Redemptorist priests in Sabah after 34-year hiatus

The priests, flanked by altar servers, seen during the act of consecration in the Church.
The priests, flanked by altar servers, seen during the consecration in the Church. (Pix by Thomas Lee)
Flowers brought before the portrait of the Blessed Mother Mary.
Flowers brought before the portrait of the Blessed Mother Mary.

KOTA KINABALU: After almost 35 years since the last missionaries from the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer organised a parish mission to Sabah, three priests from the Congregation were here from April 29 to May 24.

Also known as Redemptorist priests, the trio comprised Fr Joseph Stephen, Fr Suresh Pushparaj and Fr Paul Kee and were here on the invitation of Fr Cosmas Lee, the parish priest of St Simon Catholic Church Likas.

“The last Redemptorist mission to Sabah was 34 years ago,” said peninsula-based Fr Stephen, who is also the leader of the trio, during the culmination of the mission on Pentecost Sunday (May 24). “We would not be here had it not been for Fr Cosmas.”

In the span of their stay, the three priests visited several homes of the parishioners followed by a nine-day Novena (a novena is a series of prayers that are said for nine straight days).

“Some 300 to 700 people turned up each night during the Novena,” Fr Lee said of the mission, themed ‘Renewal through the Holy Spirit’. He also expressed his gratitude towards Fr Stephen for his perseverance in offering to hold a parish mission.

Flowers being carried towards the portrait of the Blessed Mother Mary while the priests and participants look on.
Flowers being carried toward the portrait of the Blessed Mother Mary while the priests and participants look on.

“The mission only came into fruition after over 10 years of communication.”

The talks during the sessions highlighted modern-day problems faced by the Christian community:

  • ‘Culture of Death, Culture of Life’ – Negative values of the secular world versus the teachings of the Scriptures.
  • ‘Is God Dead?’ – How do Christians “find” God in a generation that relies on proof to accept the notion of a “living God”? He can be found through “mystic” experiences or from the acts of love of others.
  • ‘Christianity in a Secular Culture’ – How to be Christian in a secular world? By showing kindness and love to those immediate to us – our family, friends and colleagues, among others.
  • ‘Why Are You a Catholic?’ – The fundamental question to ask the Catholic faithful. How much do you understand your faith, and what does being Catholic mean to you?
  • ‘Family in the Modern World’ – The family that prays together, stays together.
  • ‘Eucharist: Food For Our Faith Journey’ – How the Eucharistic celebration (Mass) is the climax of the faith. Being one with God by consuming His “Body” and “Blood” in the form of bread and wine.
  • ‘Be Reconciled: Making Up Is Easy’ – Teachings on being reconciled with those whom we dislike and vice versa.
  • ‘Youth: Their World and Their Challenges’ – Giving a global view on youths’ physical and spiritual challenges in the increasingly wired world.
  • ‘Holy Spirit in the Life of Our Blessed Mother’ – On the Holy Ghost and how Catholics should be proud of being children of the Mother of God. There are three “mother figures” in the Catholic faith – the mother who gave birth to us, the Blessed Mother Mary and last but not least, the Mother Church.

Among the highlights of the event were the healing session and consecration of the parish to the Blessed Mother Mary held on separate days.

During the healing session, Fr Pushparaj told the participants that forgiving is not an easy task, “so let God, the author of forgiveness, do all the forgiving for you.”

“The invisible scars are harder to heal,” he said on people’s emotional pain and suffering.

He pointed out the seven steps towards recognising pain and the process of healing – hurt, guilt, sin, suffering, the Eucharist, forgiveness and healing.

Meanwhile, flowers were brought before the portrait of the Blessed Mother during the consecration of the parish in the Church.

Besides consecrating the parish, Fr Pushparaj, who led the prayer, also consecrated each person, family, religious, leaders, the Archbishop and Pope.

What is the act of consecration? Pope Pius XII had said that Consecration to the Mother of God “is a total gift of self, for the whole of life and for all eternity; and a gift which is not a mere formality or sentimentality, but effectual, comprising the full intensity of the Christian life – Marian life.”

It “tends essentially to union with Jesus, under the guidance of Mary”.

During his sermon on the final day of the Novena, on the topic of “Holy Spirit in the Life of the Blessed Mother”, Fr Pushparaj said:

“‘How is it possible?’ This is what I asked when I first heard God’s call to become a priest. I know my life, my past. Not worthy at all. It was the Holy Spirit that enabled me, empowered me and gave me the push and courage to say ‘yes’.

“The impossible became possible – now I am standing before you as a priest,” he said. “With the Holy Spirit, everything is possible. Jesus was born of Mary, because of the Holy Spirit.”

The parish mission concluded with a fellowship at the parish hall on May 24.

Fr Stephen has a Master’s degree from Chicago and is author of five books on parish spirituality; Fr Pushparaj had a background in engineering and also authored books on prayer, forgiveness and healing; Fr Kee has a degree in Theology with a background in psychology – he is currently an assistant parish priest at the Mother of Perpetual Help parish in Ipoh.

The motto of the Congregation in Latin, “Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio” which means, “With Him there is Plentiful Redemption”, holds the key to the name that the priests widely go by – Redemptorists.

The congregation was founded by St Alphonsus Maria Liguori on Nov 9, 1732, at Scala, Italy. Their purpose is to labour among the neglected country people in the neighbourhood of Naples.

The society can be found across Africa, America, Asia, Europe and the Pacific and are actively ministering in 77 countries.

To this day, their mission is to bring the message of salvation which is not limited to the poor but also to the “spiritually” poor.

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