Pack up and leave, church tells poor Christians

By Athi Shankar, Free Malaysia Today

GEORGE TOWN: Seven Christian families whose houses are located in the compound of the St Francis Xavier Church here are in a dilemma. They have been told to move out from the area by this year without reasonable compensation from the church management and landowner – the Roman Catholic Bishop of Penang.

Jelutong PPP division chairman Andrew Rajah said it was “unfair and unethical” for the church to do this, especially since the families and their ancestors had been living there for more than a century.

He said they were allowed to live in the place “forever” by the British colonial masters

“The British built and managed the church. The colonial rulers built houses within the church compound to provide homes for poor Christian families, especially ethnic Tamils.

“They allowed the residents to live permanently in the area as part of the church’s social responsibility,” he added.

The church acreage covers some 19,374 sqm of land.

In September, the families received a summon each from the lawyers representing the Bishop’s office calling on them to vacate the houses soon. Each household was offered RM10,000 cash in compensation.

But the sum would dwindle after deductions for outstanding rentals plus interests, which could amount to RM7,525 each.

The families were paying a monthly rental of RM200 each until 13 months ago when the church management suddenly stopped collecting the rent

“The accumulation of rental arrears were caused by the church’s action, not residents’ inaction,” said Rajah, who is helping the residents take legal action against the Bishop’s office.

Technically, the land-title was under the Bishop’s ownership courtesy of the Roman Catholic Bishops (Incorporation) Act 1957.

But the residents claimed that conventionally the property belonged to Christians associated with the St Francis Xavier Church for over 100 years.

Rajah claimed that historically the church property was meant for religious, residential and education purposes.

He said it was supposedly a Tamil Christian community settlement in the city.

“But now the church management wants to flush out the residents for commercial purposes. The management has already turned several vacated houses to bakeries and coffee shops,” he added.