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Malaysian Catholics laud pioneering missionaries during Lent

Pilgrimage pays tribute to early missionaries who brought and nurtured Catholicism in Malaysian Borneo

Malaysian Catholics laud pioneering missionaries during Lent

Catholics from Blessed Sacrament Church in Labuan of Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese join a pilgrimage to honor early missionaries during Lent. (Photo: Catholic Sabah)

Published: April 13, 2022 08:00 AM GMT

Updated: April 13, 2022 10:09 AM GMT

Malaysian Catholics have participated in a special pilgrimage during Lent to honor missionaries who brought and nurtured Catholic faith in northern Borneo in the 19th century.

Some 50 Catholics from Blessed Sacrament Church in Labuan in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, including parish priest Father Thomas Madanan, joined the pilgrimage despite scorching summer sun on April 3, Catholic Sabah reported on April 11.

The walk of faith celebrated the arrival of Spanish mariner turned missionary Don Carlos Cuarteron, who landed in Labuan on April 14, 1857, along with a group of Italian missionaries from the Philippines.

Since 2019, Catholic parishes in Kota Kinabalu have been holding annual pilgrimages to follow the footsteps of Father Cuarteron, said Labuan parish priest Father Madanan.

However, due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the parish pilgrimages were halted in 2020 and 2021.

Catholics joined hands to launch a “sail boat” in 2020 to symbolize Father Cuarteron’s landing and personal pilgrimages.

“Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence"

This year the pilgrimage holds special significance as the parish marks the 165th anniversary of the Vatican’s erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Labuan, which later became part of the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, which was created in 1976.   

Father Madanan said the pilgrims were reminded about the inspirational words of Pope John Paul II, who asked Catholics “to remember, to celebrate, to become.”

“Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence,” the late pope said.

During the pilgrimage, Catholics remembered the sacrifices and sufferings of the founding fathers but also recalled the sacrifices, sufferings and rejection of Jesus leading to his crucifixion and death.

They stopped at three stations, prayed and recalled the great endeavors of early missionaries including Don Carlos Cuarteron and Mill Hill priests.

The first station was the landing point of Father Cuarteron where he also celebrated the first Mass with his companions. The second station was at what used to be the first house of the priest, close to the first chapel he built. The third station is the site of first chapel the priest built with the help of Catholic soldiers. Monsignor Cuarteron celebrated Mass every Sunday there, records show.

Father Cuarteron became the first bishop when Pope Pius IX erected the Apostolic Prefecture of Labuan and Borneo that same year

The pilgrimage ended with a prayer at the Garden of St. Joseph, which holds the Tomb of Jesus, reminding Catholics that they should die, embrace the cross of Christ and resurrect with him one day.

The arrival of Father Cuarteron in 1857 marked the beginning of Catholicism in Malaysian Borneo. Two days after his arrival, Father Cuarteron established the first Catholic mission in Labuan. The priest celebrated the first Mass on April 19.

Father Cuarteron became the first bishop when Pope Pius IX erected the Apostolic Prefecture of Labuan and Borneo that same year.  He served in Labuan and Borneo until his return to Rome in 1879.

The Vatican entrusted the mission to Mill Hill missionaries from England who played a pioneering role in evangelization and put the Catholic Church on a strong footing despite pressure from the region’s Muslim kings.

Today northern Borneo is composed of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. It accounts for two-thirds of the estimated three million Christians among 33 million Malaysian citizens.  

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