Fr Paul Lo has just completed a 4-year licentiate study in Rome and returned to Sabah to take up pastoral assignment in the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu. He has recently been assigned to assist in the parish of St Catherine Inanam effective mid-August. On being approached by CS to share his 4-year long experience, he graciously obliged.
I give thanks to the Lord for his faithful love towards me. After four and a half years’ (June 2005 to April 2010) pastoral assignment in St Mary’s Parish, Sandakan, the then Archbishop John Lee (now Emeritus) obtained a four-year scholarship (June 2010 to June 2014 from the Propaganda Fidei for me to do my licentiate study in Rome.
These four years of my study in Rome have enriched me with many beautiful experiences which have helped me to appreciate more my priestly vocation and love for the Church.
First of all, the study was really a humbling experience. I began with Sacred Scriptures in the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Biblicum) but did not manage the exams for Hebrew and Greek in the first semester. Subsequently with blessing from Archbishop Emeritus to change course, I switched to Biblical Theology in the Pontifical Urban University. Happily I managed to graduate myself in Biblical Theology.
Another humbling experience that I had was my involvement with the Neo Catechumenal community in the Canadian Martyrs Parish in Rome. I was requested to follow a young community (about 40 young people) that was in need of a priest. I began my pastoral service with zero Italian, celebrating the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist twice a week, which was rather difficult. However, a great friendship was eventually established with them and my service to the community was appreciated. These experiences helped me to realize that without the Lord, I can do nothing. He is always faithful to me in spite of all my weaknesses.
During these four years I have also witnessed some historic events like the beatification (2011) and canonization (2014) of the Great Pope John Paul II, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis (2013).
I was very touched by the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. He is really a courageous person and a man of great humility.
I am inspired also by the people-oriented pastoral approach of Pope Francis. I am often being encouraged by his words on the mercy of God. His emphasis that the priests should go out of themselves in order to reach out to the people reminds me of the real meaning of being a pastor.
During these four years of my stay in Rome, I have never missed the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning. This is the only Mass the priests can concelebrate with the Pope, and each time I would experience a profound sense of communion.
After the Chrism Mass, we, Malaysian and Singaporean priests, would usually go for lunch together. Our gatherings have always been a joyful occasion. It fostered a very good friendship among us.
With the young people of the Neo Catechumenal community, I have made two pilgrimages to the World Youth Day in Madrid (2011) and Brazil (2013). During these two pilgrimages, we have done some evangelization in the cities. It was very encouraging to see young people courageously announcing Jesus Christ. My participation in these and other missions have enhanced my understanding of the missionary nature of the church.
Both my study and communal involvement experiences in Rome have helped me to see the importance of faith formation through small communities. Only a faith-filled Christian would have the courage to proclaim Jesus Christ, and not be satisfied with just being a Sunday church-goer.
With the increase of priests in the archdiocese, I believe we would be able to have small parishes with the presence of pastors who could focus even more on the faith formation of the people. One day, the local church would fully be a missionary church.
I am happy that I am back in the archdiocese after four years away from home. I pray that the Lord would continue to help me to be a pastor after his heart. Pray for me.