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Diaconate in Malaysia is growing since 1974

The Permanent Deacons Ministry in Malaysia

The beachhead strategy comes from the military strategy of winning a small border area from which an advance is made to the rest of the territory. Did God use such a way for the growth of the Permanent Diaconate in Malaysia?
Malaysia is a South East Asian country, which gained independence from Britain in 1957. East & West Malaysia is separated by the South China Sea and has a multi religious-ethnic population of 32 million of which 9.2% are Christians. The Catholic Church has nine dioceses with Kuala Lumpur (KL) the capital, a metro Archdiocese.
Bild vergrößern It was in KL that the first Permanent Deacon, Rev A.P Thomas was ordained in 1974. As a young boy, he was an Altar server and felt the stirring to be a priest but later when his brother died of pneumonia he had to become the breadwinner for his family. In June 1967, when the Permanent diaconate was restored through Vatican II, his earlier desire was rekindled and in 1971 after discerning with his parish priest, he applied to the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. The Archbishop wrote to Rome and after receiving some guidelines on training, instructed the parish priest to give a three year course covering scripture, canon law, liturgy etc and on 16 April 1974, he was ordained. Since he was working as a Government servant, he only received a remuneration from the diocese when he retired from civil service in 1996. Today, Deacon Thomas is 87 years old, a father of five children, with eight grandchildren. He still continues to serve in his parish but in a very limited way due to ill health.
Deacon Thomas remains for some reason till today, the only Permanent Deacon in the KL Archdiocese. When asked, Deacon Thomas shared, many still don’t have a clear understanding of the identity and mission of deacons. Two probable reasons he explains are, firstly, some feel that there will be fewer vocations to the priesthood as men might be more attracted to the married state of the Clergy. Secondly, some think that there will be an overlapping of ministries and negative comparisons between priests and deacons especially when a deacon is seen as gifted in some areas such as preaching or relating with parishioners.
In June 2010, Bishop Paul Tan, the bishop of Melaka-Johor(M/J) diocese took the bold step to ordain Rev Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek. Deacon Sherman was a married Protestant minister for many years and on Easter 2008 was received into full Communion with the Catholic Church. He has an BSc Hons in Management (UK), and a Masters of Divinity & Doctor of Theology from Trinity Theological College, Singapore. Today the M/J Diocese has nine Permanent Deacons, many of which hold secular professional jobs.(Dentist, lawyer, bank manager, business man etc). All are married except Rev Deacon Adrian Ng, who is a celibate.
In 2012, Bishop Sebastian from the Penang (Pg) diocese, approached me to consider the diaconate. I was already then serving full time as a Presiding elder of a Catholic Charismatic Covenant Community for 30 years. After a period of discernment, I gave up my role as Presiding elder and was ordained in Nov. 2014. Today in the Penang diocese there are four of us who are full time deacons and three others in training.
Bild vergrößern To date we have organised two Peninsular Malaysia Deacons & wives conferences with our three bishops from KL, M/J and Pg in attendance. In 2018, we had Rev Deacon Tony Aspinall from Australia as our key speaker. Another conference is scheduled later this year with Fr Rocky Boaz and a deacon from Mumbai, India as presenters. We will still be focusing on Identity & Mission of Deacons as there remains a need to deepen the understanding on the role and mission of deacons. Anyhow, despite all the challenges of the ministry, God in His providence has established a “beachhead” here in Malaysia and the Permanent Diaconate is set to flourish and grow.

Rev Deacon Clement Samuel Coordinator of the Permanent Deacons of the Penang Diocese, West Malaysia


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