J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire said, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” This is certainly true if anyone wants to pursue building a community or a nation. However, there are many ways of building unity. Some would think that conformity or uniformity is the best way of building unity; whereas there are also those who vouch that unity is best served when the diversity is recognised and respected. This month we celebrate Malaysia Day and Malaysia is indeed a land of diversity. From customary practices to cuisine, from worship to thought processes, we are interestingly diverse. For many tourists, the caption ‘Malaysia truly Asia’ makes them captivated with the diversity that we share. However, in recent times, our diversity seems to be the Achilles heel for nation building. Is this true?

One will certainly acknowledge that diversity is not something that is easily managed but it is neither impossible nor a threat. The problem with managing diversity is that many people equate unity with words like conformity, uniformity, and non-confrontational. If that is the starting point, then diversity is doomed from the beginning.

While studying abroad, many people admired the variety of cultural expressions that Malaysians possess. It is true that we adapt to one another’s culture quite easily. I remember performing the tarian ngajat (a popular dance among the Iban community in Sarawak) with my friends when we had to present a cultural performance. Likewise for someone else to perform the dikir barat (a form of music) when it has never been part of their cultural heritage.

This year for Holy Week and Easter I chose to spend it in a parish away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It is a place where they are so accustomed to have one mass with a variety of languages. Even though as the Presider it was a challenge to switch from one language to another, the parishioners on the other hand, did it with great ease. It is amazing to listen to the choir singing songs in the various languages with equal enthusiasm and zeal even though they some did not know the other’s language. It made we wonder whether the “problem” of diversity is limited to urban areas where people are more conscious of their ethnicity, social status, and communal rights? It would seem that people away from urbanised areas live in harmony and celebrate their diversity.

The same could be said of our Churches. Attempts to celebrate a community mass where all the main languages are included are still frowned by many simply because one does not understand the language of the other. Maybe it is time that we learn to celebrate and appreciate the cultural diversity that we already possess in our parishes. Today our parishes are no longer associated with the language affiliation. This is indeed a step forward and perhaps we need to find greater ways of integration especially with the influx of migrants and refugees at our doorstep. This is certainly giving our Churches a new face – a face of universality.

Each of us carries with us unique traits that are God given. Rather than spend all the energy in trying to change another person to ‘be like me’, it will be better spent if we can learn to respect and celebrate our diversity as our difference are certainly not a threat but a God given gift that enriches our lives. Selamat Hari Malaysia!