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Heilbronn is a city in the state of Baden WÜrttemberg at the southwest of Germany. It is part of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. On 8th August, six Catholics and six Protestants arrived at Kota Kinabalu for a two-weeks’ visit. This is the 8th official ecumenical delegation to come here since the signing of the Sabah-Heilbronn Ecumenical Partnership (SHEP) agreement in 1990.
In Sabah, this Partnership is participated by the three Catholic dioceses of Kota Kinabalu, Keningau and Sandakan, together with the Basel Christian Mission of Malaysia (BCCM) and the Protestant Church in Sabah (PCS).
This Partnership has three goals: (a) to mutually experience and live the mission of Christ as brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, (b) to share in the joys and sufferings of humankind as Christians, and (c) to learn from each other and to strengthen one another when and where it is necessary.
The Heilbronn group this time was led by Peter Seitz of the Catholic Deanery of Heilbronn-Neckarsulm and Pastor Ralf Rohrbach-Koop of the Evangelical-Lutheran of Heilbronn district. Among the Catholics was Fr Anthony Savarimuthu, an Indian priest serving in Heilbronn for the last seven years. Their visit was hosted by the local Committee of SHEP comprising representatives from Catholics, BCCM and PCS. Indeed it was through this Partnership that the three local churches have grown closer.
During their stay in Sabah, the Germans made courtesy calls to the Mayors of Kota Kinabalu and President of Sandakan Municipal Council, presided/attended local church services, held discussions with local Christians, visited places of touristic attractions, tasted local food and drinks, and stayed with host families in Kota Kinabalu, Penampang, Kudat, Sandakan and Keningau. They even took a boat ride and stayed overnight in Pagalungan, a remote village in Pensiangan area. The group was thankful to have met the three Catholic bishops during their itinerary. They were amazed by the ease and down-to-earth styles of the bishops.
At the evaluation session on 23 August at Tatal Retreat Center Keningau, the group has expressed its gratitude to their local partners for their hospitality. Many were glad to have the experience of coming here and to see for themselves the lives of the Churches. They were impressed with the lively and deep faith of our people, to see the churches packed with goers, and to witness the active participation of lay people in ministries of the church. Indeed the theme of their visit, “Lay people as Church” was unfolded right before their eyes. Some hoped to return for private visits in the near future. Others promised to share their discovery to their congregations in Heilbronn.
In their parting words, the twelve wished to see more ecumenical efforts among the local partners, especially in addressing common concerns and challenges faced by Christians in the country. — Dominic Lim
SHEP in Diocese of Sandakan
SANDAKAN – Raymond Wong, who represented the Catholic Diocese of Sandakan to Heilbronn in 2012 exchange program coordinated the event. The 12 delegates from Germany were hosted to a dinner reception on arrival Aug 15. In attendance were Bishop Julius Gitom, Fr Thomas Makajil and FRSunny Chung, the host families, pastors and guests of the BCCM and PCS.
An open dialogue between the participating Churches in Sandakan and the guests, themed “Lay people involvement in the Church”, was held in the Cathedral’s Conference Room on Aug 16, whereby all parties got to learn of the strengths and weaknesses of the involvement of the laity in the Churches in Germany and in Sabah. – SOCCOM, Dalius LL