KENINGAU – On the occasion of his 40 years of priesthood, Bishop Cornelius Piong of Keningau reflected on his vocational journey.
“Forty years serving as the servant of God is indeed a long time, nevertheless it feels as if it has just started yesterday. When I look back and reflect all that I have experienced, it is as if it was just a dream. But I am confident that it is all in God’s plan and will not go to waste!” the prelate said.
He noted, “This call to be a priest is not out of mere ‘passion.’ I experienced the birth of this call in an environment where God’s presence is acknowledged and known. Through faith in the family, and in the lives around me, I was able to know and to discern the call to ministerial priesthood, and to realise that God does indeed call workers to serve in his vineyard.”
He said the response to God’s call did not come easy, though the prompting came as early as before high school, and got stronger while schooling in the mission school of St Michael in Penampang. As he was the oldest of his siblings, the onus fell on him to work and support the family after completing Form 3.
“In 1966-1967, I worked as a teacher for a year in St Stephen Primary School, Kiaru Kuala Penyu and as school clerk for another year in St Peter Bundu High School, Kuala Penyu. In those two years, my heart was not at rest because the call to be a priest was still ‘haunting’ me. At the end of 1967, I decided to pack up, left work, family and friends, and entered the pre-seminary in Kota Kinabalu. With God-provided assistance, I believe, I was enabled to finish Form 4-5 studies in Shan Tao High School, Likas in 1968-1969,” he continued.
Reflecting on his decision to go against his parents’ will in order to respond to God’s call, was “indeed an experience that is hard to explain, but I was confident that if God calls, He will equip,” Bishop Cornelius added.
The formation journey began in St Francis Xavier Minor Seminary Singapore (1970-1971) and continued in Penang General College (1972-1976).
Undeterred by the challenging experiences throughout the pastoral courses and activities in the seminary, he persevered, though “there were times that I doubted my decision to be a priest.” He believed that “it was only through God’s mercy” that he was able to persevere until the end, and acknowledged the encouragement and support from the brothers and sisters who stood by him.
After ordination on 27 Mar 1977, he was sent to serve in St Michael, Penampang (1977), St Francis Xavier Keningau and Sook Mission (1978-1980), Bundu Tuhan, Ranau and Telupid (1981-1986).
He was serving in Stella Maris Tg Aru (1986-1987) when he was appointed Vicar General for the diocese of Kota Kinabalu in 1987. After that, he was sent to Sacred Heart Cathedral, KK (1987-1993). At that time, he recalled, there was a severe shortage of priests.
“Sacred Heart Cathedral had several churches under its care namely; St Paul Dontozidon, St Thomas Kepayan, Our Lady Queen of Peace Kobusak, St Catherine Inanam, Good Shepherd Manggatal, Holy Family Telipok and St Peter Kudat. It was a tough and challenging time for us; for myself, Fr Charles Chiew and the late Fr Michael Mewo,” the prelate said.
Since 1993 when the Diocese of Keningau was established, he has been serving at St Francis Xavier Cathedral Keningau until the present time.
Living and ministering as a priest and as bishop, the prelate said, requires faith and wisdom of God.
“Governing, teaching and sanctifying the believers need a service characterised by unity, togetherness and possessing the same shepherding care of Jesus. This is a continuous challenge and I realise many times that I have failed,” he admitted.
“I ask for your forgiveness for the times I have failed you. I thank God for allowing me to learn from the communities of believers, and from the experiences and reactions that I encounter daily with the parishioners, who faithfully encourage me in my priestly ministry,” added the bishop.
Bishop Cornelius also shared a quote from Pope Francis which has helped him to realise what it takes “to form believers who are one in heart and mind” (Ac 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. (Evangelii Gaudium, 31).
The jubilarian concluded his reflection by calling on the families, and especially the youths, “to let oneness with Jesus always be our priority for only in Him comes our sense of responsibility towards the spiritual and physical welfare of our Church.”
He acknowledged and thanked Mother Mary, ‘Tina Za Do Koupusan,” for her protection, his brother priests, all religious and laity for their spirit of togetherness, and everyone involved in organising his anniversary celebration for their sacrifices. – CS