2003-04-11 00:00:00

Catholics in a northern Malaysian parish need not go to the Holy Land to follow in Jesus´ footsteps on Mount Calvary.

They can make the Way of the Cross on Calvary Hill, behind Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Taiping, Perak state, 220 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. And they do, throughout Lent, but especially on Good Friday.

For several years now, it has been common to see Catholics walking up and down the small hill where wooden crosses have been planted for the 14 Stations of the Cross, events in the Biblical accounts of Jesus´ crucifixion.

While young people take the walk up the small hill in stride, older parishioners take the steps, more slowly and deliberately.

Among those making the devotional exercise this year were a woman carrying a small baby in her arms and an overweight woman who had to be helped down the slope. As might be expected, friends lent a hand to those less steady on their legs, and some brought walking sticks, umbrellas, insect repellent and hats.

But they all managed, admiring the scenery as they prayed and sang hymns. UCA News spoke with some of them.

Paul Lim, a retired dental surgeon, likes "doing the Stations of the Cross on Calvary Hill because the atmosphere is better here. We can imagine that we are actually there during Jesus´ time."

A teacher who works outside Taiping but came home ahead of Easter said, "This is the first time I am doing this and I am impressed. The hill is so well maintained. It is a beautiful place and a beautiful experience."

Taiping´s Calvary Hill is not that old. It was in 1995 that former parish priest Father Augustine Wong suggested that three wooden crosses be erected atop the hill to mark the site of the first Catholic church built in Perak.

The major job of clearing the jungle for this project was carried out by Catholic army rangers from the eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, more than 1,000 kilometers away in northern Borneo Island.

The rangers, stationed at Kamunting Army Camp on the outskirts of Taiping, and about 10 men of the parish took about a year to complete the project, laboring on the hill three or four times a week in the evenings.

The hill was named Calvary Hill in 1996, and the smaller crosses for the Way of the Cross were added later.

The parish project was an active way of remembering history and of commemorating the good work of the early missioners who arrived more than a century ago in what was then British Malaya. The Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart dates back to 1875.

On Good Friday last year, starting from 7:30 a.m., various Church groups walked up the hill praying and singing. A large crucifix was carried up, and white candles were lit and placed at the foot of each of the 14 stations.

Basic Ecclesial Community and other parish groups followed, praying in Chinese and Tamil.

The largest contingent was the youth group, in multicolored attire. Parish priest Father Victor Louis led about 40 members and some of their parents up the hill to educate the young people about changes in the Way of the Cross that Penang diocese had introduced.

Charles John, youth group president, said the changes have people meditate on their daily lives and about sin as they reflect on Jesus´ Passion. This is good, he said, for young people "who have gone astray."

Taiping Catholic Parish has two churches -- Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church and St. Louis Church -- and some 4,000 parishioners. The parish secretariat is at St. Louis Church.


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