Seminarian Joseph Laundy has described how he swapped Perth’s familiar Mediterranean climate for the steamy jungles of Borneo during a recent pastoral assignment to Malaysia.
Mr Laundy spent three months in Bunan Gega, a small village in the region of Sarawak near the Malaysian-Indonesian border, during his fourth year of studies at St Charles’ Seminary.
The experience, which he described as a privilege, undoubtedly had a great effect on him.
Mr Laundy recalled that one of the most important errands in the life of the parish was the Holy Communion circuit, during which he would accompany the priest to outstations and distribute Holy Communion to the elderly and infirm.
“It was literally mission-on-wheels. On one particular day, the priest and I must have visited over 50 houses,” he said.
“The vehicle to get around was a rusty, but trusty, four-wheel drive that probably had seen better days in the 1980s and it copped a lot on the rocky roads.”
While each visit was fairly straightforward and only lasted five to seven minutes, Mr Laundy said the day’s work could easily reach seven hours when travel time was included.
“Each visit, however, was a chance to witness the profound faith of the people. It was particularly beautiful to witness the elderly communicants welcome Christ into their homes and receive the Bread of Life,” he said.
“Many had nurtured the faith throughout their lives and, at this stage of their lives, were unable to make the journey to the parish Church on Sunday, which involved making a rough and long journey through the mountainous terrain.”
Mr Laundy explained that it was common for the extended family of the person receiving Holy Communion to gather around for the occasion, their heads bowed and hands joined in prayer.
They often prepared a simple altar, complete with burning candles, a small statue or a holy picture, he added.
“The faith present in the room was very moving. Here, present in the isolation of the jungle, the elderly couple were practising as living sacramental witnesses in front of their families and to the entire village,” he said.
While he was in Bunan Gega, Mr Laundy also learnt about the first missionary priest in the area, who arrived in the 1960s.
This priest was described as a saint due to his tireless work evangelising and celebrating the Sacraments, he said.
“On one occasion, to visit a sick parishioner, the missionary priest had to climb across the mountainous terrain throughout the night to anoint and give viaticum,” he said.
“The journey involved summiting mountains and crossing the same river 13 times due to its snake-like meandering through the valley floor. It seemed so foreign to us as we drove in the relative comfort of a four-wheel drive.”
Mr Laundy concluded that his time living in the jungles of Borneo taught him a valuable lesson, one which inspired him on his journey towards priesthood.
“We stand on the shoulders of giants who have received, nurtured and passed on the faith to us,” he said.
“The heroic example of past missionaries inspires us to continue the noble tradition of spreading the faith to others who are hungry for the Word of God.”