Bishop Julius Gitom carrying out the Rite of Incensation of the Altar and the Church 

By SOCCOM / Hazzel Kong & Evelyn Jock

Jan 14 2022

SANDAKAN – The restoration of St Joseph’s Church, Sandakan took longer than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020. 

The transformation upon its completion, however, was amazing. The complete restoration of the Church, which comes with a Catechetical Hall, was celebrated on 19 December 2021, with a Mass of Rededication of the Altar and Church by Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom, Bishop of the Diocese of Sandakan, who is also the patron for the building project.  

Bishop Julius was assisted at Mass by parish priest, Fr David Garaman and assistant priest, Fr Stephen Esguerra.

St Joseph’s Church was built in 1971 and has undergone minor repairs and maintenance through the years.  After half a century, the Church was due for a complete makeover. 

The completed Church has a new and fresh look about it – both the interior and exterior; and incidentally, the first church in the Diocese to be fully air conditioned. 

The newly restored Church has new timber pews, a marble altar, tabernacle, lighting, sound system, and a chapel.  This makeover was made possible by the support in kinds from all the faithful of St Mary’s Cathedral Parish, as well as from well-wishers, non-Catholics and Catholics from the local communities.

The Rite of Dedication of the Altar and Church is considered among the most solemn liturgical services.  The Rededication Mass started at 4.00, with the unveiling of the Dedication Plaque at the front of the Church.

Bishop Julius Gitom unveils the Dedication Plaque at the front of the Church

This was followed with the handing over of the keys to St Joseph’s Church by the contractor, Ang Chun Hock of Richfield Properties Sdn Bhd to the chairman of the St Joseph’s Church Upgrading and Extension Project, Isaac Pang.

In his homily, Bishop Julius underlined that it was a day made by the Lord, a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving as St Joseph’s Church was rededicated to the Lord. 

“We are reminded of the important role of St Joseph, chosen by God himself to be the protector of Jesus, Son of God and Mary, the Mother of our Lord,” said the bishop. 

Bishop Julius said that we have put St Joseph at the periphery of our faith and very rarely do we mention St Joseph in our prayer.  

“This new Church depicts the stature of St Joseph, who gives and provides for the Holy Family of Nazareth. 

“We are also thankful to St Joseph who continues to be the protector of his people.”

Bishop Julius recalled that two years ago, St Joseph’s Church was an old unrecognizable crumbling building.

But now, the bishop could not help but wonder, that the new Church really stands out, looking from outside.  It symbolizes the image of St Joseph, God’s presence in the midst of everything around us, and that it also symbolizes God as Emmanuel, God is with us.

He underscored, it is here in this Church, that we experience Jesus’ presence in the celebration of the Eucharist, and that our faith continues to be nourished by His Body in Holy Communion.  It is in this Church that we continue to be inspired by the Word of God and in turn we say ‘Thanks be to God’.

Bishop said, “It is a challenge, the same challenge that St Joseph received from God at the beginning of his mission when he said ‘yes’ to God, just as Mary said ‘yes’ to God, and faithfully hold on to that mission that God has given him. 

“We are challenged to imitate the faith of St Joseph, to bring God’s presence into the world, to our family and to our community. No matter what obstacle we face, our mission is to bring God’s love, peace and hope. Today this mission remains incumbent on us. We rely on the power of God, the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfil the mission given to us.”

The Rededication Mass began with the Sprinkling Rite, which reminds the faithful of their baptism and a symbol of cleansing of the Church walls and altar.

Following the Litany of the Saints where we asked the saints to support our prayers to God, was the Rite of Anointing of the Altar and the Church to make them holy, as visible signs of the mystery of Christ and His Church.  Bishop Julius poured Chrism oil onto the altar, rubbed it on the altar, and anointed the walls of the Church with the oil.

Bishop Julius poured and rubbed Chrism oil onto the altar

This was followed with the Rite of Incensation of the Altar and the Church where a brazier was placed on the altar in which incense, symbolizing reverence, was burned.  Incense is burned on the altar to signify that Our Lord’s sacrifice ascends to God as an odour of sweetness, and also to signify the people’s prayers rising up, pleasing and acceptable as they reach the Throne of God.  Bishop Julius incensed the altar and the crucifix while Fr David and Fr Stephen incensed the people and the walls.

After the incensation, religious sisters wiped the table of the altar and vested the altar in white cloth, arranging in a suitable manner for the celebration of Mass.   A candle was lit to represent the light of Christ.  A candle would be lit in the Church to keep Christ’s presence in our hearts and the world.  After all the initial rites were performed, the Liturgy of the Eucharist started.

After Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the Tabernacle and the Sanctuary lamp lit. For as long as the Blessed Sacrament is placed there, a lamp is lighted up to indicate and honour the Real Presence of Our Eucharistic Lord.

The Rededication of the Mass of St Joseph was made possible with the unfailing support of the members of the building committee and the many volunteers of the parish who helped to make the Church to what it is today. 

The Rededication Mass was also broadcasted live to all parishioners who were unable to participate.  It is with great hope and anticipation that the parishioners of St Mary’s Cathedral continue to build up the Church as a community of believers and living witnesses of the faith. 

May the people be guided by the unseen hand of the Lord and move forward to achieving the Diocesan vision in becoming a Christ-centered community serving one another with love.

Contractor Mr Ang Chun Hock of Richfield Properties Sdn Bhd and Chairman of the St. Joseph’s Church Upgrading and Extension Project, Mr Isaac Pang hands over the Church key to Bishop Julius