Bishop Simon Poh shares his thoughts about Episcopal Ordination

Reflecting on my faith journey, I realise that St Joseph’s School was where my faith was planted, nurtured, grew and matured. In gratitude to my Alma Mater, as “a son of St Joseph who is responding to God’s call,” I am using the profile of the School Badge in my episcopal Coat of Arms.

Oct 08, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR (Herald Malaysia): The focus of the ordination celebration is about God’s blessing and mercy for the Archdiocese of Kuching which is in the midst of a one-year preparation for its 40th anniversary.

Today’s Catholic is a monthly publication by the Archdiocese of Kuching. They interviewed the Bishop before the ordination.

Congratulations, Bishop-Elect Simon on your recent appointment! Were you surprised by the appointment?

Yes indeed I was. We were recently blessed with two new appointments of Bishop Richard Ng for Miri Diocese and Archbishop Julian Leow for Kuala Lumpur in 2014. So, like everyone else, I was not expecting any new appointment of bishops.

On 9 July, when I was appointed as the Auxiliary Bishop of Kuching and the Titular Bishop of Sfasferia, I actually googled and found that Sfasferia was an ancient Diocese of Rome that is no longer in existence. It is located in today’s Algeria. A friend jokingly told me that it sounded like the movie Fast & Furious.

How did your journey of faith begin?

I come from a family of five siblings, with my Dad and Mum. I am the eldest son. Our whole family became Catholic in 1979-1980. Looking back, God had already prepared me through the catechism classes in St Joseph’s Primary (1970-1975) and Secondary Schools (1976-1982). As I recall, I came to know about Jesus when I was in Primary One. On my bookshelf, I still have the series of primary school catechism books through which the seed of Faith was planted in my little heart. It was only in 1979, while I was in Form 4, that I was baptised, after a year-long catechesis with Br Columba Gleeson. As a new Catholic, I joined the School Young Christian Students (YCS), Legion of Mary (Our Lady of Star Praesidium) and St Joseph’s Cathedral’s Altar Servers.

Reflecting on my faith journey, I realise that St Joseph’s School was where my faith was planted, nurtured, grew and matured. In gratitude to my Alma Mater, as “a son of St Joseph who is responding to God’s call,” I am using the profile of the School Badge in my episcopal Coat of Arms.

What made you want to be a priest and were you inspired by anyone?

Our Lord had a wonderful way of involving me after my Baptism. When I started serving during Sundays and weekday Masses, I began to experience the presence of Jesus in the Word and in the Eucharist. I would often feel a deep sense of peace.

The late Fr Josef Wassermann was my parish priest at that time. Most evenings, he could be seen walking to the neighbourhood family rosary prayers. His commitment and dedication, his adoration before the Blessed Sacrament during Holy Hour in May and October Rosary months have greatly inspired me.

During Lower 6, I heard God’s gentle whisper calling me to serve at his altar. The initial question on my mind then was not “Do I want to be a priest?” It was something simpler: “Would I be willing to enter the seminary to answer God’s call?” Thus, I made a leap of faith and entered St Peter’s College seminary. In 1988, I was ordained a priest by Archbishop Peter Chung. I am honoured that he will be one of the co-consecrating Bishops during my episcopal ordination.

I can recall clearly that just a few days before this announcement in July, our Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Joseph Marino, on behalf of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, asked me whether I was willing to accept the appointment to be an Auxiliary Bishop. Deep within me, I knew that I had to make this journey of faith again. And so I accepted it willingly, with a humble heart, to serve God’s people in the Archdiocese.

What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a good shepherd?

Last month in August, I made a retreat with Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the episcopal ordination. I was blessed with his guidance and have come to understand that the ministry of a bishop is a call to be a shepherd for the flock – priests and faithful – entrusted to me. I am sure you notice that bishops always carry a ‘tongkat’. This is called a crosier and it symbolises the staff of a shepherd and is handed to every bishop at ordination.

I will seek to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. As his shepherd, I will be called to sanctify the people by celebrating the Sacraments; to govern by providing pastoral care; to preach the Gospel of mercy, hope and joy. He (a bishop) is to do this with the heart of a servant-leader. This corresponds to the Church as a Priestly People; Kingly People; Prophetic People; and Servant.

In my Coat of Arms, I use symbols of the Chalice, “Baruk” House, the Bible and a Jug of Water – to represent the four areas of ministry. And so, for my episcopal motto, I have chosen Pastor Cordis Christi (Latin) which translates as “Shepherd of the Heart of Christ.”

With God’s grace, I will look after our priests, our people in the parishes and work together in solidarity with the other bishops in Malaysia, and in communion with Pope Francis, our Holy Father as the Bishop of Rome.

May I ask you to keep me in your prayers, that I will be a shepherd after the heart of Jesus, whom God would like to give to his people (Jer 3:15).

You have been guiding young people for many years. What have you learnt from them in return?

Yes, the youth ministry has been very close to my heart, having spent about 20 years ministering to the youth. One of my greatest joys is to bless the weddings of the youths that I have journeyed with while they were in school, Young Christian Students, Legion of Mary, Parish Youth Ministry, KAYA discipleship formation, Campus and CHOICE single adult ministry. It is an immense satisfaction to baptise their children and to see these families coming to Church together. It is so encouraging to see these youths passing on their Faith to the next generation. This offers great hope for the Church.

The ministry with the youth has also formed me to be a better pastor. From them, I learnt to be patient and understanding, to trust by empowering them with responsibilities, to allow them space to learn and, if they do make mistakes, with a compassionate heart, to be available to help them pick up the pieces, to stand up and journey on. As for those on the road to Emmaus, I pray that these youth, and all of us, will encounter and experience Jesus accompanying and walking beside us in our journey of life as his disciples (see Luke 24:13-25).

What challenges do you anticipate as bishop?

This might be too early for me to give you a full response.

In our Archdiocese, I see that we have been blessed with great shepherds in Archbishop Emeritus Peter Chung, and now, Archbishop John Ha. Their Pastoral Letters over the years have already provided the foundations and vision for the Archdiocese. Recently, after the 5-year Focus on the Family (2007-2012), we concluded with the ACTs of the Congress, where Archbishops, Priests, Religious and Faithful carved out the Vision-Mission for the whole Archdiocese. Many of the challenges faced in our time are already envisioned in the ACTS.

As an auxiliary Bishop, I will be working with Archbishop John Ha to implement this vision. As a Church, we will definitely need to work together, and with all people of goodwill, to respond to the growing religious fundamentalism, political and racial polarisation, erosion of religious liberty, etc that affect all of us as Malaysians.

In our particular context in Sarawak, where the majority of our Catholics are in the rural parishes and villages, we will need to raise up new leaders from the youth, through education and formation and, at the same time, to empower the existing leaders of these faith communities in the villages. We will also need to look into demographic change as a result of rural-urban migration as well as our aging population, with rising average age of the elderly population. I hasten to add that I am also contributing to the average rates.

Allow me to also highlight the concern for the ecology and the poor in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, stating the “urgent challenge to protect our common home … to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development (n.13).”

Bishop Simon Poh Profile in Brief

Simon Poh Hoon Seng was born on April 15, 1963 in Sri Aman, the first of five siblings and was later baptized in St Joseph’s Cathedral on November 13, 1979. Following his baptism, he joined the School Young Christian Students, Legion of Mary (Our Lady of Star Praesidium) and St Joseph’s Cathedral’s Altar Servers. After studying in St Joseph’s Primary (1970-1975) and Secondary (1976-1982) Catholic Mission Schools, he entered the Major Seminary of St Peter’s College, Kuching in 1982.

At the age of 25 he was ordained as a priest at St Joseph’s Cathedral.

In 1988, Fr Simon Poh was the assistant parish priest of the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Sri Aman until the year 1991 when he was appointed assistant priest of St Stephen’s Church, Bau followed by the post as assistant parish priest of St Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching in 1993. A year later, he pursued a Licentiate in Missiology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, Italy which he obtained in 1996.

From the year 1997 to 2000, Fr Simon Poh was the Parish Priest of St Ann’s Mission, Kota Padawan while also holding the post of External lecturer for Missiology, Evangelization in Asia, Pastoral Ministry and Social Communications in St Peter’s College, Kuching where he currently holds the same position.

In the year 2001, Fr Simon Poh studied Mandarin in Fu Ren University, Taiwan and that same year, was made Vocations Director and full-time director of youth and campus ministries, holding the post until 2006.

He added Spiritual Director for seminarians in St Peter’s College, Kuching to his repertoire in the year 2003 and still holds the post. In 2006, he became the Chairman of Commission for Mission and Human Development and, the following year, added Director of Pontifical Mission Societies in the Kuching Archdiocese to his belt, and he still holds that position.

Fr Simon Poh was appointed Parish Priest of St Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching in 2012 and currently holds the post. On May 8, 2015, he obtained a Doctorate Degree in Ministry at the Graduate Theological Foundation, Indiana, USA.

On July 9, 2015, Fr Simon Poh was appointed Titular Bishop of Sfasferia and Auxiliary Bishop of Kuching by His Holiness, Pope Francis.

Bishop Simon Poh was ordained by Archbishop John Ha, with Archbishop Emeritus Peter Chung and Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom co-consecrators on Sept 24, 2015.

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