An Exploration. Kuching, Mount Singai
Climbing the holy mountain, Mount Singai.
After early morning Mass at the seminary chapel, with its distinctive mosaic depicting Abraham's vision of the stars of heaven, Fr Albert Jacobse mhm joined us for breakfast.
Then we set off for Mt Singai, a drive of about a half hour. I was really looking forward of climbing the thousand and seven steps of this pilgrimage site. Fr Terry Burke mhm, the local Society Reprensetative, had arranged to Vincent Eddy ak Sireng, the site's dynamic manager, would be there to accompany us. Soon after we left Kuching we drove into a torrential downpour and it looked for a short while as if we would have to turn back. But as we came closer the rain turned to drizzle and we could proceed. Vincent Eddy was there at the entrance as arranged.
We started our climb almost immediately after arrival at the visitors' parking lot. I learnt that lots of pilgrims, individuals, whole families, but also large groups ( last year a youth camp of several hundred participants) come here to walk the 14 stations of the cross up Mt Singai to the large pilgrimage kampong’’ (village) further up the slope at the last station. Others, also Muslims, walk up past the pilgrimage centre to the very top of Mt Singai just out of interest and for purposes of exercise.
On the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the first arrival of missionaries at this site Fr Sepp Schmölzer who is the motor behind the present memorial site came on a visit. Fr Terry Burke described his ascent of Mt Singai on that occasion:
"I cannot say that we actually followed in the footsteps of Father Felix Westerwout or those other early Mill Hill men, because we climbed a fairly recent wooden plank-walk of 1007 steps, whereas, 130 years ago, those first missionaries scrambled up the earthen face of the mountain – but, at each step I took, I marveled at the love and service, in the hearts of those early MHMs, which prompted and sustained them and the Sisters, the FMSJs, who later joined them in their mission. They came, they climbed that very steep mountain and despite the rather hostile reception they received, they stayed – not only for a day, like me, but for years. They built a place to live, they started a small school and sought to reach out, in any way they could, to help improve the life of the Bidayuh – for the Gospel is a message of “life” and we preach it by whatever helps people live more richly."
(Read the description of an early visit by Fr Aelen – from our archives: See attachment.)
We stopped at each station as we walked up the well-built wooden plank-walk – all made of 'belian' iron wood – saying an Our Father and catching our breath. The rain had stopped by now but the foliage of the impressive rain forest giants on the slopes still dripped thick drops upon us. As we progressed the wooden stairs got steeper and seemingly longer. It struck me that the bronze images of the stations were gleaming brightly due to pilgrims readily touching them, as did Albert, as a sign of devotion. The people here are very tactile. From time to time we would meet people coming down from the top and invariably Albert would strike up a conversation. The joy of being an extrovert! When we got to the top I was utterly amazed at the extensive set of wooden buildings, a whole village with longhouses including a beautiful chapel, that had been constructed here over the years since 1981. And to think that all this material was carried up these slopes by volunteers and by hand – gotong royong’’, they call that here, collective voluntary labour.
As I walked around the site deeply I was deeply moved by thoughts of the early missionaries who started here but did not themselves see the fruits of their labour. In a small commemorative hall with hundreds of photographs marking the mile stone occasions of the site I discovered to my utter amazement a letter with photo of the General Council I have been a member of! Vincent Eddy, our companion and guide, gave me a commemorative Tshirt and two booklets detailing the history of the site.
Walking up Mt Singai felt like a fitting conclusion to my visit to Sarawak. An image both of the hard struggles of the early pioneers, and of the vibrancy of the Christian communities now. God has truly blessed both the sowing and the reaping.
Fons Eppink mhm