Greetings from Kapit!
It’s over two years since I took my appointment as an Assistant Priest in Mary Immaculate Conception Parish in Kapit, Sarawak, east Malaysia. It took sometime to settle into the parish. But as the days passed, I started my parish mission: To get to know the community, and myself, by reaching out to the people here and in the longhouses.
Facing a new kind of challenge
At the beginning the greatest challenges were things like learning the language, travelling on the river, or navigating the timber road – which is steep and slippery – using a four-wheel drive. But those things are part of my routine now. The biggest challenge we face in the main parish today is one of unity among our parishioners.
In our parish, the majority of people are Ibans, but there are also Chinese people and a minority in the community called Orang Ulu. I think the divisions have been here a long time, but now they are clearly seen among the different ethnic groups in the parish.
We Priests try our best to provide different activities to bring everyone together as one family, but it is hard. Firstly, all the different tribes have their own cultures and languages. The Chinese people are mostly business people and economic migrants, while the Ibans are well settled here: they are the Indigenous people. But it’s the people of Ulu, a minority who migrated from Indonesia many years ago, who are really struggling for their daily survival. These are also the ones who are unable to get a good education for their children because of poverty. Most of them have no Identity Card in Malaysia, which demonstrates citizenship.
All these and other differences make it hard for them to come together in unity as one family of God.
One global family
So, this is our mission: unity. We preach in our homilies about unity in Church as a one body of Christ. We are still praying for the unity of our people here in the parish. We are also trying to bring them together as one family for various celebrations in the parish. Hoping that one day unity will prevail among all of us, despite our differences, by the grace of God.
I cannot do all these good things using my own power. I can’t face all these challenges and struggles with my own strength. It is all by the grace of God that I am able to persist and persevere with great love. I can truly say that challenges and struggles are very much part of Missionary life.
In the face of all the difficulty and hardships, Missionaries are always reminded of the hope they have found in Christ and in His providential and sovereign work in the world. And our parish volunteers and community are a huge source of hope.
This year the theme for Advent and Christmas in our parish is ‘Walking together with Emmanuel’. Our plans for Christmas are sadly limited again because of COVID-19 and government restrictions. But we will persevere!
People are very happy, because this year they can have Christmas Home Carolling within small groups. This takes place between 6 and 17 December. It has to stay within separate small groups or ‘bubbles’. We can’t bring too many people together because we need to follow strict guidelines given by the government, but it is at least a moment to come together and do some joyful singing.
On 18 December we have ‘Gotong Royong’, which means community work or service. On this day most of our parishioners perform a general cleaning of the Church and its surroundings. Some of the young people will decorate the Church and make the Crib for Christmas.
Around that time, our parish social welfare group will be reaching out to some poor families in the parish with essential food items. We also have Blood Donation programme on 9 December and people from the parish are encouraged to donate blood.
Preparing a way
Of course, we’re also encouraging the people to prepare spiritually for Christmas. We’ll hold our penitential service on 20 December and continue with confessions till 22 December. There are two priests are available for the people these two days to listen to confessions. And on the evening of Christmas Eve, the children of our parish will enact the Christmas Nativity at Mass.
So, despite the restrictions we are hopeful that we can still have a very joyful Christmas within the parish, just as we wish for all of you in England and Wales.
Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year for 2022. May God bless us all!