SANDAKAN – Thirty members of the St Teresa of Calcutta Taman Indah Jaya Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) here went on a five-day pilgrimage to Manila Philippines on 20 – 24 Sept 2017 with Father Thomas Makajil as spiritual director.
The pilgrims prepared themselves spiritually through a nine-day novena prayer.
The BEC was formed in 2010 with some 30 active families. Since its inception, the members have made two pilgrimages: one to St Anne Bukit Mertajam and another to the Diocese of Keningau.
This time around, the BEC responded to the call of Bishop Julius Gitom to establish links with other BECs in the diocese or beyond in order to learn from one another. With that in mind, the BEC decided to make a pilgrimage to the Philippines and twin up with one of the local BECs in Quezon City. The committee got down to preparatory work in 2016.
Aleona Natalio, a formator at the Institute of Formation Fondacio, (IFFAsia) was on hand to greet and welcome the pilgrims at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Sept 20. IFFAsia trains Asian Christian youth leaders who are willing to commit and participate in the revival of the Church and the civil society.
Upon arrival at the Institute, housed at Radio Veritas Asia in Fairview, Quezon City, the pilgrims feasted on a variety of traditional cuisines prepared by the students, including lechon the popular local roasted pig. We were briefed on the organisation structure of the Institute and were introduced to their formators as well as the students coming from the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China.
They were briefed on the organisational structure of the institute and were introduced to their formators as well as the students coming from the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China.
IFFAsia is well connected to the Diocese of Sandakan as four youths from Sandakan have graduated from the institute. In 2011, the Sandakan cathedral parish hosted their mission project comprising 23 participants: students and formators. A part of their exposure was an encounter with St Teresa of Calcutta BEC.
Apart from the warm welcome and good food, the pilgrims were also entertained with presentations from the students. The event was interactive providing a platform to get to know one another. In support of their upcoming mission project in Thailand, the pilgrims bought souvenir items prepared by the students.
The pilgrims were housed at the Franciscan Sisters of St Elizabeth Retreat House across the road, opposite IFFAsia. Surprisingly, there were several Indonesian sisters in the congregation so they had no problem communicating in Bahasa Indonesia. The retreat house offered comfortable twin sharing air- conditioned rooms with toilet attached, serene setting and a beautiful chapel where Fr Thomas celebrated daily Mass at 6:00 am.
The pilgrims divided into three groups of 10 people. They visited seven cathedrals and churches with significant historical and architectural values: St Agustin, Manila Cathedral, San Sebastian, Baclaran Church, Quiapo Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, Espirito Santo, and Good Shepherd Cathedral Shrine Fairview.
Fr Thomas was a good guide as he had done his master’s in pastoral theology at Santo Tomas University Manila.
One profound experience was the visit to Baclaran Church – the National Shrine of Our Mother Perpetual Help run by the Redemptorist Fathers. They were welcomed by a priest in charge of pilgrims. They were honoured to take the Cross in procession to the altar where the pilgrimage prayer was said at the sanctuary.
Another memorable visit was to the Daughters of St Paul Media Centre and their convent in Pasay City. Sister Rosalie Lojiu, the niece of Fr Thomas, briefed the pilgrims on the Pauline apostolate and provided light refreshments for them.
During the visit, Fr Thomas took time to visit the three surviving pioneers who started the congregation in Sabah in the 1960s. All of them are now in their mid-90s and have to depend on walking aids. These sisters used to visit Fr Thomas’ family when they were in Penampang, he was in primary school then.
It was rather nostalgic and emotional for them as they shared their fond memories of North Borneo/Sabah. They surprised the pilgrims when some of them could still remember the popular Malay lullaby, Burung Kakak Tua.
The highlight of the pilgrimage was to enter into an understanding between BEC of St Teresa of Calcutta Indah Jaya Sandakan and the BEC of Cathedral Shrine and Parish of the Good Shepherd (CSPGS), Fairview Park, Quezon City, Philippines, with the following objectives:
- Share resources on the development, sustenance and advancement of BECs
- Share information regarding events happening in the BECs
- Share on similarities and differences
- Foster good relationship bond among members, especially the youth of the twinned BECs
On hand to welcome the BEC members were the parish priest Father Mario Sanchez and his two assistants, Father Bong and Father Sanders, together with the members of BEC-CSPGS.
In his welcoming address, Fr Sanchez encouraged the twinned BECs to propagate and promote BEC. He said that through sharing, it will prompt learning from each other and will bring growth in their relationship with the Lord. He said that BEC is one of the ways to reach out to more people and through BEC they will get closer to God and to others in the community.
The visit was important as it coincided with the Filipino year-long celebration of 2017 as the Year of the Parish as a “Communion of Communities, Participation and Mission” with emphasis on BECs.
In response, Fr Thomas expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome rendered and he said that the similarities of the guests and host made them feel at home. He said that the BECs in the Sandakan Diocese is in its infancy stage as the diocese is merely 10 years old and has much to learn from them.
Clarita Salvan, the team animator, briefed the visitors on their history while Francis Tan provided an insight into the BEC of St Teresa of Calcutta, followed by a group discussion on the way forward for BECs.
After Sunset Mass at the cathedral, the memorandum of understanding (MoU) was sealed between the two BECs by the respective chairpersons at the parish hall, witnessed by the priests.