Friday, August 19, 2011

Catholics can become a collective voice for our marginalised communities

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
- Mark Twain -

The captioned words above of Mark Twain had long ago set me thinking as to whether I should take the road less travelled and become a voice for the thousands out there who are struggling with the stresses of life.

I brushed away this thought, only to see it resurrected again during my journey as a caregiver to my wife, Doris who has to struggle with mental illness amongst other health ailments.

I am so encouraged and uplifted by our Archbishop's National Day message 2011 in which he has called upon Catholics to raise our voices on behalf on those who are unable to correct injustices in our society. I have prayed so hard for this day to come.

Russian-born American writer Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, once said: “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” For more than 35 years, I have witnessed the blatant discrimination that sufferers of mental illness face everyday in their lonely lives.

The citizens that could certainly do with more support and a bigger voice are our marginalised communities who include the handicapped, the elderly sick and the mentally ill; to name a few.

In any country, activists served an important role and in many instances they provide a community service because Governments may not necessary be aware of what is happening on the ground. This where advocacy can help to bring about change. As Catholics, we have a duty to speak out for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are isolated and suffering day in and day out.

Many people in society, even educated ones, are still indifferent to the mentally ill. A large number of people choose to remain indifferent because of fear. Their fear and lack of understanding of mental illness often leave the afflicted shunned and discriminated against. This fear, when left unchecked, will continue to obstruct moves toward a more compassionate society, in which we care more humanely for the mentally ill within our community.

Singapore has done well in meeting the basic needs of its citizens such as a good education system, health and housing needs, and a safe and clean environment. However, there is still an urgent and dire need to facilitate the inclusion of marginalised communities who do not have the same sense of belonging in a society that is bent on economic excellence.

As our country celebrates its 46th birthday and journeys towards becoming an inclusive society and caring nation, it must bear in mind that there will always be people who may need more help and support. And undoubtedly, the mentally challenged, the lonely elderly, the handicapped and their families are some of those who need a great deal of help.

Raymond Anthony Fernando
Singapore 560601

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