This is my response to a request from blogger Zorro-Unmasked, on the controversy surrounding the eviction letters served to the residents of the village inside the compounds of the St. Francis Xavier Church, Penang, by lawyers acting on behalf of the Bishop of the Diocese of Penang.
Please also refer to these news items:
1. anil netto
Sorry for the late reply. FYI: I don’t have direct access to the Bishop but I do know though that a Star reporter did meet him for a follow up story. It might be the one in your comments box, by a Andrea Filmer. Maybe, that suffices as to having the Bishop’s side of the story to a certain extent.
However, I also did a bit of inquiry through some sources of mine: a family who are the caretakers of the SFX church, a housemother who worked for 6 years in the St.Joseph’s Home – a childrens’ home situated next to the village, a couple of friends who are familiar with the place over the past 20 odd years, as well as some feedback from a couple of priests, one of whom who used to serve there on and off. This is what I found:
1. There is reason to believe that this could be a scam of sorts.
2. There are a few deserving aged people who really do need some sort of help – home, care and finance.
3. The majority of them have got families – children and children in laws who are well off, and live comfortable lives.
4. There is a young man who’s related to one of the tenants and who’s the self-appointed leader, who opposes the eviction very strongly, chiefly because he stands to lose a lucrative car-park business within the compounds of the SFX church – ironically contracted to him by the church! He owns a car and a motorcycle besides an apartment which gives him a monthly income from the rent. There are at least a couple of tenants who want to accept the compensation which they deem is more than fair but are afraid of earning the wrath of this “leader”.
5. When the now defunct Rima College used to operate within the SFX compound, some of these tenants ran a profitable food catering business for the students who studied there.
6. There was also someone who did a flourishing “scrap metal” business, as well as
7. A car wash within the kampung – run by a tenant or a relative from one of the converted houses, while the tenants themselves lived elsewhere.
and the list goes on….
Having said that, as we live in this “instant information” era:
1. The Church (i.e.the Bishop) should have made a statement at the very onset.
2. The plans to develop the place for future social and cultural projects are vague. There should be more information forthcoming on this.
3. I believe that the Church must be caring and compassionate and its obligation is to the poor. I’m not saying it has not. The very fact that such a kampung exists in the first place is testament that the Church has been proactive in the past, when such needs arose.
4. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to see the Church being taken for a ride....
5. As a Catholic I want the church to be accountable for the money used which includes that it is used for a just cause. Now that we have a little bit more background information, can all of the residents in the kampung justify this?
6. Given that most of the children of these tenants are relatively well off now, isn’t it only just that they should be the ones to take care of their aged parents instead of leaving them alone and uncared for? Or are we saying that it is o.k. for them to abdicate their filial responsibility?
7. If – as highlighted by the alternative media, that all the resident are senior citizens, many of whom perhaps are not capable of/should not be labouring for their bread and butter and must be cared for, then wouldn’t it be a grave injustice to just leave them in the kampung? I am sure the church can take on the task of housing them in one of her homes for the aged where all the needs of these folks will be taken care of and they will not be burdened financially for everything will be free.
8. Lest we forget, when the first tenants moved in all those years ago, it was precisely because it was the Church’s mission and even duty to provide them with some kind of shelter and maybe jobs. And, as far as I know, it has always been the social agenda of the Church to help the “least of these” but only up to a time as and when they could fend for themselves. I don’t think it was the Church’s intention to retain these residents in the kampung for all time. As these residents prospered ( as we see in the examples above), wouldn’t it only be right to expect them to move out so that the Church could in turn then use these resources to help others in similar need?
Finally, my thoughts on the alternative media:
The alternative media was a breadth of fresh air in this country and we all welcomed that. A greater freedom of expression emerged. But with this I feel comes a greater responsibility, responsibility to the truth. Commission and omission are two sides of the same coin. Many things are said on the net, many not verified, many not true…these have become the new “truths”…in disguise….and much easier to believe.
I believe it’s up to each one of us to ensure that we continue to strive to report fairly, and justly, not only in this case but in all matters that involve Malaysians generally and the whole of humankind, in spite of and despite our own limited perceptions, beliefs and powers of understanding. I’d like to quote, though I can’t remember who coined it: “We see people and things not as they are, but as we are”.