VATICAN CITY — The Apostolic Vicar of Brunei, thanks Pope Francis for “choosing someone from the peripheries” to be counted among his cardinals. Expressed his sentiments in an interview to Vatican News, Bishop Cornelius Sim described his Church as “periphery within a periphery”. He said the Pope understands that the Church exists in little places where there is not much publicity but where faith is very much alive.
Like other cardinals-designate, Bishop Cornelius Sim too was unaware of and could not believe he was among the 13 new cardinals, but later came to terms with the truth.
“For me, it was bit of a shock and unexpected” he told Vatican News. The 69-year old native of Brunei spoke about the challenges of one of the youngest and smallest Churches in Southeast Asia and probably also in the world.
At his priestly ordination on November 26, 1989, Bishop Sim became the first native priest of Brunei. In 1995 he was appointed the Vicar General of what was then Miri-Brunei Diocese, and in 1998 he was appointed Prefect of Brunei. When Saint Pope John Paul II elevated Brunei to Vicariate Apostolic on October 20, 2004, he appointed Father Sim Vicar Apostolic. Thus, he became the first local bishop of Brunei. He was consecrated bishop on January 21, 2005.
Largely migrant Catholic community
Bishop Sim, along with 3 other priests, leads the Church of Brunei that is mostly made up of some 20,000 expatriate workers. The wealthy oil- and gas-rich nation has a population of some 500,000 people, more than 70% percent of whom are Muslim.
In this context, Bishop Sim said the challenge of the Bruneian Church is to “provide a home away from home” for the Catholic community that is largely migrant. The Church tries its best to support them, especially in times of trouble such as illness or death. It also helps them financially and with feeding programmes.
He pointed out that native Catholics, who are well off, need to build up their faith levels so that they can be “more conscious and more willing to be engaged” in many ways in supporting the Church.
The Church is particularly concerned about young people, many of whose ideas do not come through traditional channels but from their counterparts in their “own world” of social media. Hence their relationship with authority is not always like what it was once upon a time.
Peace and harmony
His commitments in his new role as cardinal, Bishop Sim said, would be the same, which is to contribute to creating peace, harmony and goodwill in cooperation with citizens of different persuasions and religions. As Christians they need to contribute to build a better and more peaceful Brunei. For Bruneians, he explained, the commitment to peace has a very special significance as the name of their country means the “abode of peace”.
In this regard, the Church that has been in Brunei for more than 90 years, the bishop said, has contributed to the nation especially through its schools. Some 60 percent to 70 percent of students in the three Catholic schools of the country are Muslims.
Speaking about enriching the faith based on the sense of the community, Bishop Sim said he has outlined several priorities for the Church in Brunei, such as Bible and faith information, youth and family pastoral care, promotion of priestly and religious vocations, evangelization and social welfare.
The Church, he explained, is not just the liturgy, which is very important, but it also needs to build relationship, first of all within the community, starting with the family and moving out to society, such as the place of work and study.
Currently, the Bruneian Church is in the last year of its 3-year focus on the family.
“Periphery within a periphery”
Regarding his sentiments for Pope Francis for choosing him as cardinal, Bishop Sim said he would like to thank him for “choosing someone from the peripheries”. Describing his Church as “periphery within a periphery”, he expressed admiration for the sacrifice and hard work of Catholics to build the Church by strengthening links within the community for over 90 years. Even though there are many thing that need to be change, he said, his Catholics have been very faithful and loyal to the Church.
He said the “Pope is understanding that the Church exists in those little places where there is not much publicity” but where the faith is very much alive. Hence he thanked the Holy Father for making this clear about Brunei.
Not “in our little bubble” world
He further explained that “as a Church we are not one little group of people, all isolated on our own in our little bubble”. Rather, the Church is much bigger and as a community, it cuts across all boundaries of race, colour, social status, migrant or with permanent residence, because “all of us are children, sons and daughters of Jesus Christ”. He said, all of us are called to understand and live by this, stressing “you cannot have God as your Father unless you have the Church as your Mother”.
In conclusion, Bishop Sim expressed his gratitude to those working in the media at Vatican News for updating and keeping in touch with the worldwide Church.
Vatican News (Click to listen to the interview with Bishop Cornelius Sim)