ASIA/MALAYSIA - A year of prayer and blessing among the faithful of Borneo, in preparation for the Jubilee

Thursday, 11 January 2024 jubilee   prayer  

Sibu (Agenzia Fides) - Being diligent in listening to the Word of God and in prayer and, filled with God's grace, being a blessing for others: this is the mission of the baptized in the diocese of Sibu, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, as Bishop Joseph Hii Teck Kwong reminded the community in announcing the special "Year of Oil and Anointing". A period which will see the faithful prepare, especially through prayer and gestures of conversion, for the Jubilee of 2025.
The year 2024, in fact, on the proposal of Pope Francis, is "the Year of Prayer", in which - as explained on the Jubilee 2025 website, published by the Dicastery for Evangelization, in particular by the "Section for fundamental questions of evangelization in the World" - dioceses around the world are invited to " promote the centrality of individual and community prayer", by organizing "prayer pilgrimages" towards the Holy Year, as well as itineraries of "prayer schools" with monthly or weekly courses, to involve the whole people of God. Catholic communities in Borneo - the part of Malaysia where most of the country's Catholics live, around 700,000 in total, between the states of Sabah and Sarawak - are ready to respond to this invitation, remarked the Bishop of Sibu, recalling that "as the blessing of God always floods our lives, like rain and snow on the earth, we are called, as children of God, to transmit the blessings to our neighbor and to bring peace to the whole world".
It is with this in mind that Bishop Joseph Hii Teck Kwong launched the “Year of Oil and Anointing”, as part of a ten-year pastoral plan approved in the Diocese of Sibu for the period 2017 -2026. "The element oil was chosen because of its richness and preciousness. In history, it has been called 'liquid gold'. Oil is a nourishing element that gives us strength. In the seven sacraments of the Church, the oil is used in four Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick", he explained. "You and I, through baptism, have been anointed with chrismal oil; the same chrismal oil that is used to ordain priests and consecrate bishops. Every person baptized is anointed with this same chrismal oil, the most holy oil on your head", he underlined, calling each baptized person to responsibility for their vocation and their mission in the world. "This anointing expresses the dignity of the children of God", and it is precisely the rediscovery and life of the baptismal anointing which makes each Christian a witness of Christ, a "transmitter of blessing", which is ultimately consider the spirit with which we must prepare and celebrate the Jubilee. Furthermore, priests in particular are entrusted with an important pastoral task, that of confessing the faithful, while all the baptized are sent to "become penitents" and return to the mercy and forgiveness of God through the sacrament of Reconciliation. This is why priests go to the villages to receive and confess the faithful, also in the different local indigenous languages. Located in the central part of Sarawak, the Diocese of Sibu, established in 1986, encompasses approximately 50% of the territory of the State of Sarawak. The local population of around 900,000 is made up of Chinese, Malays, Iban, Bidayuh, Melanaus and Orang Ulu indigenous people, among whom there are around 130,000 Catholics. Sibu is a border town located at the confluence of the Rajang and Igan rivers. It remains one of the most dynamic cities in East Malaysia, especially commercially. Originally part of the Sultanate of Brunei, it was purchased in April 1861 by White Raja James Brooke, who incorporated it into the kingdom of Sarawak. In 1881, the Mill Hill Mission Fathers left London for Singapore, from where they arrived in Borneo, the first Catholic priests to set foot on Sarawak soil. They were greeted by Rajah Charles Brooke, James Brooke's nephew. The missionaries founded the first Catholic mission in Kuching. From then on, other priests from Mill Hill began to arrive and devoted themselves to the evangelization of the country. The first Catholic mission in Sibu was founded in 1899 by Father Cornelius Keet, a Mill Hill missionary originally from Kuching (now another diocese in Sarawak). In 1906, Australian Father Vincent Halder arrived and built the first ancient Sacred Heart Church on stilts and provided pastoral care in Sibu until 1954. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 11/1/2024)