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On the occasion of his 9th Episcopal Ordination anniversary, 59th birthday, and the 9th Diocesan Day, Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom of Sandakan shares his thoughts and reflection:
What is your most fond memory at your installation Mass?
As I was already residing at St Mary’s Parish one month before my Episcopal Ordination I had a chance to witness firsthand how all the communities worked as a team in preparing for the big occasion. It was a manifestation of a true Church in action. Such community spirit was one of the most important ingredients for growth as St Mary’s Parish would be elevated to become a cathedral parish after the erection of Sandakan Diocese. For me personally, the installation made me aware of the enormous responsibilities ahead that I had to shoulder.
What struck you most when you were informed about assuming a new role of leadership?
When informed of my appointment to be a bishop, I had a deep sense of unworthiness as I also realised my weaknesses and limitations. It is hard to explain in words how I felt at that time.
Knowing that your life would change significantly, how prepared were you to tackle these changes?
Honestly, I was not prepared at all because in the Church, as we all know, unlike in worldly position of leadership, one is not groomed to take the office of bishop, and certainly, the one that is eventually picked for the office never seek nor desire to become a bishop. However, I believe in the participation of the laity, religious and the clergy in carrying the responsibilities in the Church. That is why we speak about cooperation, co-responsibility and collaboration among the people of God. Most importantly, as we all know that the Church is a divine institution and therefore the Lord is present in the Church, through the Holy Spirit, to uphold, to protect, to direct its course according to His will.
What does God’s Divine Plan look like for you in order to accomplish whatever He asks of you? Describe in some detail His Plan in terms of pastoral and spiritual needs of the diocese, the missions and the schools, evangelisation, faith formation, family life, vocations and consecrated life.
I have mentioned about co-responsibility and collaboration among the people of God. Concretely, though at a slow pace, we are building community through BECs. Evangelisation, faith formation, issues confronting the youth, issues related to family life and even vocation to the priesthood and religious life are points of reflection in BEC meetings. I could see that actually BECs give life and sustain the community in all the parishes. As I look back at the last nine years, I am proud to say that through the grace of God and commitment of all (the laity, the religious and the clergy) we have achieved much.
How far would you say His Divine Plan has been accomplished in these nine years?
We are very much aware of the importance of the vision and mission statement of the diocese, as the Book of the Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In fact, we have started the process in 2010 and we are nearing its completion and hopefully, by the grace of God, we will be able to launch our vision and mission statement during the 10th anniversary next year.
What would you say are the major challenges and setbacks, if any, that the diocese has encountered in the last nine years?
It cannot be denied that we still have to endure shortage of priests even with two ordinations to the priesthood and one to the diaconate since the erection of the diocese because the catholic population also increases. According to our statistics, there is an increase of 20% catholic population in the diocese since 2007. Geographically, the Sandakan Diocese is very big, bigger than KK and Keningau dioceses combined, making travelling from one place to another very challenging. Therefore, to meet the spiritual needs of the people is also challenging especially in the remote areas such as Paitan and Telupid.
In this Year of Mercy, what among your diocesan goals have you hoped to revive, renew, strengthen, build, so that the diocese can be more and more the instrument of God’s love and mercy?
During this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we certainly have intensely fixed our gaze on Christ and through many spiritual activities, I believe we also have received abundance of spiritual benefits as well as personal experiences of God’s mercy. But God’s love and mercy are not to be kept as personal “property,” they must be shared generously with others. We, in the Diocese of Sandakan, are the recipients of many migrant workers from neighbouring countries. Therefore, in responding to the exhortation of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, we are committed (though not limited to migrant workers but also to all those in need) in helping the migrant workers in any way we can; to reach out to them so as to meet their spiritual needs, administering the Sacraments where possible. We have also established one or two learning centres for the children of migrant workers, and we try to integrate them into our parishes.