Wednesday, January 28, 2009

China-born Catholic priests

The Catholic Church in Sarawak (or East Malaysia) was started by the Mill Hill Missionary based in London during the reign of the Second Rajah. Unlike the Catholic priests in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore who are mostly French missionaries, most of them in Sarawak were or are Europeans from Austria and the Netherlands.

However, before the ordination of local Chinese as Catholic priest, most of the Chinese Catholic priest were China-born. I remember a few of them serving in Sibu such as the late Father Joachim Pang and Father Anthony Lam as well as Father Thomas Taam. There was also a Father Kee who after staying for some time in Sarawak could not adapt to the local climate (his nose bled frequently) and decided to move to South Korea.

They arrived in Sarawak in the 1950's through Hong Kong at a time when China was undergoing a turbulent period. They were mostly in their 20's at that time and many died here and never returned to their homeland.

One of the China-born priests I remember well was Father Joachim Pang. Father Pang has a keen interest in Chinese education and helped developed Sacred Heart Chinese Primary School in Sibu and St Paul's Primary School in Kuching.

Born on June 16, 1921, in Changchou, Province of Jilin, northeast China, he was the only son in a family of four siblings, including three younger sisters. He attended the seminary of Jilin but after the war in 1945, the seminary was closed down due to lack of funds. So, he took up a teaching post in a mission school in the same province for two years. Despite the turbulent times in China, Pang managed to complete his priestly studies and on July 6, 1952, was ordained in Hong Kong. At that time, the Vicar Apostolic of Kuching, Bishop John Vos, requested the rector of Huanan Major Seminary to send some Chinese priests to Sarawak. Father Pang chose Sarawak as the place to start his ministry. On July 17, 1952, he arrived at St Joseph’s Church in Kuching.

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