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Asian Catholic Directory

Malaysian Cathedral enlivens the memories of Chinese migrants

Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu Malaysian Cathedral enlivens the memories of Chinese migrants

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is the mother church of Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese in Sabah state of Malaysia. It bears the legacy of Chinese migrants who laid the foundation of a thriving Catholic community in the early 20th century.

The advent of Catholic mission in Jeselton (now Kota Kinabalu) during British colonial era owes much to English Mill Hill missionary Father Henry van der Heyden. The priest arrived in 1903 and was saddened by the plight and suffering of Chinese migrants, mostly poor farmers from Hakka ethnic community. Father Heyden poured his heart to ease out pain and misery of the community through spiritual and pastoral services. The Chinese migrants as well as some Europeans, Indians, Filipinos and Kadazan-Dusuns formed the backbone of the first Catholic community in Kota Kinabalu.

The missionary set up a chapel and named its after Sacred Heart of Jesus, in remembrance of Jesus’ compassionate love for his disciples.

Interior during Chinese New Year Celebrations

Mill Hill missionary Father Valentine Weber built the first church in 1911 and Father Arnold Verhoeven built the second one in 1938. During World War II, the church was almost destroyed in Japanese bombing. Only the foundation and some pillars survived the attack.

The church was rebuilt after the war and opened in 1949. Father Tobias Chi constructed the present church in 1981. Bishop Simon Fung blessed the church in the presence of Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, Apostolic Delegate Archbishop Renato Martino, and several Mill Hill Missionaries on Nov. 21, 1981. The event also marked the centenary of evangelization by the Mill Hill Missionaries (1881-1981) in Sabah.

Marian Grotto

The Sacred Heart Cathedral has a triangular front facade and the cross mounted tall pillar in creamy hue. The statue of Sacred Heart of Jesus on the premises of the cathedral welcomes devotees with outstretchedarms, and it somewhat resembles famous Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The cathedral takes a festive look with its adjacent Marian Grotto and the Emmaus Home during Chinese New Year celebrations in early February. The Cathedral in Kota Kinabalu is a landmark church in the history of Christianity in Malaysia.


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