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Their position in the family, community, parish and the diocese facilitates them in that role and together with their spouse, they are the first catechists and teachers to their children.
That was the message delivered by Bishop Julius Gitom, Bishop of Sandakan, when addressing the participants.
The Conference had 297 participants, representing the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, Diocese of Keningau, Diocese of Sandakan, Archdiocese of Kuching, Diocese of Sibu and five observers from the Diocese of Tanjung Selor, Kalimantan Utara, Indonesia, converging at a leading hotel in town for a five-day tri-annual conference August 25-29, 2014.
The Conference of Catholic Women of East Malaysia charted its history in 1993 with Kota Kinabalu hosting its first and inaugural conference in Bundu Tuhan. 21 years later, the Diocese of Sandakan played host to the 8th Conference, themed ‘Women of God’, which was aimed at raising awareness among Catholic women of their womanhood.
The Opening Eucharist was presided over by Bishop Julius Gitom, Bishop of Sandakan, and concelebrated by Archbishop John Wong of Kota Kinabalu, Fr Simon Kontou from St Dominic’s Parish Lahad Datu, Fr Claudius Andrew from St Francis Xavier Keningau and Fr Rhobby Mojolou from the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu.
Continuing in his homily, Bishop Julius reminded the participants that the assembly should be a venue to prove our faith in ways that are effective just like the Thessalonians in their zeal to spread the Gospel. That fire to share should not merely be confined within the conference hall but more so to spread as we return to our home parishes.
In winding up his homily, Bishop Julius said that involvement in any ministry in the church is not simply to be seen, nor merely to enhance reputation; neither is it to gain trophies for display. We need to carry out our duties as expected of us just like the people of Thessalonica, living and acting in ways that proved their faith.
Annie Rokneh, the Chief Coordinator of the Sandakan Diocesan Women’s Apostolate, in her welcoming address, hoped that the conference would inspire them to be better Catholic women, responding to the needs of the families, and ultimately to be bearers of light for a better society. Urging everyone to emulate Mother Mary in all undertakings as the ultimate role model for women, she concluded that the gathering would provide a platform for relationship bonding among the women.
Archbishop John Wong graced the opening ceremony by beating the gong 8 times signifying the 8th occasion of the conference while Bishop Julius unveiled the 8th Conference’s banner.
For the next three days, the sessions were packed with thought-provoking inputs which helped broaden the participants’ understanding and perspective on being a “Woman of God” in being aware of one’s dignity, on being “missionary”, and in seeing themselves as “agents of evangelization by virtue of their baptism which makes them missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium 120). The sessions also provided insight in the approaches that would enable them to be bearer of light to the world, as well as emphasizing on the importance of developing a prayer life and of listening, accepting and manifesting the Word of God in one’s life.
The participants were further reminded that the new evangelization is inseparable from the family, being the domestic church, where faith formation is promoted by the Gospel values in the family in adopting a culture of life and in the witnessing of life.
The pertinent topics for the whole event were ably delivered by Bishop Julius Gitom from Diocese of Sandakan, Fr Rhobby Mojolou and Archbishop John Wong from the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu, Bishop Cornelius Piong and Fr Rudolf Joannes from Diocese of Keningau.
The conference finally drew to a close with the Concluding Mass where the presider, Bishop Cornelius Piong expounded on the virtues of St Monica, mother of St Augustine, whose feast day was celebrated just the day before.
The prelate called on the women participants to emulate St Monica as an example of Christian motherhood, who persistently prayed for the conversion of her son who later became priest, bishop and a saint.
At the Charity dinner banquet at the Sandakan Hakka Hall, with a thousand participants and invited guests in attendance, Bishop Julius in quoting St John Paul II reiterated that women’s contribution in society and in the Church is irreplaceable “The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable.” He hoped the women’s conference had achieved in bringing about a greater awareness which must lead to a continual and committed sharing in pastoral responsibilities in the Church.
Bishop Julius presented the Conference Banner to Anita Tunggolou, the Chairlady of the Catholic Women’s League of Kota Kinabalu, who will be the host for the 9th Conference in 2017. – Brenda/Nora