Bishop Cornelius Piong of Keningau Diocese (Image courtesy of KekitaanFM Facebook)

By Agnes Chai

Nov 30 2021

THE COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the community. It has reshaped the face of ministry and pastoring in many different ways. In an interview with Catholic Sabah, Bishop of Keningau Diocese, Bishop Cornelius Piong is offering a window into his day-to-day life being a pastor in the pandemic.

Picking up from his first candid “radio talk show” aired by Radio Online Kekitaan FM in April this year, Bishop Cornelius, who touched 72 this year, has spoken at length about the selection of a new bishop on his retirement in three years’ time.

Assuring his faithful that he has done everything possible to ensure a smooth transition, nevertheless he has indicated that he has more to offer to serve the Lord and His people as he leads the diocese in navigating the pandemic.

Bishop Cornelius lamented that effective caring for the flock during the pandemic is very limited, especially for the elderly and children. He sees It as inevitable as we have to faithfully and consistently adhere to the SOP requirement.

The bishop is adamant that the Church would cooperate in complying with the SOP for every large or small church building across the diocese. The Church takes this stand to protect her faithful and for the common good.

While acknowledging that the pandemic has forced him to limit his face-to-face pastoring, the Keningau prelate reveals that his immediate concern during the pandemic is to keep alive the relationship of the faithful and the clergy with the Lord Jesus, in the spirit of “Umat Allah berjalan bersama dalam Kesatuan, Kesetiaan dan Kekudusan Yesus Kristus” (God’s Faithful journeying together in Unity, Faithfulness and Holiness of Jesus Christ).

He stresses that this spirituality of the diocesan faithful has been the concept of their faith journey since the inception of the diocese.

He is convinced that in order to keep alive in the pandemic our relationship with Jesus and among church members, “we cannot but help to turn to and rely on mass media and the efficient use of technology”.

Inspired by the necessity of feeding the people who are forced to be in isolation by the numerous lockdowns, with the Word of God, the bishop personally prepares short written daily reflections on the Word of God to be disseminated through social media. To augment that, more daily reflections are being offered via the Audio Kopi Rohani.

Recognizing the timing as right, the prelate agreed to create a diocese-own internet radio station to propagate faith. The Radio Online, Kekitaan FM was duly launched on 3 October 2020. Besides faith programs, Kekitaan FM has been used, hand in hand with the diocesan magazine “Gema Keuskupan”, to keep people abreast with diocesan news.

To sustain the faithful in maintaining their worship of God and to have spiritual communion, live daily and Sunday Masses are being broadcasted in most parishes. Although physical Masses have resumed as the MCO eases gradually, participation continues to be limited by SOP restrictions.

In addition, the daily 12-hour Adoration at Rumah Retreat Keuskupan Keningau, Tatal is made available to the faithful.

The rest of the interview

CS: What does a typical day for you look like during the pandemic?

BCP: During the week, my day begins with daily Mass, and Adoration. The afternoons and evenings are spent on administration work, and responding to whatever pastoral activities are allowable.

CS: What do you miss most about the pre-pandemic days?

BCP: I miss the free movement and meeting the people without fear of being infected, or me infecting them.

CS: The most striking change that will affect the pastoral care of the flock in the post-pandemic

BCP: If the pandemic develops into an endemic, nothing much will have to change except that we have to faithfully maintain the SOP in all our pastoral activities until situation really improves.

CS: The most important lesson from the pandemic for the flock, and for the shepherds.

BCP: I hope that the pandemic has made us realize how important it is to appreciate our relationship with one another and not to take it for granted.