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Sandakan – “We are disciples and brothers in Christ even if we are socially separated. Christ’s mission does not stop when we are separated to contain the spread of the virus”, said Mgr. Julius Dusin Gitom, Bishop of Sandakan, in the province of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. Mgr. Gitom is the first bishop of the diocese who celebrated his 14th anniversary of episcopal ordination last October.
“Life goes on, Christ’s mission continues, formation of the faith and other pastoral programs must continue”, said the Bishop. “In the current circumstances, pastoral programs can only be effective if we learn to adapt and to take a new approach. Therefore, in the Diocese of Sandakan, each parish is encouraged to continue religious formation and other pastoral activities online whenever possible”.
The Bishop notes that the pandemic has affected the personal, community and pastoral life of all and that the diocese has therefore had to make some adjustments in pastoral work. “Unfortunately, only a small part of the pastoral plan 2021-2022 can be implemented”, he regrets in this context, “as it is restricted by Covid-19. But the Lord accompanies us even under these extraordinary circumstances”. “Undoubtedly we have all experienced hardship, pain, struggles and difficulties, but the poor, the migrant communities and the marginalized have been hardest hit. In addition, some of them have lost their jobs and sources of income”, the prelate continued.
In the crisis situation, the faithful and the whole population showed great solidarity: “I am happy to see that in difficult times we learn to look after one another”, added the Bishop. According to the bishop, some parishes even set up “food banks” during this time, from which those in need can collect their daily provisions. “The health crisis has affected the economic, social and spiritual lives of some people, but life must go on”, he says, “because we cannot be held hostage by the pandemic forever”. Because of the pandemic, the bishop is limiting some of his pastoral visits to the parishes and dedicating himself even more to prayer, but “the Church must continue to try to be close to local communities with its pastoral work”, he says. Before the pandemic, many things were taken for granted. “Maybe we also take our life for granted and forget that life is not ours, but a gift from God and must be given back to him”, said the bishop. With the pandemic, he concludes, “God is asking us to take care of our lives, not just our lives here on earth, but especially our afterlife; God is telling us to take care of each other”.