An aerial shot showing the men playing football on the grounds of the College General Catholic seminary

By Agnes Chai

April 2, 2020

GEORGETOWN – April 2, 2020 would leave an indelible mark in the memory of 23 seminarians and a priest when they were detained and charged at the Magistrate Court for violating the Movement Control Order (MCO). The restriction order has been in force since Mar 16 as a way to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

On March 31 the 24 individuals were arrested for playing football within the grounds of the College General Major Seminary field here.

In a press release, the President of College General Major Seminary, Penang, Bishop Sebastian Francis, regretted that it was indeed “a misfortune that the acts carried out by the individuals in question within the confines of the seminary have provoked the sentiments of some of the members of the public”.

The unfortunate incident has generated much interest leading to many analyses such as: the individuals have a right to play football within their own confines, the government’s harsh handling (handcuffing, and the necessity to appear before the court) is unwarranted, the government should have a clearer guideline for do’s and don’ts for physical activities within private compounds under the MCO, etc. They might be right.

However, as we enter into Holy Week, this writer couldn’t but help recall the words of Pope Francis during his “UrbietOrbi” blessing on the evening of Mar 27, when he says that this time of trial is a “time of choosing”. “It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”

The writer ventures to think that perhaps the incident has unwittingly provided for these men, who are aspiring to be Catholic priests, an adequate understanding of the Catholic Social Teaching, which is an essential part of our Catholic Faith.

The MCO is essentially a prohibition of movement enforced on the citizenry in a bid to break the chain of the infectious COVID-19, and is made in the interest of a greater common good.

The Catholic Church has for centuries provided a compelling challenge for her faithful to live responsibly and building a just society. The incident brings to mind one of the key principles of modern Catholic Social Teaching, Community and the Common Good which teaches that “the role of the government and other institutions is to protect human life and human dignity and promote the common good”, while the other, Principle of Solidarity functions as a moral category that leads to choices that will promote and protect the common good.

The Pope invites, not only the seminarians, but overall as members of the Catholic Church, to use this difficult time imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic, to turn around events, and in this case the detention of the seminarians, and to make choices that matter while letting go of what passes away.

For the seminarians, their detention leading to their light sentence of three months ‘compulsory work’ might be a favorable time to internalize, to make the right choices that lead to right action, and passing them on as important instruments for teaching the Catholic Faith.