A pilgrimage to green parishes

The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SHC) organised a pilgrimage to the parishes in north and central Johore from April 10 to 12.

Apr 26, 2024

The beauty of nature at Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pontian.

By Dr Maria Lee and Karen-Ann Theseira
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (SHC) organised a pilgrimage to the parishes in north and central Johore from April 10 to 12. Members from the Creation Justice Commission of the Diocese of Malacca Johore, jumped at the opportunity to learn about the best environmentally friendly practices of these churches. A ‘green’ pilgrimage within a pilgrimage.

Day 1 – Kota Tinggi, Mersing, Yong Peng and Kluang
The first stop was Church of St Elizabeth in Kota Tinggi, the patroness of Catholic charities and of the Secular Franciscan Order. Pilgrims were given an interesting history of the church which was finally completed, consecrated and opened by Bishop James Chan on August 18, 1991. Helen Wong, Patricia Lee and Rosa Soh from the church committee showed us the well-organised recycling area used to store recyclables. Funds from the sale of recyclables goes towards the maintenance of the church. To preserve the flowers donated to the church by parishioners, fridges are used.

Pilgrims enjoyed a delicious lunch at Church of St Peter in Mersing, our second stop. The quaint church serves about 80 Catholics, mostly East Malaysian soldiers and their families stationed in the locality. Church coordinator Christopher Lee explained how the church refuses to resort to paving the car park and the surrounding area, choosing gravel and grass instead. Christopher added that the cut grass is placed on top of and in between the gravel and this acts as a sponge to absorb water, thus cooling down the area.

The church also uses LED and a light sensor system. To further reduce wastage: plates and cutlery are used at events held at church.

Chapel of St Anthony in Yong Peng was the third stop on the pilgrimage. This chapel which comes under the purview of the Church of St Henry in Batu Pahat, felt airy and comfortable without any air-conditioning, just fans.

The final stop on day one - which included dinner, was Church of St Louis in Kluang. Msgr Peter Ng the current parish priest, is an advocate of environmentally friendly practices at the parish. Kimbelle Lee from the church committee informed us that parishioners are encouraged to bring their own water bottles which they can fill up at the water cooler. Parishioners are also provided with proper plates and cutlery which they have to wash after use. Kimbelle added that announcements are made and videos shown at Mass to create awareness on environmental issues.

Day Two - Cha’ah, Labis, Segamat, Tangkak, Muar and Batu Pahat
On day two, pilgrims visited the Church of St Anthony in Cha’ah. In 1968, Fr Bernard Binet, MEP, was assigned as the first parish priest and it was during Fr Bernard’s tenure that the church became an independent parish. Solar panels are used to power the spotlights in the compound and even the light of Jesus! Esther Ezra from the church committee mentioned that 30 families make up the congregation. On the grounds of the church, there is a Sacrarium where materials used in sacred rites are deposited or poured away.

The pilgrimage continued on to Church of St Simon in Labis. The parish has seen new facilities and upgrades over the last few years. In 2022, the construction of a new road in Labis changed the entrance to the church. This parish also has a recycling program overseen by church committee member Juvy Padilla Candia, with the help of her husband who drives the lorry of goods to the recycling centre.

Lunch was provided at the Church of St Philip in Segamat. This parish turns 100 this year and the feast day falls on May 3. We were indeed glad to see plates and cutlery used at lunch as this results in minimal single use plastic ending up in the landfill. Solar lamps could be seen on the church grounds.

The pilgrimage moved on to the Church of St Matthew in Tangkak. Priest in Residence Fr Bartholomew Wong, welcomed the pilgrims and gave a short talk about the parish; the construction of the beautiful parish was completed in 2010. The rain harvesting system found here helps greatly to conserve water and reduce water bills. The church, with her high ceilings and large doors on the sides, is airy and cool, thus reducing the carbon footprint.

In 1908, a MEP priest, Fr Henri Jules Duvelle, baptised 16 local people which led to the growth of the local Catholic faith. Fr Henri would be indeed overjoyed at what the Church of St Andrew in Muar has become. The new Parish Pastoral Council chairperson, James Lee, has many exciting plans for the parish; composting, a nursery and vegetable garden. James would like the catechism children to learn to care for and appreciate Creation through an ‘adopt a plant’ programme. The parish has a recycling centre managed by SSVP. The church is air-conditioned with the fans on in tandem for more effective air circulation.

Church of St Henry in Batu Pahat was the last parish visited on day two and dinner was provided. Amidst the lush greenery, lies the stunning parish which was once selected as the symbol of the Christian church in the civic textbook of primary schools in the country. This parish is an architectural marvel devoid of columns and surrounded by vertical louvres and perforated windows for natural ventilation.

Day Three – Pontian and Pekan Nenas
On the third and final day, pilgrims visited the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Pontian. This charming parish serves a small Catholic community of about 50 families. The lush fruit trees found behind the parish add to her charm.

The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Pekan Nenas concluded the pilgrimage. This parish is similar to the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in size and charm. A lovely surprise found behind the parish delighted many pilgrims; a grotto of Mother Mary surrounded by beautiful flowers and opulent plants. Fr Dr Lawrence Ng is the parish administrator of both of these parishes and graciously welcomed the bus loads of pilgrims at each parish.

It was so heartening to see parishes, big and small taking measures in bigger and smaller ways to be better stewards of Creation.

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