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Malaysian Church welcomes first ethnic Rungus priest

Rungus people in Sabah state started embracing Christianity in the 1950s, records say

Archbishop John Wong of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia ordains Bradley Stephen Belly, the first priest from ethnic Rungus community on Nov. 8.

Archbishop John Wong of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia ordains Bradley Stephen Belly, the first priest from ethnic Rungus community on Nov. 8. (Photo: The Borneo Post)

Published: November 14, 2023 06:51 AM GMT

Updated: November 14, 2023 09:53 AM GMT

Catholics in Malaysia have welcomed the first priest from the ethnic minority Rungus community, an event being hailed as a milestone for the local church.

Bradley Stephen Belly was ordained by Archbishop John Wong Soo Kau of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah state, in the northern part of Borneo Island, on Nov. 8, the archdiocese said in a notice on Facebook on Nov. 13.

The ordination ceremony was held at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church in Kudat, the home parish of the newly ordained priest, in the presence of about 2,000 Catholics including those from neighboring Sarawak state.

Wong expressed his gratitude and lauded Belly for his courage in “responding to God’s call to serve in God’s field.”

“Continue to pray for this young priest to be able to serve with love,” Wong urged Catholics.

Apart from the faithful, around 46 priests from the Kota Kinabalu and Kuching archdiocese, and the Keningau and Sandakan dioceses were present for the ceremony among others.

With his ordination, Belly became the first priest from the Rungus community to be ordained from Kudat, a coastal town in Sabah.

Rungus people are an Austronesian ethnic indigenous group mostly found in Sabah. They primarily live in northern Sabah, especially on the Kudat peninsula, Kota Marudu, Pitas, and Beluran.

There are estimated 25,000 Rungus people in Malaysia, media reports say.

The lives of Rungus people are centered on the cultivation of rice and other crops such as banana, maize, cassava, vegetables, melons, pineapples, taro and sweet potato.

Families also raise chickens, pigs and water buffaloes. Many Rungus men also rely on fishing using traps and nets.

Traditionally, Rungus people live in longhouses made of bamboo and wood with distinct outward-sloped walls. Each family has separate quarters in a common dwelling place.

Animism is the traditional religion of Rungus people. They started to embrace Christianity in the 1950s, according to the World Council of Churches. Today, most of the Rungus people are Christians.

Christians account for about 10 percent of Muslim-majority Malaysia’s estimated 34 million people. There are about 1.17 million Catholics in three archdioceses and seven dioceses.

The majority of the country’s Christians live in Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo Island.

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