· Vatican City ·

First Malaysian Cardinal and former hospital assistant

Remembering Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez

30 October 2020

Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur and first Malaysian-born Cardinal, passed away on Wednesday, 28 October, at the age of 88. Upon learning of the death of the Cardinal, Pope Francis expressed his condolences in a telegram addressed to Msgr  Julian Leow Beng Kim,  Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. The following is the English text of the Pope’s telegram, accompanied by a short biography of the late Cardinal.

Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez, I extend my heartfelt condolences to you and to the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.  With gratitude for Cardinal Fernandez’s faithful witness to the Gospel, his generous service to the Church in Malaysia and his longstanding commitment to the promotion of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, I willingly join you in praying for his eternal rest.  To all who mourn the late Cardinal’s passing in the sure hope of the Resurrection I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in Jesus Christ our Saviour.


Cardinal Anthony Soter Fernandez, Archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur and first Malaysian-born Cardinal, passed away shortly after noon on Wednesday, 28 October, in the St Francis Xavier Home for the Elderly in Cheras, following a year-long battle with cancer. He was 88.

Anthony Soter Fernandez was born to a family of Indian descent in 1932 in Sungai Petani, near the capital of Kuala Lumpur. Before entering the seminary in 1958, he worked for 10 years as a hospital assistant. He was ordained a priest on 10 December 1966 and spent three years as assistant vicar in Taiping and Penang, and from 1969-1971 as vicar in the church of Saint Louis in Taiping.

In 1971 he moved to Manila, Philippines, to begin in-depth studies at the International Training Institute for World Churchmen and the East Asian Pastoral Institute. He then moved to Bangalore, India, where he attended the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, before returning to Penang in 1973 to serve as formator and then rector at the College General major seminary until 1977. He was among the protagonists of the historic “Aggiornamento” of 1976, which gathered together all the bishops and priests of Malaysia for the first time, to develop the pastoral plan for Malaysia in light of Vatican ii. Since then the Peninsular Malaysia Pastoral Convention convenes every 10 years.

Fernandez was appointed as Bishop of Penang in 1977, receiving his episcopal ordination on 17 February 1978. He became the second Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur in 1983,  entering the Archdiocese on 10 November. He led the Archdiocese until 24 May 2003. During this period, in addition to his membership in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and in the Pontifical Councils for Promoting Christian Unity and for Interreligious Dialogue, he also served in various roles, including President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei from 1987 to 1990 and from 2000 to 2003, and as President of the Christian Federation of Malaysia and of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.

As Archbishop emeritus of Kuala Lumpur, Cardinal Fernandez served as spiritual director at  the major seminary in Penang. He then moved to the home for the elderly where he lived out the remainder of his life. He was convinced of the Church’s role in the growth and development of the country, and always worked for the people’s integral development, fighting against social injustice and promoting dialogue in a multiethnic and multicultural environment. Pope Francis created him a Cardinal on 19 November 2016.

Cardinal Fernandez’ funeral services will take place on Saturday morning, 31 October, in the Cathedral of Kuala Lumpur.