Moonrise over Kuala Lumpur. Photo via Flickr

The 18 of Kuala Lumpur: The Story of a Beginning

For the first time in the Malaysian metropolis, the CL Spiritual Exercises were held, the fruit of an unexpected (albeit hoped for) friendship born over the past two years.
Anna Leonardi

With some contributions that have arrived at our editorial offices, we report on how, in the arc of a year, in a country undergoing strong economic growth and where Christians represent a meager minority, the Movement has been born in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia.

E-mail exchanges
Paolo Tognini had been living in the Malaysian capital with his wife, Iris, and three children, since 2002, having moved there from Italy for his work as a geologist. “For about a year and a half,” Paolo recounts, “we were just some ‘tent pegs’ of the Movement. We worked, raised our children, and lived the companionship of the Movement through e-mail exchanges and a few phone calls. Then, in January 2004, Fr. Mauro Bazzi, a Capuchin missionary in Thailand, came to lead a Lenten retreat for us. We also involved some Italians we’d met in the parish, among whom was Andrea, who lost no time in coming to the School of Community. For me and my wife, it was an occasion for re-living the freshness of a new companionship.” But the story was not destined to end there.

The Tangs
In early 2005, Paolo received an e-mail from Evelyn, a young Malaysian woman who was studying in the United States, where she met CL through Traces. Her parents lived just ten minutes from the Tognini’s home in Kuala Lumpur. They met on the first possible occasion. “It wasn’t all peaches and cream,” Paolo recounts. “John and Hilary Tang were leaders of a prayer group related to the Charismatic Renewal and thought Fr. Giussani’s books a bit too intellectual. But, as the months went by, especially after having watched the DVD on the history of the Movement together, they were the ones to ask us to read The Religious Sense with them.” In 2006, the new crew got together at a meeting for the communities of Southeast Asia (Japan, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, and Taiwan). It was a leap ahead for the Tangs. They returned home full of enthusiasm, and decided it was time to propose the Movement to their prayer group of about twenty Malaysian Catholics. “Paradoxically,” comments Paolo, “just then, at that time of abundance, I had to change jobs and move to Jakarta. But it was not the end. Quite the contrary. To my surprise, Andrea decided to take responsibility for what was mysteriously being born.”

Eighteen to the Exercises
So, in May 2006, the newborn community got ready to experience its first Fraternity Exercises. The Tangs offered the use of their apartment and invited some friends from neighboring countries to join them in living this new and important gesture. Among them were the Tognini’s from Jakarta and Gabriel Santos from Cebu, in the Philippines. All told, there were eighteen participants.
At almost 4,000 miles from the Rimini conference center, everything ran in perfect symbiosis–the notes of Mozart, Dvorzak, and Beethoven, the recitation of Lauds and the Angelus, the images of art work, and then Fr. Carrón’s lessons on the “I” as heart, Christ as fulfillment, Baptism, and the possibility of living the Resurrection and the Church as the enfleshed and historical place where all this becomes experience. Even the questions of their assembly had the air of those asked in the many overcrowded hotels in Rimini, on the Romagnan Riviera.

Photo source: