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Ruby jubilarian Fr Thomas Makajil resonates with ‘missionary’ call

SANDAKAN – On the occasion of his ruby jubilee celebration, Fr Thomas Makajil celebrated a thanksgiving Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral here Nov 6, with Bishop Julius Gitom as the main celebrant, and Msgr Nicholas Ong, who a month ago celebrated his own ruby jubilee, and seven other priests as concelebrants.

Fr Thomas is the resident priest of Paitan Mission, the only missionary area in the Diocese of Sandakan.

The jubilarian shared about his recent visit to Catholic Sabah in Kota Kinabalu. He was there to see an old friend, and noticed the tremendous changes and many new staff, one of whom recognized him and exclaimed, “You are the ‘missionary’ in Paitan!”

The word “missionary” struck him and challenged him to the core. He resonated deeply to the words of the Holy Father calling the clergy and religious to move out of their comfort zone, and to be with the people, tending to their needs. Clergy and religious are likened to shepherds living with the smell of the sheep, leading the flocks with compassion and dedication, Pope Francis underlines.

Fr Makajil shared his reflection drew him to recall Jesus’ mission as written in the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This, he maintained, is the core mission of the Church to which all, clergy and lay, are called.

At the subscribed jubilee dinner celebrated at Hakka Hall with 300 parishioners and invited guests, Bishop Gitom congratulated both Msgr Ong and Fr Makajil on the joyous occasion of the 40th anniversary of their priestly ministry.

To Fr Makajil, he spoke of the jubilarian’s steadfastness and love for the Church, attesting him as “a true shepherd after the heart of Christ” and “one always out on the road nurturing and leading the flock”.

 He acknowledged that the Diocese is indeed blessed to have a priest who is passionate, dedicated, generous and whose main concern is for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

Fr Thomas thanked and glorified God for all the blessings showered on him throughout his 40 years of priestly ministry. He thanked Bishop Gitom for the opportunity to serve in Paitan Mission.

He spoke of his dream of seeing “the empowerment of the laity who made up 99% of the body of the Church alongside the clergy and the religious, living the faith as best as they can. Both laity and clergy have complementary roles in ministry and mission”.

Fr Makajil was ordained by Bishop Simon Fung in St Michael Penampang on November 11, 1978.  Born and raised up a Penampang lad, he had his early education in Inobong and Penampang.

Interestingly, Makajil’s first appointment was to assist Fr Thomas Sham in Holy Trinity Tawau (1977-1980).  He was next assigned to Sacred Heart Cathedral and St Michael Penampang (1981-82), while at the same time serving as Associate Editor of Catholic Sabah and editor of the Kadazandusun Section. 

Other parishes where he has served included St Catherine Inanam, St Valentine Beaufort, St Patrick Membakut, St Peter Bundu, St John Sipitang, back to St Michael again, St Theresa Tambunan, Holy Cross Toboh, St Joseph Papar, Holy Rosary Limbahau, and currently in the Diocese of Sandakan (incardinated).

On the occasion of his Silver Jubilee in 2003, Fr Makajil said of himself “I have not achieved any spectacular achievements in terms of building infrastructures. I must acknowledge that I am not a builder, but I have reached out and have worked with the people. I rejoice knowing that I have done my best to walk humbly with them and allowed them to feel that the Church is a welcoming Church.”

In a nutshell, Fr Thomas Makajil fits Pope Francis’ description of “a shepherd living with the smell of the sheep”.

     Fr Makajil has admitted that he is most at home working with “simple rural and non- sophisticated people”, and that is why he is grateful to his Bishop for his current assignment in Paitan Mission. – DOSPO / CS

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