Thursday, August 30, 2007

Forever a sovereign democratic and independent State

The Malaysian Flag

The Flag of the British East India Company

When the clock strikes 12 tonight, my country, Malaysia (minus the states of Sabah and Sarawak) marks 50 years of Independence. First colonised by the Portuguese who brought Christianity to these lands and missionaries such as St. Francis Xavier, the Malay states have been subsequently under the subjugation of various foreign powers such as the Dutch and the Thais in the North before finally coming under British sovereignty.

The Flag of the Straits Settlements

Penang, the first British outpost in these lands, established by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786 together with the other British colony of Malacca and the Malay states were granted independence and formed the Federation of Malaya on August 31 1957 under our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj.

The Flag of the Crown Colony of Penang

The Union Flag of the Crown Colony of Penang

Sabah (British North Borneo) and Sarawak (together with Singapore which was expelled on the 9th of August 1965) were granted independence from the British and merged the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia on the 16th of September 1963.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then and the country has come a long way. It sought and won independence from Great Britain without violence and bloodshed, successfully defeated a Communist insurrection militarily, merged with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, expelled Singapore and much more. Many Malaysians are affluent and skyscrapers, malls and the hallmarks of development dot the landscape of the major cities.

In proclaiming Malaya independent on Aug 31, 1957, Tunku declared it “shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of the people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.

But the vision of its founding Fathers have been thwarted and warped and we’re much more racist and bigoted compared to our fathers. The Islamization of the curriculum has seen non-Malay parents sending their children to national type schools where Mandarin and Tamil, rather than the national language, is the medium of instruction. Non-Malays, who can’t get into public universities due to preferential treatment given to Malays and easier entrance requirements for them study at private colleges or overseas. Racist policies has seen our best and brightest migrate to greener pastures and a level playing field. Entrenched racism within the government, public academia, the civil service and government linked companies had led to sharp polarizationas and divisions in society. We watch different TV shows, read different newspapers and think very differently. Corruption is widespread and nepotism and cronyism is the norm.

His Majesty Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Ibni Almarhum Al-Sultan Mahmud Al-Muktafi Billah Shah Al-Haj, 13th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or King of Malaysia. Malaysia has a unique system of a rotational Supreme Monarch. There are nine Malay rulers who each take a 5 year term as the Supreme Ruler or the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia. Asked to describe the system, our first Prime Ministers quipped: "Actually the Constitution of Malaya is very simple. It is exactly like that of Britain In England you have the Queen and the Prime Minister. Likewise, in Malaya you have the King and the Prime Minister. In England the Prime Minister changes every five years, but the Queen stays on in power. In Malaya, it is the other way around: the King changes every five years, but the Prime Minister stays on in power.”

But through all this, Almighty God has continued to shower His abundant blessings on this, our land and our home. As we move together towards the future, let us pray for God’s continued guidance and protection for all who call this land home.

God bless Malaysia.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Feast of the Assumption in Malacca

Check out the Assumption celebrations in Malacca, where St. Francis Xavier once spread the Faith. The local traditions include originated from the time when the local Catholics were forced to go “underground” for the feast in case of reprisals from the Dutch authorities, which upheld the Protestant faith with much fervour. Check it out.

MALACCA: The Feast of the Assumption, also known as the “sugarcane feast” by the Assumption Chapel Portuguese-Eurasian Catholic community of Praya Lane, Kampong Tengah and Bandar Hilir, drew a large crowd including outstation devotees recently.

Some 1,200 devotees packed the quaint little Assumption Chapel with a large number spilling out into the sides and back to witness the hour-long Eucharistic service which culminated with the Statue of Our Lady being carried in procession around the compound.

A unique aspect of the feast, unlike others in the region, was the generous display of stalks of sugarcane around the chapel compound.

This tradition of displaying sugarcane has been kept alive since the chapel came into being in the late 1900s, after taking root during the 154-year Dutch occupation of Malacca in 1641.

The chapel compound decked with stalks of sugarcane as the Statue of Our Lady is carried in procession.
According to Praya Lane senior resident eighty-year-old Lionel Theseira, who has been residing adjacent to the chapel since the 1940s, the local Catholics were forced to go “underground” for the feast in case of reprisals from the Dutch authorities, which upheld the Protestant faith with much fervour.

At that time, there was a large sugarcane plantation close to where the Assumption Chapel is now sited and it offered the Catholic populace mostly hailing from the local Portuguese community a haven where they gathered for prayer services and performance of other religious devotions.

“Succeeding generations chose a novel way to commemorate the ‘protection’ of their ancestors in the sugarcane plantation which kept their faith and religion alive,” said Theseira.

In the late 1900s, a Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Assumption was built within a stone’s throw of the plantation, and since then, Catholics in the area have been celebrating the novel and unique “sugarcane feast”.

On the feast day, the chapel compound is decorated with generous stalks of sugarcane. Annually, after a late evening service and procession, the sugarcane is blessed, cut into small pieces and distributed to all present.

In the good old days, bunches of wild ferns and young coconut leaves were also used to decorate the chapel and its compound while a large illuminated wooden arch heralding the feast day celebrations dominated the entrance.

“Despite the small band of Portuguese-Eurasian Catholics living in the vicinity these days, it is most refreshing to note that this annual sugarcane feast is still going strong and held steadfast, with heritage and traditions kept alive by senior community folks and their immediate family members,” added Theseira, who is partially blind.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Marian Statue stolen from Cathedral

Hot on the heels of the tabernacle stolen from a Church in Ipoh, now it is the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit's turn as the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was stolen from the grotto.

Mark, at prayer.


The Grotto in happier times

A bit too garish for my taste.


From The Star:

PENANG: A 30-year-old clay statue of Mother Mary was stolen from the grounds of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Island Park here.

A security guard discovered the theft at 6am on Thursday and lodged a report at the Jelutong police station the same day.

The thief is believed to have jumped over the fence in the wee hours of the morning, smashed the plastic panel and made off with the statue.

It is believed the thief had thought the decorative items on the statue, including a gold-painted crown and shimmering studs, were real.

Theft: Father Henry showing the place where the statue of Mother Mary was before it was stolen on Thursday at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Penang.
Assistant parish priest Father Henry Rajoo said the statue had been placed at the garden for devotional purposes.

“Although the statue has little monetary value, it is precious to us. We hope the statue will be returned to the church,” he said yesterday.

“We had intended to beautify the grotto where the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was kept but nothing can be done now. We just want the statue back and will not penalise the culprit[Andrew:It was spoken by a Catholic priest.],” he added.

Father Henry said they would order a new statue if the old one could not be found within a week.

George Town OCPD Asst Comm Azam Abdul Hamid said no arrest had been made so far.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Did you know that all the altar pieces in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome are not paintings at all but are actually mosaics?

Yup. That's right. I kid you not. All that glorious art on the altar pieces that you thought were painted on canvas? They're actually mosaic copies, tesserae, painstakingly pieced together by the master mosaicists. Except the 17th century painting of the Holy Trinity, by Pietro da Cortona above the altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, all of the paintings have been replaced with mosaics - and you'd never be able to tell they're not paintings unless you looked very closely - so they're very durable and photography is allowed inside the church without damaging the priceless works of art.

Take the Altar of the Lie below for example. Verily, cant's thou tell that it is indeed not a painting? I prithee, take a closer look.

The Altar of the Lie, a strange name for an altar; it refers to a story from the Acts of the Apostles, depicted in the mosaic. The first Christians shared all their property, and none of the claimed private ownership of any possessions (Acts 4:32). A couple that had converted, named Ananias and Sapphira, agreed to sell their property and give everything to the Christian community. But they kept part of the proceeds. St Peter reproached Ananias for telling a lie to the Holy Spirit. Ananias fell down dead. His wife came about three hours later, and she, too, lied about the money. Peter asked her why she wished to test the Spirit of the Lord, and said that the men who had carried her husband's body out would carry her too, at which she dropped dead at his feet. (Acts, 5, 1-10). In the background, you can see a depiction of the men carrying Ananias' body out for burial.

Look closer and you can see the details of the mosaic. The photo below shows the individual tesserae that comprise the mosaic. The Vatican Mosaic Studio has apparently developed 15,000 different shades of colour.

Priceless paintings that grace the altars of the Vatican Basilica are recreated in mosaic glass by master mosaicists. Details from the Annunziata

Toward the end of the 16th century, the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome was drawing to an end. Rising above the sepulcher of the Apostle Peter, the composition of decorative works designed by Michelangelo and Bramante had begun on the magnificent wall structures of the central cruciform dome. During those years, Palaeo-Christian walls and floors were usually covered with mosaic works. The ancient basilica's facade and wooden frameworks were usually gilded with mosaics, running the length of the portico and narrating to pilgrims the stories of the apostles Peter and Paul.

The decorations of the new basilica began with the vault of the Gregorian chapel in 1578 and were executed by the Venetian mosaicist Marcello Provenzale. Provenzale was summoned from Venice, where the art had been handed down for centuries within the basilica of San Marco. Shortly after, a school was formed under the title of Fabbrica di San Pietro. Here, under the guidance of the Venetian masters, an increasing number of Roman artisans learned the art of mosaic and then applied these skills to the incredible works of St. Peter's.

Initially, mosaics were used on the vaults of vestibules and chapels, while altarpieces were painted on canvas. But these proved to be easily perishable due to the basilica's unstable environmental conditions; thus rose the plan to complete altar decorations with mosaics and transfer existing paintings into mosaics.

It was in the Fabbrica di San Pietro's laboratory where research was successfully conducted to improve enamel glass, creating a much more vast array of chromatic shades. The Vatican mosaicists would now have in excess of 15,000 color samples at their disposal. The lab's invention of opaque glass proved critical for the completion of transforming from canvas to mosaic all the works of the Vatican basilica. The mastery of their work enabled the creation of such marvelous mosaic transpositions from extremely complex works of art, as seen in Rafaello's Transfigurazione, considered as the most beautiful painting in the world.


Raphael's original

Framed within a great arch of gorgeous marble, the whole constitutes an effect so radiantly beautiful that one might well imagine it to be a sunlit vision of another and better world.
This masterpiece is on the southeast wall of the dome (number 14 on the plan of St. Peter's), opposite the statue of St. Peter.

The mosaic copy in the Basilica

The picture is an exact reproduction of Raphael's painting and looks as if it were painted on canvas, but in reality it is composed of thousands of pieces of variously tinted stone, which reproduce to perfection every shade of color and every expression of the original. The extreme delicacy of the work and the length of time required for a single picture make these mosaic copies of immeasurable value; and yet, St. Peter's contains more than one hundred, all the work of the great masters, and these, together with the splendid tombs, render the walls of the church sublime with the highest representations of the beautiful.

Cool, no?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

I know this is waaaaaayyy late, but better late than never right?

The stained glass windows of the former Cathedral of the Assumption

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven is one of the most ancient, hopeful and glorious of the Church's feasts and celebrates the fact that, at the completion of her earthly life, Mary was assumed by God, body and soul, to be united with her Son Jesus Christ in the glory of Heaven. Mary is the type of the Church, at the same time Virgin Spouse and Mother and the path that Mary walked is the same path that the Church is treading towards the parousia. Thus, the Assumption of Mary and her glorification is Heaven offers hope that as the one 'who believed that the Word of God spoken to her would be fulfilled' is raised as the first fruit of the redemption procured by Christ Jesus, we too who follow in her path might also one day be raised to God and enjoy with Mary the Beatific Vision in the company of the angels and the saints.

The Assumption of Mary should not surprise us because like Enoch who had walked with God and Elijah before her, assumptions are not something totally unscriptural of alien, something unheard of. Although only formally defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950, in the Bull Munificentissimus Deus, commemorated as the Dormition of the Theotokos or the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God in the East and the Assumption in the West, this feast is among the earliest in the Church and co-temporal with the definitions of the Canon of Scripture. It was mentioned by the various Fathers of the Church as early as the 4th century and is universal to the ancient Churches of both East and West. The Oriental Orthodox or non-Chalcedonian Orthodox (such as the Armenians and the Copts) which split from the Catholic Church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and the Eastern Orthodox Churches which formally split from the Catholic Church in 1054, all hold this Feast in common which testifies to it's antiquity and the universality of the belief in Mary's Assumption.

The earliest Catholic Church in Penang, established in 1786, the year of Penang's foundation is dedicated to the Assumption, long before it's 'official' solemn definition, is another testimony to the antiquity and universality of this belief.

Image:Madonna catacomb.jpg
Image of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. It depicts her nursing the Infant Jesus. This is earliest known image of Mary and the Infant Jesus and testifies to the antiquity of Marian devotion.

St. John of Damascus (P. G., I, 96) thus formulates the tradition of the Church of Jerusalem:
St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles,[except St. Thomas, who was evangelizing in India] but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas[after he returned, having had a vision of the Virgin's death], was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.
As one of the earliest Christian writings, the martyrdom of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of the Apostle John testifies, the relics of the martyrs were considered by the early Christians as 'valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold'. Christians venerated the relics of the holy men and women who lived and died for Christ since antiquity and the relics and bodily remains of the Apostles, such as Peter and Paul in Rome were known and honoured by magnificent basilicas and Churches after the Edict of Milan. Before that, the shrines of these holy people were commemorated and their locations kept alive in the pious memory of the early Christians who flocked to their tombs on their heavenly birthdays, the date of their martyrdom.

But of the body of the one who gave her flesh and blood to the Word, who bore Him and brought Him up, the Blessed Virgin, there was no trace. No cities vied for the reputation and honour of having been her final resting place. Relics such as her veil and cincture are indeed claimed, but never her body.

Sacred Scripture has this to say:

And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and agreat hailstorm.

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
-Rev 11:19, 12:1-2, 5,17

Jesus, the Christ is the male child who is to rule over the nations, Satan, the ancient serpent, the devil, is the dragon (Rev 12:9). Each of the figures represent a person and thus, the Woman, no different, is Mary, the mother of Jesus and the mother of all those who 'keep the testimony of Jesus'. (Some say that the Woman is Israel but then Israel is not the mother of the Church, those who keep the testimony of Jesus. Others say that the Woman is the Church, but the Church did not give birth to Jesus, who is Her head, Mary did. St. John, to whom Mary was entrusted by Jesus when He hung on the cross provides the clue for the identity of the Woman in his Gospel. Read it and see who is it that Jesus calls Woman.)

Along with the biblical reference in Acts 2:14 that confirms that the Virgin Mary was with the Holy Apostles on the day of Pentecost, the tradition of the Greek Church holds that she remained in the home of the Apostle John in Jerusalem, continuing a ministry in word and deed.

At the time of her death, the disciples of our Lord who were preaching throughout the world returned to Jerusalem to see the Theotokos. Except for the Apostle Thomas, all of them including the Apostle Paul were gathered together at her bedside. At the moment of her death, Jesus Christ himself descended and carried her soul into heaven.

Following her repose, the body of the Theotokos was taken in procession and laid in a tomb near the Garden of Gethsemane. When the Apostle Thomas arrived three days after her repose and desired to see her body, the tomb was found to be empty. The bodily assumption of the Theotokos was confirmed by the message of an angel and by her appearance to the Apostles.

The Icon of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos shows her on her deathbed surrounded by the Apostles. Christ is standing in the center (1.) looking at His mother. He is holding a small child clothed in white representing the soul of the Virgin Mary. With His golden garments, the angels above His head, and the mandorla surrounding Him, Christ is depicted in His divine glory.

1. Christ, appearing in His Glory, stands in the center of the icon cradling the soul of His Mother, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

The posture of the Apostles direct attention toward the Theotokos (2.). On the right Saint Peter censes the body of the Theotokos. On the left Saint Paul (3.) bows low in honor of her.

2. The Apostles bow their heads in reverence to the Theotokos as Saint Peter (right) censes her body (detail).

Together with the Apostles are several bishops (4.) and women. The bishops traditionally represented are James, the brother of the Lord, Timothy, Heirotheus, and Dionysius the Areopagite. They are shown wearing episcopal vestments. The women are members of the church in Jerusalem.

3. The Apostle Paul bows in honor of the Theotokos (detail).

4. Also in attendance to pray for the Theotokos were several Bishops (detail).

In front of the bed of the Theotokos is a candle (5.) that helps to form a central axis in the icon. Above the candle is the body of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Standing over His mother is Christ holding her most pure soul. Above Christ the gates of heaven stand open, ready to receive the Mother of God.

5. The Theotokos lies in the center of the icon surrounded by the Apostles and a candle in front of her bed (detail).

This great Feast of the Church and the icon celebrates a fundamental teaching of our faith—the Resurrection of the body. In the case of the Theotokos, this has been accomplished by the divine will of God. Thus, this Feast is a feast of hope, hope in Resurrection and life eternal. Like those who gathered around the body of the Virgin Mary, we gather around our departed loved ones and commend their souls into the hands of Christ. As we remember those who have reposed in the faith before us and have passed on into the communion of the Saints, we prepare ourselves to one day be received into the new life of the age to come.

We also affirm through this Feast as we journey toward our heavenly abode that the Mother of God intercedes for us. Through Christ she has become the mother of all of the children of God, embracing us with divine love.

Descriptions of the icon from GOARCH, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis

I came across this story, about the Peruvian earthquake which struck the Church of San Clemente while a Funeral Mass was going on killing 150 people inside the Church. So much death and so much destruction, but amidst all this there was no despair but hope still springs eternal. Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt, a light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it.

I read of the people, whose homes were flattened, who kin were killed speaking of God's love for them. Wow.

What was that light that gave these people hope? What was that light that illumined the darkness of that moment and gave them comfort amidst suffering and death?

Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. It was the presence of God, dwelling among them that gave them comfort, His presence which was communicated through the signs of the images of His Son and His saints, undamaged through fury and violence of the quake. These statues and images, through they be made of plaster, have become 'sacraments', signifying a hidden, unseen grace, communicating God's presence and God's care for His children in their moment of trial. By touching, by caressing these images of Jesus, the people are comforted by His presence and draw closer to their God.

Some people might find it offensive, these displays of affection for lifeless plaster and stone, but we know it is not that which the villagers are caressing, but their God, Jesus in Heaven through the conduit of the statues. It is the way these simple people show their love and gratitude to God for His continued presence among them through His undamaged images as He was once really and corporally present among them in the flesh 2000 years ago and now continues to dwell among them through the Holy Eucharist.

Et habitavit in nobis. May this be our comfort too in times of trial.

The story, from Reuters.

Peruvians weep at church statues that survive quake

By Terry Wade

PISCO, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvian earthquake survivors on Saturday wept and hugged statues of Jesus Christ and Catholic saints dug out intact from the rubble of a church where at least 150 people died three days earlier.

Rescue workers placed the life-sized statues in the main square in Pisco, the Pacific coast town that was among the hardest hit by a 8.0 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday that killed more than 500 people in Peru.

The Church of San Clemente was where most of the Pisco victims died, crushed during a funeral mass.

Desperate and ragged residents, most of them hungry people who haven't slept under a roof since the quake, thronged around the Christ statue in amazement as it was carried in procession into the square by half a dozen men in hard hats and masks.

The survival of the religious figures gave people hope and something to celebrate in their desolation in this predominantly Catholic country.

"The Lord is present here with us, along with the saints, it's a miracle they weren't destroyed," said Amelia Ugaz de Aria, 69, whose home was flattened by the earthquake.

Nearby, a mobile hospital attended to injured survivors while others continued to search for kin among rows of distended, purple bodies laid out in the square and still awaiting identification.

Lourdes Girau, 42, sobbed as she kneeled before Jesus and with a rag dusted off the wooden cross he was staked to.

"The fact that he's here, shows Jesus continues to live to fight so much tragedy," Girau said.

Townspeople rushed to hold the hands of San Clemente or caress the face of Jesus, their fingers tracing the painted blood stains streaming down his skin.

The Peruvian government sent hundreds of troops to the stricken towns of Pisco, Chincha and Ica on Saturday as looting intensified, partly because of frustration over what survivors said was the slow pace of aid.

Some residents were fleeing the area to find food and shelter elsewhere.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Church robbed, tabernacle stolen

I was reading our local newspaper this morning and came across this story about a break-in which occurred at the Redemptorist Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Ipoh. Apparently, the tabernacle, containing what the news report termed some 'vessels' which I presume are ciboriums, was stolen over the night.

Please pray that the tabernacle and the Sacred Hosts contained within are returned un-desecrated. Also keep Rev. Fr. Joseph Stephens, CSsR, the parish priest, and all the parishioners of the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in your prayers.

Please also pray in reparation for this great sacrilege and for the conversion of those who carried out this crime, that God may forgive them of this grave trespass which they have committed against Him out of greed and presumably, ignorance.

The interior of the Church, showing the tabernacle under the Crucifix can be seen in the image below.

The exterior of the Church, below.

The Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Ipoh

The following report is from the local Star newspaper.

Sacred vessels stolen from church

IPOH: Parishioners attending the early morning mass at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help church here yesterday were shocked to find that its sacred relics were missing.

They believe that thieves had broken into the building and carted away the church’s tabernacle containing its five sacred vessels worth RM5,000.

[Andrew: Another image of the tabernacle, taken from the front]

The church community is now appealing for the return of the items before they end up as scrap metal.

Parish priest Father Joseph Stephen said the theft was discovered at 6am when a church volunteer arrived to prepare for the 6.30am mass.

“The church relics are very sacred to us and our community and we would like to have them back,” he said after lodging a police report here.

According to a church official, the thieves are believed to have gained entry into the church after removing some wooden panels.

A security guard had heard some noise between 2am and 4am but did not spot anything when he went to check.

Father Joseph continued with the morning mass using another set of vessels.