KUCHING – In a statement released in March 2017, retired Archbishop John Ha talked about his request for early retirement ahead of the canonical age candidly.
With my successor found, the Most Reverend Simon Poh Hoon Seng, I am now able to retire with peace of mind and heart. I certainly feel a profound relief and joy deep within me. To me, this sense of relief and joy are an affirmation that I have made the right decision to request the Holy Father’s approval for my resignation from the Archbishop’s Office ahead of the canonical age.
On hearing the official announcement of my “resignation,” many have asked “WHY?” I guess the term “resignation” which is the canonical term carries some negative connotations like ill health, inappropriate conduct, disillusionment. To clear the air, I now share my reason for my decision to request for early retirement.
The Holy Father’s acceptance of my request for stepping down prematurely from the Archbishop’s Office was announced on 4 March 2017, deliberately timed to coincide with my 70th birthday. My reason for this timing was that I thought the age of 70 would be readily accepted as grounds for early retirement.
Thinking back, I suppose I could say that at the rock bottom, my reason for requesting for early retirement is my love for the Church, though this may not have been so explicit in my mind. I have been deeply inspired and encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI who resigned from the papacy a few years ago primarily because he had realised that in his condition then he would not able to lead the Church as effectively as the Church deserved.
Over the last few years, I have been increasingly feeling my age as it gradually manifested its symptoms – brevity of attention, frequent lapses of memory, quick mental exhaustion at meetings. In addition, I gradually felt worn out by challenges from within and from without myself, personally as well as the Church. At times, I felt rather discouraged if not totally helpless. Administrative work also started to take its toll on me, so much so, that I began to feel it more as a burden than as a joyful ministry.
I felt that these gradually debilitating realities of mine must not be allowed to hamper the growth of the Archdiocese of Kuching. I saw the need for an Auxiliary Bishop – one who is obviously younger, but also more capable, more energetic, more resilient and even more charismatic than myself. I, therefore, took a considered decision to write to Cardinal Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, Holy See, to request for an Auxiliary. Bishop Simon was appointed and ordained in September 2015.
With him as my Auxiliary, I was able to share several administrative and pastoral responsibilities with Bishop Simon. In the process, I saw his aptitude and capability. I also looked at the other two Bishops (Bishop Joseph Hii of Sibu and Bishop Richard Ng of Miri). Any one of these three Bishops could easily take over from me as the Archbishop of Kuching. Thus, in September last year, I confidently and courageously submitted another request to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples – this time for a successor. Acting on my request, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Joseph Marino, conducted an extensive consultation. The appointment of Bishop Simon as my successor resulted from this consultation.
Of course, I am very glad that Bishop Simon has been appointed to succeed me. This is because he has been very actively involved in the pastoral care of the Archdiocese. As a result of this involvement of his, he truly knows the in’s and out’s of the Archdiocese. His appointment assures continuity as well as progress of the Archdiocese.
Archbishop Simon Poh has taken canonical possession of the Archdiocese of Kuching. To him I say, “Congratulations and thank you, Simon.” To all the Catholics of the Archdiocese, I say: “Archbishop Simon Poh is now your Archbishop. We thank God for him and I am sure you will give him full support and keep him in your prayers. May God make him the shepherd we need and deserve – a shepherd after Christ’s own heart.”