had the opportunity of sharing a Sabbath meal with a group of secular Jews who made no secret of their avowed liberalism. When discussion led to the account of how the son of one of them had recently shown a greater inclination to Republican (obviously perceived as more conservative) views, another guest at the table exclaimed, “Oh poor thing! That must be so difficult for you to accept!” I thought I had missed something in the conversation. It appears that becoming ‘conservative’ was synonymous to contracting some form of terminal disease.

“I know there are differences, but they are not important.” This corresponds with Bennet’s third stage which he calls “minimisation.” At this stage, persons often try to avoid stereotyping and even begin to see value in all systems. Persons at this level view many things as universal, rather than viewing them simply as part of their own ethnocentricity. I would actually rate this as the most subtle and ‘dangerous’ form of ethnocentricity. Although it obviously emphasises the commonalities and downplays the differences among groups, this kind of ethnocentricity is another way of preserving the centrality of their own worldview. ‘If I want to accept only the part of you that is like me, I am ignoring the rest of you that is different and I am not treating you as a whole person.’ In other words, only those values which correspond to mine, and thus regarded as universal, are of value. In my perception, any differences are of little value. “All religions are the same.” “We all basically believe in the same thing. Differences are man made.” “We are all believers in God and for Him there is no difference.” I often shudder at the casual mention of the last statement at interreligious functions, knowing that my Buddhist friends would again be excluded by such a sweeping generalisation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Demolishing the Tower of Babel: Dealing with our Ethnocentricity, Part 1 (of 3)

By Rev. Fr. Michael Chua

The Tower of Babel

We are all too familiar with the story of the tower of babel in Gen 11:1-9 set on the mythical stage of a world that was united by a single language and speech. As a result of their pride (though depravity is not mentioned at this stage as in earlier stories), men began this project of building this tower that would reach to the heavens. The story ultimately ends with God’s contempt for human pride and punishes them by causing disunity among them through the confusion of their languages and scattering them abroad, so that they will no longer be one people united by a single tongue.

Perhaps, the often unspoken question of any reader of the story would be this: Why did God confuse their language so that they couldn’t understand each other? What did He intend to accomplish? Is diversity, God’s curse for His people?

I personally received new insight to this story last year when I heard a Native American retell the story in the light of his own traditional spiritual understanding. He claims that he can never understand how White People interpret this story as a curse. He was utterly convinced that it was a “blessing” from God, or the Great Spirit. In other words, the Great Spirit felt it was such a shame for people to live under the illusion of same-ness, ignoring or even vilifying that which was different, that He had to intervene to teach man the need to respect and even celebrate diversity.

Thus, the tower of Babel becomes the symbol of our small-mindedness, our store-house of prejudices and inability to see value and goodness in those who are different from us. In our separateness, we build our towers of unspoken assumptions, beliefs and values. As the tower gets taller and taller, we create more distance and separation from others who are different. Up in the imaginary security of our tower, we may presumptuously conclude that our culture is God’s culture – which, in turn, may lead us to believe that we are gods. We then sit in judgment of others according to our standards and values.

How then do we come down from our towers of Babel? The first step may be the hardest. It is confronting the truth about ourselves – the truth that these towers of superiority and separateness do not guard us from harm’s way but in fact are the cause of our destruction.

I’m not a Bigot!

One of the hardest and most stinging indictments that anyone can receive in his or her life is being called a “bigot,” whether in reference to race, religion, sexual orientation or politics. “Am I a bigot?” Thus, the accusation will start a snowballing of angry denials which will ultimately lead to both mental and verbal justifications. “I’m no bigot! Just because I believe that some people don’t deserve to be compensated for their laziness doesn’t mean that I’m bigoted!” “I’m a very open minded person! For your information, I grew up with many friends who are non-Catholics.” “I’m for equal rights, mind you! I believe that everyone is the same and should be treated the same! There are basically no differences between us. Me? A bigot? Certainly not!” “I really have nothing against Hinduism, Islam or Buddhism. I just have problems with some of their believers and how their religion is practised. They should really learn from us Catholics.” The often angry reaction to even a hint of bigotry on our part may actually be indicative of the truth which we refuse to see in ourselves, the shadow of ‘the bigot’, ‘the racist,’ ‘the chauvinist’ hiding in the closets of our hearts.

So, perhaps before we can even begin to discuss bridge-building with peoples of other beliefs, it may be important to move beyond our self-deceptions to take an honest look at some of our fundamental beliefs of “others” in order to determine our level of inter-cultural sensitivity.

It may be useful to understand the dynamics of prejudice and bigotry by examining the anthropological concept of ‘ethnocentricism.’ Ethnocentricism refers to the tendency to evaluate other groups according to the values and standards of one's own specific group, especially with the conviction that one's own group is superior to the other groups. This often leads to an assumption of superiority over others. Anthropologists argue that everyone is not spared from this condition of being ethnocentric from an early age. We all grow up in a specific environment that shapes our values and worldview. When confronted with that which is ‘different,’ or the ‘other’ person or group, we would then begin to make judgments based on our own historical cultural assumptions and biases. We often do not know very much about other worldviews and would often either consider these as invalid or of lesser value and importance than ours. Therefore, we come to the painful conclusion that we are all basically “ethnocentric!”

It is only in understanding and accepting the cause of our ethnocentrism that we can move beyond it. Admission and recognition is the first step. Then we can begin the long journey of acquiring greater sensitivity to differences that we see in others.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

World Mission Sunday: History of the Society for the Propagation of Faith

This weekend, the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. We will be taking a second collection at all masses to support Catholic missions throughout the world. The works of these missions are coordinated by the Society for the Propagation of Faith. Here is a youtube video prepared by the Canadian branch of the Society that explains their history and mission.

Pope's Message for World Mission Sunday - October 18, 2009

" The nations will come to its light" (Rev 21, 24)

On this Sunday, dedicated to the missions, I address first of all you, my brothers in the episcopal and the priestly ministry, and then you, my brothers and sisters, the whole People of God, to encourage in each one of you deeper awareness of Christ's missionary mandate to "make disciples of all peoples" (Mt 28,19), in the footsteps of Saint Paul, the Apostle of the nations

"The nations will come to its light" " (Rev 21,24).

The goal of the Church's mission is to illuminate with the light of the Gospel all peoples journeying through history towards God, so that in Him they may be fully realised and accomplished. We must live the longing and the passion to illuminate all peoples with the light of Christ, that shines on the face of the Church, so that all may be gathered into the one human family, under God's loving fatherhood. It is in this perspective that the disciples of Christ spread throughout the world work, struggle and groan under the burden of suffering, offering their very lives. Let us once again proclaim strongly what was so frequently affirmed by my venerated Predecessors: the Church works not to extend power or affirm dominion, but to carry, to all, Christ, the salvation of the world. We ask nothing except to put ourselves at the service of all humanity, especially the suffering and the excluded, because we believe that " the effort to proclaim the Gospel to the people of today... is a service rendered to the Christian community and also to the whole of humanity" (Evangelii nuntiandi, 1), which " has experienced marvellous achievements but which seems to have lost its sense of ultimate realities and of existence itself" (Redemptoris missio, 2).

1. All Peoples are called to salvation

In truth, the whole of humanity has the radical vocation to return to its source, to return to God, since in Him alone can it find accomplishment through the restoration of all things in Christ. Dispersion, multiplicity, conflict, enmity will be calmed and reconciled through the blood of the Cross and led back to unity. This new beginning has already started with the Resurrection and the exaltation of Christ, who draws all things to himself, renewing them and enabling them to share in the eternal joy of God. The future of the new creation shines already in our world and, despite contradictions and suffering, kindles hope for new life. The Church's mission is to "infect" all peoples with hope. This is why Christ calls, sanctifies and sends his disciples to announce the Kingdom of God, so that all nations may become the people of God. It is only in this mission that the true journey of humanity is understood and attested. The universal mission should become a fundamental constant in the life of the Church. To announce the Gospel must be for us, as it was for the Apostle Paul, a primary and impelling duty.

2. The pilgrim Church

The universal Church which knows neither borders nor frontiers, feels responsible for announcing the Gospel to whole peoples (cfr Evangelii nuntiandi, 53). It is the duty of the Church, seed of hope by vocation, to continue Christ's service in the world. The measure of her mission and her service is not material or even spiritual needs restricted to temporal existence, instead, it is transcendent salvation, fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (cfr Evangelii nuntiandi, 27). This Kingdom, although eschatological in its completeness and not of this world (cfr Gv 18,36), is, in this world and in its history, a force for justice and peace, for true freedom and respect for the dignity of every human person. The Church wishes to transform the world with the proclamation of the Gospel of love, " that can always illuminates a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working… and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world " (Deus caritas est, 39). It is to this mission and to this service, that I call, also with this Message, all the members and institutions of the Church to participate.

3. Missio ad gentes

The mission of the Church, therefore, is to call all peoples to the salvation accomplished by God through his incarnate Son. It is therefore necessary to renew our commitment to proclaiming the Gospel which is leaven of freedom and progress, brotherhood, unity and peace (cfr Ad gentes, 8). I would " confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church " (Evangelii nuntiandi, 14), a duty and a mission which the widespread and profound changes in present day society render ever more urgent. At stake is the eternal salvation of all people, the goal and the accomplishment of human history and the universe. Animated and inspired by the Apostle of the nations, we must realise that God has a numerous people in all the cities visited by the apostles of today (cfr Acts 18, 10). In fact "The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God is calling to himself" (Acts 2,39). The whole Church must be committed to missio ad gentes, until the salvific sovereignty of Christ is fully accomplished: "At present, it is true, we are not able to see that all things are under him" (Heb 2,8).

4. Called to evangelise also through martyrdom

On this day dedicated to the missions, I recall in prayer those who made their lives exclusive consecration to the work of evangelisation. I mention especially those local Churches and those missionaries who bear witness to and spread the Kingdom of God in situations of persecution, with various forms of oppression ranging from social discrimination to prison, torture and death. No small number of them are put to death for the sake of his "Name". Still tremendously relevant today are the words of my venerated Predecessor, Pope John Paul II: " The Jubilee remembrance has presented us with a surprising vista, showing us that our own time is particularly prolific in witnesses, who in different ways were able to live the Gospel in the midst of hostility and persecution, often to the point of the supreme test of shedding their blood. " (Novo millennio ineunte, apostolic letter 41). Participation in the mission of Christ, in fact, affects also the life of those who announce the Gospel, for whom is reserved the same destiny as their Master. "Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too" (Jn 15,20). The Church walks the same path and suffers the same destiny as Christ, since she acts not on the basis of any human logic or relying on her own strength, but instead she follows the way of the Cross, becoming, in filial obedience to the Father, a witness and a travelling companion for all humanity. I remind old Churches and those more recently founded that they have been placed by the Lord to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and called to spread Christ, the Light of the nations, to the far corners of the earth. Missio ad gentes must be a priority in pastoral programmes. To the Pontifical Mission Societies goes my gratitude and my encouragement for their indispensable service of promoting missionary animation and formation and material help for young Churches. Through the Pontifical Institutions communion among the Churches is admirably achieved with exchange of gifts, reciprocal concern and common missionary programming.

5. Conclusion

Missionary impulse has always been a sign of the vitality of our Churches (cfr Redemptoris missio 2) . Nevertheless it is necessary to reaffirm that evangelisation is primarily the work of the Spirit and that before being action it is witness and irradiation of the light of Christ (cfr Redemptoris missio 26 ) on the part of the local Church, which sends her own missionary men and women beyond her frontiers. I therefore ask all Catholics to pray that the Holy Spirit will intensify the Church's passion for the mission to spread the Kingdom of God and to support missionaries and Christian communities involved in mission, in front line, often in situations of hostility and persecution. At the same time I ask everyone to offer as a credible sign of communion among the Churches, financial assistance, especially in these times of crisis affecting all humanity, to help the young Churches be in the condition to illuminate the nations with the Gospel of charity. May we be guided in our missionary activity by the Blessed Virgin Mary, star of New Evangelisation, who brought Christ into the world to be the light of the nations and to carry salvation "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13,47).
Upon all I impart my Blessing.

From the Vatican, 29 June, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Deepavali (Divali) - October 17

Living in multicultural and multireligious Malaysia is truly a blessing as we have the opportunity to learn a great deal about the cultural and religious celebrations of other Malaysians. Tomorrow, we celebrate one of Malaysia's great religious holidays, and for Hindu Indians it is their largest and best known holiday, Diwali (pronounced Di-vall-ee or dih-WAH-lee) or locally known as Deepavali, is popularly known as the "festival of lights"; however, its most noteworthy meaning in a spiritual sense may be "the awareness of the inner light".

Deepavali (தீபாவளி or Dīpāvalī,) (Hindi: दीपावली, दिवाली; Kannada: ದೀಪಾವಳಿ; Urdu: دیوالی; Tamil: தீபாவளி; Telugu: దీపావళి;Marathi and Konkani:दिवाळी) is a significant festival in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and an official holiday in India and Malaysia.

Deepavali is a Tamil word meaning diyas in line தீபாவளி(deepavali) = தீபம்(deepam)+வளி(vali) (In tamil வளி(vali) = வரிசை(line))The word தீபம்(diyas) derived from the word தீ(fire).

Fundamental in Hindu philosophy is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman (pronounced in Sanskrit like Atma). Deepavali (Diwali) is the celebration of this inner light, in particular of the knowing that this light outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), and awakens the individual to their true nature, not as the body, but as an unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the knowing of the Atman comes universal compassion, love, and the understanding of the oneness of all things.

In most regions, Diwali lasts for five days. It begins on the 14th day of the dark half of the Hindu calendar month of Asvina. (Hindu months are each divided into a light half, when the moon waxes, and a dark half, when it wanes.) In 2009, on the Gregorian calendar, Diwali begins on October 17th.

The story behind Diwali, as well as the length and specific details of the celebrations, varies widely from region to region; however, the essence is the same: to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman) through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, the sharing of sweets and worship.

Deepavali celebrates this through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship. While the story behind Dipavali varies from region to region, the essence is the same - to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman).

Of the several events associated with it, the following are two important ones in Hinduism:

  1. Return of Rama to Ayodhya: Deepavali also celebrates the return of Rama, King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya after a 14 year exile, and a war in which he killed Ravana. It is believed that the people of Ayodhya lit ghee lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. Since Ram traveled from South India to his kingdom in North India, he passed through the south earlier. This is the reason why the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India. Deepavali usually comes 19 or 20 days after Dasara.
  2. The Killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi, one day before Deepavali day, it commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during this time of Krishna's avatar. In another version, the demon was killed by Krishna ( Krishna provokes his wife Satyabhama to kill Narshna defeating Indra: Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Deepavali. It is the day Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. As per the story, Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra and questions his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their 'dharma' truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their 'karma', to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna then lifted Mt Govardhan and held it up as protection to his people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme.

Variations notwithstanding, these stories share a common thread; that of the removal of evil, to be replaced by that which is good.

This sense of renewal is reflected in the way Hindus prepare themselves for Deepavali.

In anticipation of the celebration, homes as well as their surrounding areas are cleaned from top to bottom; decorative designs such as the kolam are drawn or placed on floors and walls; and the glow of lights, whether emitted from the traditional vilakku (oil lamps fashioned out of clay) or colourful electric bulbs, brighten up the abode of both rich and poor, signalling the coming festivities.

Temples are similarly spruced up with flowers and offerings of fruits and coconut milk from devotees, becoming more abundant and pronounced as the big day draws closer.

The spring cleaning and decorating are significant for they not only symbolise renewal but also prepare for the welcoming of Devi Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, who is believed to visit homes and temples on the day. It is said she emerged from the churning ocean only days after the new moon of Deepavali.

Besides the cleaning of homes and temples, Hindus also prepare themselves by cleansing their bodies and minds. Many among the devout fast, or observe a strict vegetarian diet, and spend hours during the preceding weeks in prayer and meditation.

The eve is usually spent making last-minute preparations for the next day. This is also the time when past quarrels are forgotten, and forgiveness is extended and granted.

On Deepavali morning, many Hindu devotees awaken before sunrise for the ritual oil bath. For some it is a symbolic affair (to signify purity) while others take full oil baths to remove impurities externally, as well as tone the muscles and nerves to receive positive energies. Then it's straight to the temples where prayers are held in accordance with the ceremonial rites.

The rest of the day is taken up by receiving guests, as is customary here in Malaysia. Most devout Hindus tend to be vegetarian, but that doesn't change the fact that Deepavali is the day to savour the many delicious Indian delicacies such as sweetmeats, rice puddings and the ever-popular murukku.

For the Jains: Diwali marks the attainment of nirvana by Lord Mahavira – the last of the Jain Tirthankaras – on October 15, 527 BC and is one of their most important festivals.

Mahavira is responsible for establishing the Dharma followed by Jains even today. According to tradition, the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge (Kevalgyana) on this day, thus making Diwali one of the most important Jain festivals.

Mahavira attained his nirvana at the dawn of the amavasya (new moon). According to the Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BC, many gods were present there, illuminating the darkness. The following night was pitch black without the light of the gods or the moon. To symbolically keep the light of their master's knowledge alive, the Gana kings illuminated their doors. It was reported that they had said: "Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter."

Diwali (also called Bandi Chhorh Diwas or "the day of release of detainees") is a particularly important day because it celebrates the release from imprisonment in 1619 of the sixth Sikh Guru, Hargobind Ji.

Deepavali has been significant in Sikhism since the illumination of the town of Amritsar commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644), the sixth Guru of Sikhism, who was imprisoned along with 52 other Hindu kings at Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. After freeing the other prisoners, he went to the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) in the holy city of Amritsar, where he was welcomed happily by the people who lit candles and divas to greet the Guru. Because of this, Sikhs often refer to Deepavali also as Bandi Chhorh Divas - "the day of release of detainees."