Reluctant priest in right place, right time


BalikBayani République | Tony Alabastro

Four Sundays before Father’s Day, Cornelius Cardinal Sim, the sheep-smelling shepherd of probably the world’s smallest, mostly Filipino congregation, walked through the door God opened.

As six-month-old cardinal and Borneo island and Brunei’s first red hat Prince of Church, Sim was “a reluctant priest who was at the right place and right time,” Church of Our Lady of Assumption (COLA) parish priest Fr. Arin Sungit eulogises.

“On his first official trip to Rome in 2001 as Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, Monseigneur Sim, wearing a purple skull cap, sat (on the wrong seat) with red skull-capped cardinals. (He should be with) Malaysia and Singapore Conference bishops (who) sat on the other side.

“His seating with cardinals in 2001 (preceded) a revelation that happened much earlier, on Thanksgiving 1989. He dressed up as Cardinal when asked to dress up in fancy dress and knock on dormitory doors.

“A classmate sent that picture a few months ago. Cardinal Sim was Ohio’s first Franciscan University of Steubenville’s priestly discernment graduate to be ordained into priesthood.

“Sim was a reluctant priest. He didn’t want to be a priest. He was invited one day to arrange chairs for a prayer meeting in Seria (oil town where he was born.) He became Brunei’s first locally ordained priest on November 26, 1989.”

Two years into priesthood in 1991, after all foreign clergy were sent home in 1990, Father Sim was alone serving Brunei’s three churches
“Father Sim, 40, considered this among his best priesthood years. Be-cause this was the only time the three churches were very much united.

“This (requiem mass) reflects this event when we are all united,” Father Arin Father Arin tells a jam-packed COLA, where across its main altar Cardinal Sim lay in state.

“In 31 years, from Father Sim’s 1991 baptism of fire, we have three priests and one seminarian. Not bad for a reluctant priest who also became cardinal.

“Cardinal Sim’s legacy is his love for the poor, migrant Christmas parties for many years (‘ours is a Migrants’ Church’), and his personal financial aid.
“He loved the youth with whom he spent time all over the world: World Youth Day with the Pope (John Paul II) in Manila 1995; 2008 Sydney; 2011 Madrid; 2006 Poland; and Asian Youth Day in Philippines 2005; Korea 2014; Indonesia 2017.

“He visited the prisons twice a year. He went on hospital visits even when he was very sick.

“He’s the only walletless bishop I know. Cardinal Sim gave money to peo-ple using angpao (red packet) given to him, not the church’s money,” says Father Arin.

On his last homily May 6, 2021, Cardinal Sim told his flock before going to Taiwan for treatment:

“Tomorrow, Saroyara for a while. Tomorrow, I am leaving. God has opened a door. When He opens a door, you have to walk through. I still need your prayers.”

Cardinal Sim, 69, passed away in a Taiwan hospital where he was under-going cancer treatment on May 29, 2021.

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