World’s smallest mostly Filipino congregation


BalikBayani République | Tony Alabastro

A big Filipino community brings faith and devotion to the world’s smallest parish – three churches – administered by Borneo island’s first cardinal in tiny, oil-rich, Muslim nation Brunei.

“We are one of the smallest dioceses in Asia,” said Bishop Cornelius Sim, 69, one of two from Asia, whom Pope Francis recently named as among 13 new cardinals.

Pope Francis also named Bishop Jose Advincula Jr., 68, from Capiz as the Philippines’ ninth cardinal during angelus address in St. Peter’s Square October 25.

Next to pope, cardinal as prince of church, whose red hat is a sign of esteem and honor, is highest title a Catholic priest can have.

Recounted Cardinal Sim: “The Pope wants to reach out to the generally forgotten. We are the church in the periphery of the periphery.

“We hope to have vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We’re fortunate to have a substantial congregation that makes our church lively. They bring faith, with popular pious devotions, and they enrich us and our faith very much.

“I never wanted to be a priest. The people needed a priest. What’s sustaining the church is not institution but faith. For people here in Asia, my conferment (as cardinal) is acknowledgement of the people’s faith. My role is as a conduit to receive that acknowledgement.

Reverend Arin Sungit, bishop’s assistant, ordained in 2008, said: “The (Vicariate of Brunei) diocese has 21,000 Catholics, mostly migrants. Seventy percent come from Philippines. 5,000-6000 Filipinos attend Sunday mass at Church of Our Lady of Assumption (COLA)” in Bandar Seri Begawan.
“Another 20 percent are from Indonesia, India and Malaysia; 10 percent are indigenous Bruneians (Ibans and Dusuns).”

Brunei’s other parish priests: Reverend Paul Shie, ordained1999, of St John’s Church,Kuala Belait; and Reverend Robert Leong, ordained 2003, of Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception (COOL), Seria.

Ordained1989, Right Reverend Sim is Brunei’s first local priest. “All foreign missionaries left Brunei on January 1991,” he said.

How Sim received the news: “We were having dinner on Sunday when a seminarian unable to go back (to Philippines) to resume his studies in philosophy received a text: ‘Congratulations to Cardinal Sim.’ A few more texts came from seminarians.

“I looked into the Internet and found a video on Pope Francis’ angelus address. It was a bombshell on the announcement of names. I received it with with amusement, shock, and horror, to find out it was probably true.”
Electrical Engineer Sim took a Masters degree in Theology in US after operating utilities for seven years at Brunei Liquefied Natural Gas Sdn Bhd.
Named vicar general of Brunei in 1995, he became Prefect of the Apostolic Prefecture of Brunei in 1997.

Pope John PauI II appointed Monsignor Cornelius Sim in 2004 as first Vicar Apostolic of Brunei, carrying the dignity of a titular bishop. On January 2005, he received episcopal consecration.

Brunei lost a royal prince due to “multiple organ failure” on Saturday and gained a prince of the church wearing a red hat on Sunday.

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