LUNDU – The area in Lundu and Sematan was formally instituted as Holy Spirit Parish – a new parish of the Archdiocese of Kuching during a special Mass held to overflowing capacity at Holy Spirit Church on 9 August.
Previously, Lundu and Sematan were considered outstations of St Stephen’s Parish, Bau.
The Mass was presided over by Archbishop John Ha, concelebrated by five other priests and served by the newly-ordained Deacon Leonard Yap, with the participation of some 700 Catholics, with more than half of the congregation seated in the makeshift tent outside the Church, whilst still others remained standing.
Fr John Chong, a priest who is no stranger to the local parishioners, was appointed the first Rector of the new Parish whilst Deacon Leonard was also appointed to serve there.
The new Parish, some 85km from Kuching, basically covers areas such as Biawak, Batang Kayan, Sematan and Lundu proper. It has a population of about 6,000 Catholics, the vast majority of them being Bidayuh, apart from some Iban and Chinese.
In his homily, Archbishop Ha called on the local faithful not to be afraid but to look forward with great faith to our Lord Jesus Christ, despite the challenges of being a new parish with more responsibilities at hand.
Referring to the Gospel of the day (19th Sunday of the Year) on Peter walking on the stormy waters to Jesus (Matt 14:22-33) but then taking fright and starting to sink, the Archbishop said it was Peter’s momentarily ‘loss of faith’ that caused him to sink.
“The moment Peter loses his focus on Jesus due to the chaos of the surroundings, he starts to sink but calling to Jesus for help saves him,” he said.
The Archbishop pointed out that the experience of Peter should reassure all of us that Jesus is always present with us even if he seems so far away. He also linked this with the first reading where Elijah found Yahweh God in the gentle breeze, and not in hurricane or earthquake.
Pointing to the establishment of the new parish, Archbishop Ha said the local faithful should be prepared as the community faces more ‘storms’, for example to look into the possible construction of a new church. The present church can only seat about 250 parishioners.
He urged the faithful to keep on looking to Jesus, assuring them that the Lord is ultimately walking with them and giving them the courage and perseverance to go on.
After the Mass, the Archbishop unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion before adjourning to a dinner fellowship with those present.
Fr John, when asked on his feelings of being appointed as the first Rector of the new Parish, thanked Archbishop Ha for the trust in him to manage the Parish.
“I thank the Lord for the honour entrusted to me to be the first rector here and I will do my best to serve the people in this new parish,” he said.
Fr John’s immediate plan is to visit the people and to reassure them that he is journeying with them as their priest. He anticipates a lot of travelling to meet and get to know the people.
“As a pastor, I have to look into their pastoral needs as one of the top items in my agenda and having 22 outstations and two schools to cover, that might involve quite a lot of travelling,” he quipped.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Ha travelled up to St Anthony’s Chapel, Pasir Hulu the next day for the inaugural Confirmation in the new parish. A total of 130 candidates received the Sacrament.
The community there had built a new Chapel for their weekly Sunday worship and Fr John exhorted the community and the newly confirmed candidates to play their role in building up the new Parish.