Posted 20th July, 2012. by admin.
Category: Archbishop's desk
I had been to a lot of Gawai celebrations in the Archdiocese of Kuching. But this one in Majodi Centre, Plentong (Johor), on Sunday 8 July 2012 was unique on a couple of fronts. In the first place, the community was very mixed; it was made up of Sarawakians, Sabahans, Orang Aslis and Indonesians – people whose culture includes the celebration of the harvest festival. Secondly their Bishop was not one from Sarawak or Sabah, but Bishop Paul Tan of the Melaka-Johor Diocese. As expected, he donned his Episcopal regalia; but beyond my expectation, he was vested with an Iban waist coat and wore an “inculturated mitre” – the Kadazandusun “sigar” tailored into a mitre. Didn’t he look elegant and native!
The celebration started with Holy Mass at 10.00 a.m. presided by Bishop Paul Tan. It was in BM but the hymns were selections from the various native languages represented in the gathering. The singing was led by a mixed choir that rendered praise to God most enchantingly. Following the Mass there was lunch for all – a big spread of a wide variety of dishes, including some native foods – e.g. umai and ayam pansor. A cultural afternoon followed from 2.00 to 4.00 o’clock.
From this unique experience, I would like to share a few thoughts. First of all, there were over a thousand people gathered for the celebration and they had come from different parishes in Johor. For a crowd of this size to come together from different parishes, they must be pretty active Catholics. Indeed, they were, as I was told. Several parishes have BM Committees and their Chairmen are Sarawakians and Sabahans. As an ordained minister, I have been concerned about how “our faithful” in Peninsular Malaysia are faring with regard to their faith and Church life. The Gawai/Kaamatan experience on 8 July 2012 gave me a big relief and convicted me that I had been worrying for nothing!
Secondly, I came to realize that many Sarawakians and Sabahans had been in Johor for a long time – some even for thirty years or more. They have settled down there and many, I think, will not return to their kampongs, except for annual visits. They are now part and parcel of the Church in Johor and their Bishop is Bishop Paul Tan. There is no need for any East Malaysian Bishop to stake a claim! Their presence in the Diocese of Melaka-Johor gives a native face to the Church there. That is good.
Thirdly, the children of the native Sarawakians and Sabahans born and brought up in Peninsular Malaysia will very likely associate themselves with Peninsular Malaysians more and more. This was somewhat evident in their cultural performances. These for sure had clear elements of the native traditions of Sarawak and Sabah, but also included Malay, Orang Asli, Chinese, Indian and Melaka Portuguese traditions. Of course, the 1Malaysia spirit undergirded these mixed performances; but I could not help feeling that the blending of all these within one performance had become second nature to the young generation of natives who grow up in the Peninsula.
All to the glory of God who, in the last analysis, must be the one responsible for bringing the native Catholics from Sarawak and Sabah to Semananjung Malaysia to give a native look to the Church there. Syabas to all these Catholics and to the Diocese of Melaka-Johor!
Archbishop John Ha
19 July 2012