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Friday, October 13, 2017


Recorded by: DaliusLL
Photography by: Roy Francis Barintang

Sandakan: 30 members of the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) St. Teresa of Calcutta, Taman Indah Jaya Sandakan, embarked on a 5-day pilgrimage to Manila, Philippines on 20th – 24th September 2017 with Rev. Fr. Thomas Makajil of the Paitan Mission as the Spiritual Director. Prior to their departure to the Philippines, members prepared themselves spiritually through a nine-day novena prayer.
The BEC of St. Teresa of Calcutta was formed in 2010 with some 30 active families. Since its’ inception, the members have had made two pilgrimages; one to St Anne, Bukit Mertajam and another local pilgrimage to the Diocese of Keningau.
This time around, the BEC of St Teresa of Calcutta responded to the call of Bishop Julius of Sandakan to establish link with other BECs from other parishes in the Diocese or beyond the region 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 about a year ago.
Aleona Natalio, a formator at the Institute of Formation Fondacio, (IFFAsia) was at hand to greet and welcome us at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on 20th September.  IFFAsia  is committed  to train Christian youth leaders from across Asia, 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, we were feasted to a sumptuous variety of traditional cuisines prepared by students and among the delicious dishes was the popular local roasted barbequed pig, Lechon. 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.
IFFAsia is well connected to the Diocese of Sandakan and as of date four youths from Sandakan have graduated from the Institute. In 2011, St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish, Sandakan hosted their mission project comprising 23 participants; students and formators. Part of their exposure, was an encounter with BEC of St Teresa of Calcutta.
Apart from the warm welcome and good food, we were also entertained with presentations from the students. The event was interactive providing a platform to get to know one another. As an appreciation and in support of their upcoming mission project in Thailand, we contributed in our small way by buying souvenir items prepared by the students.
For the five-day pilgrimage, we were housed at the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth Retreat House, across the road, opposite IFFAsia. Surprisingly, there were several nuns from Indonesia in the congregation where we conveniently communicated in Bahasa Indonesia. The Retreat House was comfortable offering twin sharing air conditioned room with toilet attached, very serene setting and a beautiful  chapel where we attended the daily 6.00am mass, celebrated by Fr. Thomas.
We were divided into 3 groups of 10 persons per group for easier mobility. Over the course of the 5 days, we visited seven Cathedrals and Churches with significant historical and architectural values. We visited St. Agustin Church, Manila Cathedral, San Sebastian Church, Baclaran Church (The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help), Minor Basalica of the famous Black Nazarene Quiapo, Espiritu Santo Parish Church and The Cathedral Shrine of the Good Shepherd, Fairview. The presence of Fr. Thomas as Spiritual Director, who had done his Master in Pastoral work in Santo Tomas University had helped the group in gaining in-depth information of the historical background and even led the group for contemplative prayers in the Cathedrals visited.
One profound experience was our visit to Baclaran Church of the National Shrine of Our Mother Perpetual Help, a Redemptorist Church, where we were welcomed by a priest, assigned to cater for pilgrims. We were honoured to take the Cross in procession to the altar where the pilgrimage’s prayer was said on the sanctuary.
Another memorable visit was to the Daughters of St. Paul Bookstore and their convent at Pasay City. Sr. Rosalie Lojiu, a Sabahan nun (coincidently, the niece of Fr. Thomas), was kind enough to brief on the Pauline work and providing light refreshment to us.  During the visit, Fr. Thomas took the time to visit three surviving pioneering nuns who started the congregation in Sabah in the early 60s. All of them are now in their mid-90s and have to depend on walking aids. These nuns used to visit Fr. Thomas’ families when they were serving in Penampang and he was in primary school then. It was indeed a nostalgic and emotional moment spending time with them and they shared their fond memories while serving in Sabah, which was then, North Borneo. They surprised the pilgrims when some of them could still remember the popular Malay lullaby, Burung Kakak Tua. They would have served longer if not because of the State government’s policy then in the mid-70s to revoke their service in Sabah.
The highlight of the pilgrimage was to enter into an understanding between BEC 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. The mission is to;

a. Share resources on the development, sustenance and advancement of BECs 
b. Share information regarding events happening in the BECs
c. Share on its similarities and differences
d. Foster good relationship bond among members, especially the youth of the twinned BECs

At hand to welcome us were the parish priest Fr. Mario Sanchez and his two assistant priests, Fr. Bong and Fr. Sanders, together with the members of BEC CSPGS. In his welcoming address, Fr. Sanchez encourages 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 our relationship with the Lord. He affirmed that BECs is one of the ways to reach out to more people and through BECs we will get closer to God and among members in the community.
The visit marked an important program because it coincides with the year-long celebration of 2017 emphasizing the importance of BEC, ‘The year of the Parish as Communion of Communities, Participation and Mission.’ In response, Fr. Thomas expressed his gratefulness for the warm welcome rendered and he said that the similarities of the guests and host made us felt much at home. He briefed the host 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 our counter-part.

Ate Clarita Salvan, the team animator briefed on the history of the CSPGS BEC, while Francis Tan presented an insight into the BEC of St. Teresa of Calcutta. A group discussion session on the way forward of BECs was conducted, shared and presented to the floor.  At exactly 7.00pm we attended the sunset mass in the Cathedral presided over by Fr. Bong and con-celebrated by Fr. Thomas. Thereafter, the program adjourned to the Parish Hall where the mutual understanding of the twinning BEC of Saint Teresa of Calcutta Sandakan with the BEC of the Cathedral Shrine and Parish of the Good Shepherd was sealed by their respected Chairperson and witnessed by the priests. This occasion marked a historical mileage for the BEC from St. Mary’s Parish Sandakan to go beyond their local setting in order to gain knowledge in their pastoral work.  The pilgrimage journey, not only draw us closer to God and one another but bring home beautiful memories of the beautiful people of the Philippines, their kind hospitality and reception.

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