The Anglican Church reportedly has sold the St Mark’s Secondary School field in Butterworth to a developer much to the dismay of the school’s PTA/PIBG
Long-time residents of a century-old kampung in the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church premises within George Town’s world heritage zone look on as a contractor illegally demolishes one of the houses in the village on 8 May
It seems that controversy is never far away when the churches in Malaysia get involved in land deals involving tracts of land that were originally allocated to them for religious, social, community, educational or health care use.
This is not the first time that the churches in Penang have courted unwanted publicity over such land deals.
Now the latest controversies:
In the case of the St Mark’s Secondary School, established in Butterworth in 1885, the Anglican Church reportedly sold the school field after a developer showed interest in the land. Of course, developers would be interested in most school fields! Especially if they can make big bucks from developing residential or commercial property on such tracts of land. That doesn’t mean that churches should rush to sell their school fields or land that was allocated for social use.
I remember the St Mark’s field: I played football in that field a few times when I was a kid, although my potential Malaysian Premier League (let alone, EPL) football career never really took off.
But what was so refreshing was that in those days, school fields were open to all during the evenings, and you could end up playing with any group of boys, of all ethnic groups, who happened to turn up for a game of football. No one really minded how good or how bad (as was the case with me) your standard of football was. It was just fun to be scampering around in an open field with a group of other boys.
Today, school fields are fenced up and guarded so that kids from the surrounding neigbourhoods rarely have access to them. And then we wonder how we landed up with the problems of Mat Rempits, gangsterism, and drug addiction.
As for the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church along Penang Road, residents – many of them senior citizens – of the century-old kampung on the church premises have been told by church authorities through their lawyers to leave by 31 May. They have been offered RM10,000 in compensation per household.
A contractor began illegally demolishing one of the houses on 8 May. After heritage activists expressed alarm, the Penang state government warned the Church that buildings within the Unesco world heritage zone cannot be torn down without permission of the Penang Municipal Council.
Remember, such tracts of land were allocated to churches – often very cheaply – for non-profit religious, educational or social use to benefit local communities. It doesn’t seem morally right for the churches now to sell these tracts to private developers for a tidy profit.
If the churches want to dispose of their property, it would only be fair to sell them at a nominal price or pass them on to those who are interested in non-profit activity for social, education or community use. Careful consideration should be given to those living on the land to ensure that they are not left stranded.
If the churches really need to raise money to fund their social, pastoral or mission work or to use the land for such work, then they could make sure that the community presently using the land is adequately compensated or not affected by the move.
Jesus said, “…sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
He did not say, “… sell what you have to property developers for a tidy sum or keep what you have, and follow me.”