JOHOR BAHRU – The Catholic Church is now seeing the “rise of the Catholic laity” who “have become as important as the Religious”, says Bishop Paul Tan of Melaka-Johor diocese.

However, it is true that “the Church expects the Religious to excel in holiness even though all are called to holiness”.

Bishop Tan gave these observations in an interview to mark his 40th priestly anniversary.

The Jesuit Church leader, who is also the head of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, celebrated the occasion on June 21.

Bishop Tan said he saw the hand of God in the proliferation of secular institutes of consecrated life in which members do not live in communities like the older Religious communities.

“Vatican Council II says that all Catholics are called to holiness and not just the Religious,” said Bishop Tan, 71.

“It is my conjecture that there are few things God wants to tell us. He wants to lift up the role of the lay faithful to its original status.”

Bishop Tan said he first felt promptings to join the Religious life in his late teens. These strengthened after listening to a Jesuit priest who spoke of his work among cannibalistic tribes in Papua New Guinea.

Bishop Tan said that although the forms and shapes of consecrated life would vary, the promptings felt by individuals towards it were the same: a desire, at first, to flee the “dirt” of the secular world, which in time transforms into a determination to redeem it through holiness allied to self-sacrificial dedication.

“I wanted to run away from the perceived evil of this world to work among the natives,” he recalled.

“In the Religious life, I learnt that the better way, in fact, is to get into the ‘dirty’ world and try to clean whatever dirt I can clean. It may be a drop of contribution but if all Catholics, especially the Religious, by their holiness, clean a bit, a lot can be done.”

He maintained that Religious life is still relevant to the holiness of the Church, although like all living things it has its “rise and fall”, behind which is the hand of God.

When asked whether his life as a Jesuit fulfilled his earlier yearnings, he replied: “Yes, it has been very fulfilling but not without trials and tribulations.”

However, he was quick to add, “God changed all my dreams into His dreams for me, which are much better than what I could have ever thought of.” - By Vincent D’Silva



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