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St Peter’s Columbarium: the first Catholic columbarium in Sarawak

KUCHING — The blessing and ground breaking ceremony by Archbishop Simon Poh for the construction of the Columbarium at St Peter’s Church took place on 5 December 2017. About 50 people consisting of consultants, contractors, parish councillors, members of a Humanitarian Foundation and some parishioners attended the auspicious occasion.

In his welcoming speech, the Archbishop thanked the councillors, parishioners and benefactors, especially the Humanitarian Foundation, to have made this project possible. He said that the Columbarium is a sacred place for keeping the cremated remains of the departed. Through the Humanitarian Foundation, some of the niches will also be made available for the needy and poor Catholics as their final resting place.

A columbarium is a building where ‘niches’ are placed to house cremated remains of the deceased. The name derives from an Italian word ‘columba’, which means ‘the dwelling place of a dove’. Niches are spaces in the walls of the columbarium for the inurnment of human remains after cremation.

When asked why the parish decided to build a columbarium in the parish compound, the rector of St Peter’s Church, Fr Vincent Chin, explained that they are trying to restore an old tradition of the Church. “The old tradition of the Church was to have a cemetery next to a church to make sure that those who passed away were close to the believing community. So all those while, wherever there was a church, there was always a cemetery next to it,” he said.

The proximity of the cemetery to the church makes it convenient for church-goes to visit and pray for their departed loved ones as often as they go to the church. It also serves as a reminder that it is their responsibility to pray for those who are gone, and that they too would be laid there one day. It is also to show that there is nothing to fear about the dead.

With the current scarcity of land in Kuching and the government regulations on burial places, having a cemetery near a church is next to impossible. That is why Catholic cemeteries are located further and further away. The nearest cemetery in Kuching accessible to most Catholics is the one at 13th-1/2 Mile.

“In this kind of situation, people would probably only go to the cemetery twice a year, once during the death anniversary of the person, another on All Souls Day,” remarked Fr Chin. “Other than that, they (the dead) are mostly forgotten,” he said. “The presence of the columbarium will bring that old tradition back.”

“When we decided to have this columbarium, we make it our responsibility and commitment to include the departed on every All Souls Day and every Friday in November and in their death anniversary month, regardless if their families offer Mass for them or not,” said Fr Chin. He said a lot of parishioners are worried there is no one to pray for them when they passed on because their children are overseas and they have no other relatives or friends in town. “We assure them that they will be taken care of,” he added.

The document Ad resurgendum cum Christo, an instruction “regarding the burial of the deceased and the conservation of the ashes in the case of cremation” issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 15 August 2016, mentions that although the Church prefers burial at cemeteries, she has no doctrinal objections towards the practice of cremation. “Cremation of the deceased’s body does not affect his or her soul, nor does it prevent God, in his omnipotence, from raising up the deceased body to new life,” the instruction says.

Instead, the Church is more concerned about the proper handling of the cremains. “In the past there was no ruling or guidelines, and so people just simply threw the ashes away,” Fr Chin explained. The document highlighted three points: firstly, the ashes must not be scattered anywhere; secondly, no subdividing of the cremains; and thirdly, the cremains are not allowed to be kept at home.

The practice of scattering of the ashes into the natural environment is a Buddhist practice, he pointed out. “The Buddhists believe that when we die, we enter into nothingness. The ashes are no longer important, and so you can do whatever you like with them,” he said. “However, for us, Catholics, once a person is cremated, the cremains is still the remains of a person, just like the remains of a person who is buried in the ground. So the Church emphasises that proper respect to the ashes must be given,” he added.

On why the Church forbids keeping the ashes at home, Fr Chin said, “Your children may respect you and hence, they would want to keep the urn properly. But for the subsequent generations who do not know you, the chances that the ashes are not properly cared for are high.”

One of the reasons for building a columbarium is that the local church still does not have a decent place for Catholics who opted for cremation. As a result, their ashes have to be interred at Buddhist columbaria. “This is not a good reflection on the church,” he said. “If we allowed for cremation, we must also have a proper place for them too.”

Asked on the procedures to secure a desired niche at the new columbarium, Fr Chin said parishioners can give a specific donation. The donation will be used to build the columbarium, while the excess will go to pay for the construction of the new parish church. “In appreciation of the donation, we offer the donors a space in the columbarium. They don’t own the space. Everything is still owned by the church,” he said.

Such arrangement is made so that, if in the future, should the columbarium need to be relocated to make way for a more important development, or the government suddenly wanted to take back the land where the columbarium is, the church would not need to ask permission from every family whose family members’ remains are kept in the columbarium.

“When that kind of unforeseen circumstances arise, we will relocate the whole columbarium to another new place at our own expense,” said Fr Chin. “The family may choose to bring back the urns or continue to let the church does the safekeeping for them without extra payment,” he said. “The placing of the urn is as permanent as the cemetery.”

There are two types of niches offered, for married couple and single person. The donation for single ones range from RM5K – RM8K, while the donation for married couples range from RM8K – RM13K, depending on the levels. There will be six levels of the niches. The two-storey columbarium can house approximately five thousand people.

Those who are interested to secure a space would need to contact Fr Vincent Chin personally at his office.

The whole contract sum of the project is RM4.028 million. The parish is very grateful to the Humanitarian Foundation headed by Dr Jeffrey Goh, which kindly sponsored RM3.666 million for the building project.

The construction of the columbarium is expected to complete by December 2018.

Audrey Yu

Ground breaking ceremony by Archbishop Simon Poh.

Read in Bahasa Malaysia

Today’s Catholic Vol.29 No.10 January 2018

Fundraising dinner for rebuilding of Carmelite Monastery a success

Archbishop Simon Poh presenting the mock cheque to Carmelite Mother Prioress Sr Marie Evelyn

KUCHING — A total amount of RM513,870.04 was presented to the Carmelite nuns of the Carmelite Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 16 December. Out of the sum presented, RM213,870.04 came from the fundraising dinner raised on 15 October and the grant of RM300,000.00 from the State Government. Another RM300,000.00 is still needed.

The fundraising dinner in aid of the rebuilding of the Carmelite Monastery in Kuching was successfully held at the Archdiocesan Curia and Cathedral Pastoral Centre (ACCPC) on 15 October. It was organised by Christ the King OCDS Community (Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites) and Friends of Carmelites headed by Datin Sri Annie Fong OCDS. Tickets were sold at RM5,000, RM3,000 and RM1,000 per table respectively. Archbishop Simon Poh, Archbishop Emeritus John Ha, Fr Kenneth of the Cross, OCD who represented the Carmelite Friars, priests, religious brothers and sisters from the Archdiocese of Kuching together with well-wishers attended the dinner.

During the dinner, Archbishop Simon Poh explained the revised cost for the rebuilding. “When the rebuilding of the termite infested Carmelite Monastery was mooted quite a few years ago, the simple estimate was that RM4 million should be sufficient. By the time the drawings were ready for tender in 2016, the cost of materials had gone up, government service tax had to be added and the Ringgit had depreciated. When we calculated the allocation for interior furnishing, kitchen equipment and utensils, etc, the total budget ballooned to RM5.9 million to complete the whole Monastery,” said the Archbishop. He further informed all present that there was still a shortfall of RM1.1 million.

Fr Charles Serrao OCD, a former Definitor General whom the nuns know well for 25 years, was invited to the dinner. However, he could not make it due to other commitments in his Province back in India. His speech was pre-recorded and played that evening. He highlighted the charism of the Carmelite nuns and explained why it is necessary to rebuild such a big Monastery for them.

In another video, Mother Prioress Sr Marie Evelyn OCD addressed all the present and thanked them for their support towards the rebuilding project of the nuns. The video also featured the cloistered life of the nuns, the making of altar bread and the progress of the construction work of the new monastery. They also had the privilege to hear the sweet voices of the nuns, who sang for them towards the end of the recorded video.

All invited guests together with the working committee and OCDS members took part in the cake cutting ceremony to mark the Solemnity of St Teresa of Jesus and the 17th Anniversary of Christ the King OCDS Community. Thereafter, the Secular Carmelites led in the singing of the song “Salva Regina”. The working committee also entertained all present with a song entitled “I will follow Him”.

The nuns of Kuching Carmelite Monastery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and organisers would like to thank each and every one for their presence and contribution towards the success of this first ever fundraising dinner. The rebuilding of the new monastery is scheduled to complete by June 2018. Contribution towards the rebuilding project can still be made by using the Brown envelope or directed to the Archbishop’s Office.

Catherine Sim OCDS

Today’s Catholic Vol.29 No.10 January 2018

Christmas nativity scene reminds parishioners to care for creation

KUCHING — Different from the other traditional Christmas nativity scenes put up in the churches around Kuching, the one in Holy Trinity Church, Kenyalang, carries the theme “Laudato Si’” after the encyclical of Pope Francis on the care for our common home.

The background of the nativity scene shows two distinct scenario. 

On the right, the environment is polluted by human activities and is in total darkness except for the lights from the high-rise buildings and the city. The unsustainable development and exploitation of natural resources creates an unfavourable living condition for those who live in the periphery of society.

In contrast, the scene on the left shows the renewal of creation and the bustling of life as the light of the new-born Christ shines through. Human beings live harmoniously with the rest of creation.

“The nativity scene depicts the whole planet earth with the focal point on the Holy Family as Christ was born to save all creation,” said Fr Patrick Heng, the rector of Holy Trinity Parish who came up with the idea of the nativity scene.

“Christ’s light dispels the darkness of the world reflected in the negative impact humanity have made in the destruction of creation,” he explained.

“The birth of Jesus our Saviour reminds us that we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and corresponds with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness,” the description on the background reads.

The idea of the Laudato Si’ themed Christmas crib was mooted by the parish priest of Holy Trinity Church, Fr Patrick Heng. He entrusted the idea to the Parish Youth Ministry who came up with the special background, conveying the message of the birth of Jesus Christ interwoven with Laudato Si’.

The youth made use of recycled items as main materials to create a three-dimensional effect which enhances the design of the crib. It took them approximately a month to finish the entire design.

Asked why he chose the theme, Fr Patrick said it was to highlight the role Christians play in caring for the Earth. Aside from the nativity scene, he had also included the message of Laudato Si’ in his homilies throughout Advent.

During Christmas last year, Holy Trinity Parish created a stunning Chinese-themed nativity scene.

Fr Heng is still praying for inspiration on the theme for Christmas 2018. “Maybe something on the family,” he told Today’s Catholic, to highlight family life in the parish.

The theme on the family will be in-line with the Vatican’s highlight on youth and family in year 2018. The two upcoming events in August and October 2018 respectively, i.e. the World Meeting of Families to be held in Dublin, Ireland and the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, will focus on this theme. 

For the next Christmas, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Kuching have much to anticipate.

Audrey Yu

Today’s Catholic Vol.29 No.10 January 2018

Collection still below target, CWS Chairman laments

KUCHING — The Catholic Services Charity Run (CSCR) 2017 is exactly two weeks away. However, the amount collected and the numbers of runners are still below target.

Catholic Welfare Services Chairman Danice Endawie in his WhatsApp message on 22 August wrote that the organising committee received many “zero returns” as the sponsor cards are being handed back to them. 

“Thanks to those who have decided to participate [in the charity run],” he wrote. 

Danice urged more people to join in the run on 9 September and / or contribute towards the humble charitable cause. “It is not too late to decide to participate and contribute to CWS funds,” the WhatsApp message read. 

“Through the years CWS had given out assistance to many poor, natural disaster victims, fire victims, and the sick… Without your help CWS will find it difficult to continue to render the same assistance to those who dearly need our help,” wrote the CWS chairman.

The CSCR 2017 is organised by the Catholic Welfare Services Council Sarawak with the theme “I run for the least, the last and the lost”. Since early May this year, sponsor cards were distributed far and wide throughout the Archdiocese of Kuching. 

The organising committee hopes to raise RM 2.5 million and with participation of at least 10,000 runners on Sunday, 9 September. The amount raised will be used to fund the Home of Peace, Catholic Services Centre, CWS Samaritans, Society of St Vincent de Paul, Meals for Urban Poor Families (through SKUP), Archbishop’s Disaster Relief Fund, and in aid of the Rural Parishes.

With a minimum amount of RM80, well-wishers / sponsor card holders are eligible for the charity run. Each runner will also receive a t-shirt.

Further information on the Charity Run can be obtained from CWS office at ACCPC ground floor, or contact them at 082-241407.


Read also: Come run for the least!

St Ann’s new church construction progress

KOTA PADAWAN — 9 February saw The Right Honourable Prime Minister YAB Datuk Patinggi Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak and The Right Honourable Chief Minister YAB Datuk Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari Bin Tun Abang Haji Openg making the official site visit to St Ann’s Church. They gave a grant of RM4 million received from the State Government and the Federal Government, of which the 24,591 strong Roman Catholic parishioners are most grateful.

Earlier this year, the parish also received a grant of RM400,000.00 under the Minor Rural project (MRP) from Majlis Perbandaran Padawan (MPP). With these grants, the first of the four phases of the new St Ann’s Building project is well on its way towards completion.

The St Ann new Church site, covering 6 acres, sits strategically on the intersection of Jalan Puncak Borneo and Jalan Landeh, at Kota Padawan 10th Mile Kuching-Serian Road. The total cost of the First phase amounts to RM 14.5 million which covers the construction of the main Church building (that can accommodate up to 2,225 parishioners), infrastructure works and reclamation of the swampy land.

The opening ceremony of the new Church scheduled on 30 April has been postponed to the end of this year to give time for the parish to attend to the following critical and urgent concerns:

  • The boundary drainage issues encompassing also the site’s immediate surroundings and other related infrastructure works.
    The roof extension around the main Church, which provides an additional sheltered external seating area, that will cater for the additional number of parishioners attending the major liturgical celebrations like Easter, Ash Wednesday and Christmas.
  • Although the roof and concrete platform extension as mentioned above were planned to be carried out at a later date, the St Ann New Church Building Committee had been advised that it is more judicious and cost-effective to add these extensions during the current period of the construction of the Main Church building.
    The works have started on the two major drainage boundaries and commencement for the roof extension will begin soon, based on the grants received from Majlis Perbandaran Padawan (MPP), State Government and Federal Government. This will be followed by the major interior works for the main Church building, in preparation for her historical official opening by end of 2017.

The Rector of St Ann’s Mission, Fr Gerard Victor, OFM, stated, “The entire building and construction team have done their best and we are convinced that these delays are in fact for the good of the overall St Ann Building Project and long-term interest of the parishioners. The parish team is committed to the fullest accountability and transparency and will continue to keep parishioners and well-wishers informed from time to time of the construction progress through our St Ann’s Parish Facebook page and website.”

He added that the parish is very thankful for all the contributions and support received from near and far. This will enable the parish to begin planning for Phase Two of the building project, which includes the Church office and classrooms for faith formation, meetings and other Church-related activities.

In anticipation of continuous unfailing support, the parish is confident Phase Three and Phase Four which consist of a Multi-purpose Hall and a Priests’ residential building is in the offering.

St Ann’s Church

Today’s Catholic Vol.29 No.1 May 2017