The Asian Cluster Meeting was held in Mukah, Sarawak, East Malaysia from 20th to 24th January 2020. The Society Representatives from mission areas of Pakistan, India, Malaysia and the Philippines met together with the Asian Councillor who facilitated the meeting. The General Superior who happened to be in Sarawak for an official visitation of the membership there also attended the meeting. The meeting began with a ‘checking-in’, an opportunity for each participant to share their personal mission experiences, their hopes and plans. It was followed by the presentation of reports from various mission areas. The reports covered the various missionary activities of the membership, the MHM personnel working in their respective mission areas and the missionary challenges that they face daily. The following points stood out in the reports:
- the great enthusiasm and commitment of the Members working in most often difficult situations due to social discrimination, rampant poverty of the people, insecurity and visa problems.
- with the exeption of the Philippines, Christians in Asian countries where we work belong to a religious minority and most often face economic and socio-political discrimination and religious persecution.
- the active participation of lay people in our missionary works like the catechists, pastoral workers and lay leaders.
- the setting up of local missionary support groups through the Family Friends of Mill Hill.
- Recruitment and Formation Works in various Formation Houses in Asia.
- current mission priorities like primary evangelisation, reaching out to the indigenous peoples, care of the immigrants and migrant workers, faith formation through Youth Apostolate and the formation of Basic Christian Communities, inter-faith dialogue, ecumenism and care of creation.
- Some pastoral challenges like the rise of religious fundamentalism, abduction and forced conversion of girls and the threat of blasphemy law.
A good amount of time was spent by the Asian leaders in discussing various agenda points and in charting the future of Mill Hill mission in Asia. They came up with concrete recommendations and proposals for the forthcoming Chapter 2020. These recommendations will be posted in the Chapter Blog in due time.
The meeting was held in Mukah, a coastal town by the South China Sea and an around 2-hour road trip from Sibu. Mukah is one of the 12 administrative divisions in Sarawak with a population of 110,543 as of the 2010 census. It is home to the Melanau people who comprise 60% of the population in the area. The Iban take 18% of the population while the rest are small patches of Chinese and Malay communities. The Catholics remember the Mulder brothers who worked hard in sowing the seeds of Christian faith in the early 20th centuries among the Melanau people in what is now Mukah Division. Fr. Anthony Mulder MHM is well remembered especially in his services at St. Patrick’s School and the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Mukah town. Fr. Gerard Mulder worked in St. Bernard’s Parish in the neighbouring town of Dalat. These two parishes are the only Melanau parishes in Sibu Diocese.
The Cluster Meeting ended on the eve of the Chinese New Year. On our way back to Sibu, we made a side trip to an Iban longhouse in Selangau Parish. The traditional ‘washing of feet’ , the Iban way of welcoming the guest, was performed by the people in the longhouse. The ‘washing of feet’ is basically a treat of ‘tuak’ or local rice wine to the visitors to make them feel at home.
Jimmy Lindero mhm, General Councillor