For the past few years, Herald has been engaged in a dispute with the government on the use of the Arabic word for God in the section of the weekly printed in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. The Home Ministry has maintained that Allah refers exclusively to the God of Islam.
Parishioners of the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, have prayed overnight in the church on Saturdays, from 7.45 p.m. until 6 a.m., starting on Jan. 10.
One parishioner, who requested anonymity, told UCA News their action intends to show not only the government but also Catholics that all people have the constitutional right to call God Allah.
"It is like forbidding us to call our father 'Daddy,'" she asserted.
In its Jan. 11 issue, Herald informed readers that on Dec. 30, 2008, the eve of the expiry of its publishing permit for that year, the ministry prohibited the printing of the Bahasa Malaysia section until the case is resolved by the High Court. The court has set Feb. 27 for the hearing.
The front-page article said the weekly's publisher, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur, notified the ministry in a Jan. 2 letter that the restriction is in "clear contravention of the spirit and intent of the National Language Act 1967."
According to the report, the archbishop warned that the Church "shall be constrained to seek legal redress in the courts" in the absence of any response.
Published on behalf of the bishops of peninsular Malaysia, Herald is available also in Sabah and Sarawak, the states comprising eastern Malaysia.
In its Jan. 18 issue, it reproduced a Jan. 7 letter from the Secretary of the Quran Publication Control and Text Division of the Home Ministry, addressed to Archbishop Pakiam. The letter said the ministry had reviewed its earlier decision and would allow Herald to print its Bahasa Malaysia section provided the word Allah is not used until the matter has been decided in court.
In the meantime, Archbishop Pakiam has applied for a judicial review of the ministry's directive.
Jesuit Father Simon Yong In, the St. Francis Xavier parish priest, responded by e-mail to queries from UCA News. "We are praying that God will be favorable to us in the sense that we feel our right to practice our religion has been curtailed," he said. "We are not happy and we've spoken, but it does seem that our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. God can move hardened hearts. When Jesus wanted to select the 12, he spent a night in prayer."
The priest added that that the prayer vigils show Catholics' resolve in asking God for help after depending for too long on their own strength.
According to 2008 government estimates, the country presently has about 27.7 million people. Previous government figures have indicated that about 60 percent are Muslims, 19 percent are Buddhists, 9 percent are Christians and 6 percent are Hindus.
The Jan. 11 issue of Herald put the number of Catholics in the country at nearly 900,000. It said at least 600,000 of them are from Sabah and Sarawak, and "communicate mainly in Bahasa Malaysia."