TWO new priests for the Catholic Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu in Sabah were ordained this month, but local Church officials say priestly vocations are still hard to come by.
Archbishop John Lee ordained Father Rayner Bisius at Sugud in the Penampang district on Sept. 16 and Father Isidore Gilbert at Kiulu in the Tuaran district on Sept. 21, both locations within an hour’s drive from the state capital city of Kota Kinabalu.
“In this Year for Priests, we are thankful that we have two new priests,” Archbishop Lee told some 2,000 people at the ordination at Sugud.
The archdiocese launched the special year on July 31 at Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC). Pope Benedict XVI designated it to run from June 19.
Despite the two ordinations, however, Archbishop Lee said at the Sept. 16 ordination: “We still don’t have enough priests.” The archdiocese now has 32 priests serving in its 19 parishes.
Father John Wong Soo Kau, an assistant rector at the SHC parish, who attended both ordinations, explained later that the archdiocese has more than 300 outstations, which the priests must travel to and serve.
He added that the two ordinations this month are significant because they are the only ones in more than two years.
Father Wong, who is in charge of priestly aspirants for all three Church jurisdictions in Sabah, admitted that getting vocations to the priesthood is a major challenge in this Malaysian state.
In a typical year, he said, up to 15 candidates from Kota Kinabalu archdiocese, and Keningau and Sandakan dioceses enter for a pre-seminary programme of community living and preparation.
Between eight and 10 aspirants would then go on to enter the seminary at St. Peter’s College in Kuching, Sarawak, out of whom three or four eventually are ordained priests, on average, Father Wong continued.
Two of the 12 aspirants who started the programme at the beginning of this year at the Catholic Diocesan Centre, Penampang, have dropped out.
Father Wong cited two major obstacles that aspiring priests in Sabah face: adjusting to a disciplined community life and improving their proficiency in English.
St. Peter’s College, a major seminary, serves all the dioceses in both Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island, and all courses there are conducted in English.
The initial programme for aspirants has, therefore, three emphases: catechism and spirituality, English proficiency, and community life.
Father Wong said that in conjunction with the Year for Priests, a weeklong seminar and recollection was held for all Sabah priests just before the launch of the special year.
Programmes still to come include seminars for priests aimed at providing them with continuing formation, upgrading their pastoral skills, and there is also a campaign to encourage more young Cathlics to answer the call to priesthood.
The archdiocese will run a vocations retreat Oct. 23-25 that is open to all Catholic males aged 21 or over who are already active in the Church and have work experience.
Keningau diocese, with Bishop Cornelius Piong as head, now has 16 priests serving eight parishes and almost 200 outstations, while Sandakan diocese, with Julius Dusin Gitom as bishop, has seven priests serving four parishes and more than 90 outstations.
St. Peter’s College in Kuching has around 30 seminarians, half of whom are from Sabah, the rest from Sarawak.
One of them, from Sandakan diocese, is in his fourth and final year, and is expected to be ordained next year.