My alma mater, the St Xavier's Institution in Penang, has a huge cross at the entrance of the school. It has a chapel, and next to the school is a church. Across the road is the Convent Light Street, which has similar features.
These are among the best missionary schools in the country and have certainly produced some of the finest students, including Finance Minister II Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Deputy Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong and Members of Parliament Tan Sri K.S. Nijhar and Karpal Singh.
Chief Justice Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad also studied at the SXI during his Sixth Form while his early education was at the St Mark's School in Butterworth, where he was a head prefect.
Many members of the Perlis royal family were also students of the SXI. The first Penang Chief Minister, the late Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee, and the composer of the classic Putera Puteri, Jimmy Boyle, studied and taught at the school, which is still being headed by a Catholic priest, a Malaysian.
During my primary and secondary school years, I met the best teachers and students from all races. Certainly, there was no attempt to convert us to Christianity.
The many crosses at the school and at the classrooms, at one time, meant nothing to me. Neither were the statues along the school corridors.
When I became a Christian later, it was more than 20 years after I had graduated from university; my years in the SXI had no influence at all on my decision to do so.
Those of us who have had the privilege of attending missionary schools, including Protestant-run ones like the Methodist Boys' and Girls' Schools, would surely have the same story to tell. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi studied at the MBS.
Women, Family And Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil went to the St George's Girls School in Penang, which was founded by missionaries, and certainly, she would credit her command of English for the education she had there.
I am sure all of them have fond memories of their childhood days, of the friends of various races they would not have met had their parents sent them to a Malay or Chinese-medium school.
It was mind-boggling to read the remarks by Syed Hood Syed Edros (BN-Parit Sulong) suggesting that all crosses in missionary schools be removed and that the church influence in these schools be stopped, and the views by Datuk Mohamed Aziz (BN-Sri Gading) concurring with him.
Syed Hood erred in saying that not many Malays studied in missionary schools in the past. This proves the point he doesn't know what he is talking about at all.
Their remarks, to put it mildly, were atrocious and had been circulated on the Internet. Had the matter not been brought up in the Dewan Rakyat last week, it might have gone unnoticed.
But in the age of the Internet, politicians must remember that their words would not be left unchallenged. Although the two had made these remarks on Oct 29, a click on the Parliament website was sufficient for the people to verify whether they had actually said it. It was there in the online Hansard, which contains the full transcript of the debate.
Malaysians must also be wondering why the other MPs did not object to what the two said, unless they had not been attentive during the debate or were not inside the House at the time.
I would have expected this sort of remarks to come from PAS leaders; it is unacceptable when it came from the Barisan MPs, whose leadership certainly does not approve of such thinking.
But on Tuesday, Syed Hood seemed to have backtracked, saying he was merely seeking clarification on grey areas and that he had respect for missionary schools.
Our politicians, regardless of their affiliations, must realise that their votes come from people of all races and religions. They don't represent just one community and one faith.
We must commend Deputy Education Minister Datuk Noh Omar and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz for their assurances over the matter. Noh has said that it was the tradition for missionary schools to have crosses in school compounds and there was no reason to remove them. Nazri said MPs were not above the Sedition Act and could not make seditious statements in Parliament.
It was also preposterous for Mohd Aziz, who thrives on controversy, to claim that some missionary schools were open during Hari Raya Aidilfitri. In Bahasa Malaysia, it can best be dismissed as tak masuk akal (illogical) as no teacher or student would want to miss this celebration.
Their remarks can best be described as irresponsible and ignorant. They have no business to be MPs for the Barisan and, certainly, the leadership must consider dropping them as candidates in the next general election.
I can even understand if the cross is taken off school badges or emblems as our Muslim friends may not like the idea of wearing them on their uniform. Their sensitivities must be considered.
Over the past few days, I have received many SMSes from Muslim friends who voiced their unhappiness at the MPs' remarks, including people who hold positions of power in government and the private sector.
There is no reason for anyone to fear the cross, which is merely a symbol and nothing else.
Many Malaysians are understandably upset with the remarks of the two MPs but they must never lose sight of the fact that one or two men do not reflect the views of the leadership, let alone Malaysia.
The Dewan Rakyat is made up of 219 MPs; we must continue to pray for wisdom and patience for our leaders and elected representatives.