Panel of speakers during the Empowering Change in Malaysia virtual forum

By Adrianne Maia Fernandez, CDMYM

Mar 11 2022

In conjunction with World Social Justice Day, the Church of the Divine Mercy (CDM) hosted a forum on social justice, to empower change in Malaysia, especially under the context of the Catholic Church.

Held on February 20, the keynote speaker was a Member of Parliament representing Muar, co-founder of the political party MUDA, and a prominent advocate of social justice in Malaysian, YB Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman. The panellists included the Director of the Catholic Research Centre, Fr Dr Clarence Devadass, CDM Parish Pastoral Council chairperson and Society of Certified Risk Professionals Dato Dr Dionysius Sharma, and law graduate and social advocate Jofintha Joseph. The moderator was Jason Ho, a member of CDM’s social communications, ecumenical, and interfaith ministry.

The online forum was split into three parts starting with YB Syed Saddiq and his perspective on social justice in Malaysia; the second featured Catholic social justice, and finally, a Question-and-Answer session.

On the relevance of the World Day of Social Justice in Malaysia, Syed Saddiq spoke about racial discrimination and the injustice of deaths in custody in the past two years. He also described these social justice concerns as ‘issues which connect us in the end,’ because we treat each other like family and celebrate diversity. He also said these are ultimately systemic issues and patterns that need to be broken, and to curb these problems, we should “scream, shout, and engage in dialogue.”

Fr Clarence kicked off the second segment on how the concern for others has always been at the heart of the church and bible and is not something new. Father explains that the term ‘Catholic social teaching’ was derived in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII, who created the Rerum Novarum, an encyclical that advocated for workers’ rights.

Fr Clarence also discussed how we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking these issues won’t affect us, because when we think like that, we’ve failed in our faith. In conclusion, he said our ‘activism’ must come from a conviction of our faith that moves us to act.

A University of London graduate, Jofintha said that being of service to the church is deeply embedded in her. Her tipping point was when she was meditating during a training event, she felt a push by the Holy Spirit to change her life and take a step forward using the knowledge and information she had.

Jofintha started her journey of social advocacy by following social justice accounts. A strong believer in always thinking “you know more than you think you know,” she said youths tend to share information from these accounts on social media platforms. The young advocate joined events and panels related to social justice without prior knowledge. Through this, she encouraged everyone to take these small steps towards helping curb social issues in the country.

Finally, Dato Dionysius, a conservationist for the environment and one who worked with World Wildlife Federation Malaysia for many years, spoke on the relationship between environmental justice and social justice. He explained that natural resources have been exploited for years for the sole purpose of economic growth.

Dato Dionysius said, “the affairs of daily life and the state of the earth cannot afford to be indifferent dialogues; they have to be the same.” The heart of the issue is derived from the misconception that the earth’s resources have no link to us, and therefore we can exploit it. He added, “the degradation of the national environment compounds social injustice.” The forum was informative and ran smoothly, thanks to CDM and everyone who helped organise it. The panellists shared insightful thoughts and stories that can help create a large-scale impact, especially on the younger generations. – Herald Malaysia