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Limbanak transforms ancient graveyard with columbarium

The group poses in front of the columbarium after the blessing rite by Abp John Wong, 4 Oct 2017.

LIMBANAK – St Aloysius here transformed its ancient graveyard with a columbarium.

Community leaders and parishioners turned up to witness the blessing of the columbarium by Archbishop John Wong on 4 Oct 2017 at the Limbanak cemetery.

The idea of a columbarium was mooted when space for tombs became critical, leaving only a small patch of steep hill at the roadside. The pastoral, finance and property committee sought advice from the archbishop and the late pastor Father Fundes Motiung, and proposed to build a columbarium.  It was accepted and completed in September 2017.

The columbarium can accommodate 136 units for bones that could be exhumed from 400 old graves and 128 units for ashes. The cost of these units ranges from RM1,000 to RM1,200.

The acquisition of the present grounds for use as a cemetery dates back to the time of Father August Watcher in 1910 when he built a school on a small hill overlooking Kampung Limbanak.

The parcel of land on which the school and the church stand today was bought by Msgr Wachter from Madam Molini Tongginal and Motiung Matalang. In recent years the adjoining land from Peter Jaua and Johnson Sua were also purchased by the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu.

The school cum church was a one-classroom shed with roof made of sago palm leaves and was partially walled with hand sawn planks sourced from the neighbouring hills. The shed was 120 feet long and 50 feet wide and its floor was bare earth. The school was named after St Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron saint of youth.

Another piece of hilly land of about an acre behind the church was subsequently acquired. Villagers seldom ventured into this jungle, not because of the thick foliage therein but because of the existence of several ancient graves with claims of strange sightings.

Over the years the jungle was cleared and became a burial ground. The cemetery became popular and terraces were made in the late 1970s with the intention to maximise utilization of the land. Within a span of 20 years, there was hardly any space left. The caretakers then, Bestan John and Benedict Puvok, declared that the cemetery was full except for the steep part of the hill.

A landslide occurred in 2014 which affected over 10 graves. The PFPC activated a cemetery committee headed by Winston Sibinil. Guided by Fr Fundes, permission from the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu was obtained to restore the affected graves.

The landslide prompted the church elders to consider the possibility of building concrete tombs along the steep hill. The cemetery committee worked very hard to promote burial in concrete tombs, a totally new concept in Limbanak. The initial lukewarm response was very challenging. There was literally no fund and the project suddenly appeared to be massive with no previous experience in building concrete tombs.

With prayers and moral support from Fr Fundes and the PFPC, by late 2015 the number of potential bookings indicated that the project was viable. Over 100 concrete tombs were constructed and offered to the parishioners residing around Kg Limbanak. Funds generated covered the cost of construction and the tombs were snapped up in no time.

Sibinil in his briefing said, “We have been receiving bookings for the tombs and we are planning to build more in the second phase in the same area.”  He added that in order to make way for the next phase of concrete tombs his committee plans to contact the relatives of those buried in the 30-year old graves to use the columbarium for the bones exhumed.

Also present among others to witness the transformation of an ancient graveyard to that of a friendly and graceful park were Father Wilfred Atin, pastor of St Michael’s Parish, and Luvita Koisun of the District Office Penampang.

Abp Wong commended the committee for their commitment and hard work in managing and developing the cemetery.

Fr Atin also thanked all generous donors and parishioners for supporting the cemetery and columbarium project in Limbanak. He added that being new in the Penampang parish, he hoped to be able to immerse with the people to learn more about their needs and to enable him to serve more effectively in the parish. – Blasius Binjua

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