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Beatrice Beth Baikan, who holds a doctoral degree in Turfgrass Science/Golf Course Environmental Management from Cornell University USA, writes on her journey with her cousin, the late Father Fundes Motiung, who died on 4 Sept 2017.
It was on Easter Monday of 2000, that I had the first of many conversations with my beloved little cousin brother, the late Father Fundes Motiung, regarding his state of health, the beginning of his journey of silent sufferings and pains.
It was customary for him to drop by my office whenever he was in Donggongon as he was now serving in the Penampang Parish. Though we had just reconnected several months earlier after years of going our separate ways during our college years and my long absence from Sabah due to my college years, the bond of our family’s closeness was never broken and we instantly reconnected as if we were never separated, reminiscing our childhood.
“Beth, I am dying” he said as he slumped on the chair in front of me. I looked at this handsome young cousin of mine who was just ordained priest barely two years, right in the eye and asked him, “Why are you talking about death? Are you tired of living?” He cast his eyes down and with a serious tone, he said, “Beth, I am ill and I am dying.” “What’s wrong?” I asked as I sensed the seriousness of his voice. “The doctor said that my white blood cell is very high” he said resignedly, and has confirmed that he has leukemia.
I felt a deep pang of pain in my heart and I was lost for words to comfort him at that moment. All I could say was a promise to journey with him in his pain and sufferings and in whatever I could do.
“I don’t know why God put you through this but there must be a reason… I will journey with you in this. You will not bear this alone,” I promised him.
It saddened me that a young priest who wanted to dedicate his life to the service of the Lord was given such a heavy cross to bear before he could see the fruit of his service. Having been just ordained priest, he was at the beginning of his prime years; how could this happen to this young vibrant priest? I wondered.
The Church and the Bishop, in their wisdom, decided that it was best for Fr Fundes to get treatment in Rome where medical facilities were advance and medical specialists in the disease were readily available. Hence he left for his year-long treatment in Rome. But a year later after he began treatment, he was told to try a new drug for leukemia in Singapore.
So he returned to Sabah and began his arduous travel to Singapore on a monthly basis for his treatment while carrying out his pastoral duty in Sabah. His frequent travels to Singapore were not without glitch as there were many instances of fainting and collapsing due to his weakening body.
Despite all the pains and sufferings that he was going through, he soldiered on tirelessly to minister the flock God has entrusted him. He soldiered on preaching the Gospel of Christ and bringing the lost back to Christ. In the four years after returning from Rome and while undergoing treatment in Singapore and administering the medication on himself, he never complained. He never slacked in his priestly duties. He carried on his pastoral duties silently and obediently, always uniting his sufferings to the wounds of Christ and accepting wherever he was posted, even forgetting that he was ill.
He never showed his sufferings and pain to others but carried on his pastoral duties with zeal and love for the people and the Eucharist. When it comes to pastoral duties, there was no arguing with him. He was determined to carry on, whether he was in pain or not. He spoke passionately of his vow of obedience.
But as the years went by, the pain at times became too much and unbearable, and he was getting weaker and weaker.
A week before we gathered to celebrate his 40th birthday in 2005, he pulled a chair in front of me and said “Beth, please help me find a cure. It’s too painful and I can’t bear the pricks of the needles anymore – there is no part of my body that has not been pricked by the needle and I can’t bear the pain. Please Beth, help me.”
I was determined to bring him for treatment in the USA and was preparing for the trip. But the trip to the USA wasn’t to be as just two days later, on his birthday, he collapsed while celebrating a wedding Mass at Stella Maris.
He was only a few days in the ward and with streams of people and parishioners coming to see him, he contracted a lung infection and turned for the worst with serious case of pneumonia that he was then admitted to the intensive care unit. It was the most critical stage of his health and he wasn’t able to breathe. Families, friends and parishioners were keeping vigils for him; thousands of faithful were united in prayer for his healing but his condition was getting more and more critical. By the third day in the ICU, the doctor asked us to prepare for the worst.
Receiving the news that Fr Fundes was out of danger was one of the greatest miracles that I have witnessed of how God, in His great mercy and compassion, heard and answered the fervent and united prayers of all the faithful to give him reprieve from his sufferings.
Eight days later, he was discharged. Though he continued to go for treatment in Singapore and taking his medication on a daily basis, his health continued to improve to a bearable level that he was able to soldier on in his priestly mission…never complaining, always joyful, always loving his duties.
For the next ten years, he often joked that his body had now turned to chemical due to the medicine he has to take on a daily basis.
As his health continued to improve, I retreated back to my own chores, only journeying with him from behind the scene, knowing that he would know where to find me when he needed to. Journeying with him also meant that I must let other people who equally love and care about him the chances to care for him.
On 30 Oct 2016, Fr Fundes was re-admitted and I fell on my knees and prayed the same prayer I had prayed 12 years earlier before the Blessed Sacrament. I pleaded with God to spare his life once again.
A week later, I flew back to be with him in the hospital. It was the last heart to heart talk we had on his condition. He talked about his readiness for death and that he had already accomplished what he set out to do. Though, he said, he hoped that he would be able to do more, he was aware that it wasn’t going to be. “Beth, it has been 16 years. I am thankful that I live for 16 years with these sufferings,” he said.
Although in my most selfish heart I prayed and wrestled with God that he would be well again and stayed longer to continue to minister, but God knew and saw that he was tired and needed an eternal rest.
Even in the last few minutes of his life, I tried to wrestle with God, pleading Him to revive Fr Fundes, but deep within my heart, I heard Father [Fundes] say to me, “Beth, I can’t bear the pain anymore – no part of my body that has not been pricked with needles and I don’t want the needles anymore” and painfully and with aching heart, I watched him breathe his last.