Dialogue on St Michael Parish Cemetery at parish hall Aug 26

By Linda Edward

Sep 7 2022

PENAMPANG – Fr Wilfred Atin, parish priest of St Michael Church here said the proposed St Michael Parish Catholic Cemetery (SMPCC) project is the most feasible way to curb slope failure along St Michael hill, and also generate income to the parish that will act as a pendulum to other future parish building projects.

He said this in a dialogue between the SMPCC Management Committee and St Michael parishioners Aug 26 at 7.30 pm in the parish hall in response to many grievances raised by certain concerned parishioners.

Fr Atin said the proposed cemetery project will not destroy the environment as claimed by concerned parishioners, but will save it by preventing possible land erosion and slope failure that is already visibly happening.

Previous parish priests, the late Fr Alex Sipanul and the late Fr Fundes Motiung, were also well aware of the problem during their time. Over a long time, the slope problem has grown more pressing, evidenced by the hollow structure beneath the concrete pathway and the tilting of trees along the slope, Fr Atin said.

“This area requires a retaining wall and it’s very costly. The late Fr Alex planted plants and trees as a temporary measure solution, while the late Fr Fundes planned to build an amphitheater to serve as a retaining wall,” he said.

He said a parish cemetery will serve as a retaining wall that is less costly and is pleasant to look at and that the project has been well planned with professional consultation.

“The Archbishop (John Wong) has given his consent and has endorsed the Development Plan (DP), while the Penampang District Council has approved the DP on Apr 12, 2022,” he said.

Project site

Replying to the question of why a cemetery project instead of a common building project, Fr Atin said, “The area is too steep and unstable and will need retaining wall. Any building is not only too costly but may not get approval by Bomba.”

The Parish Cemetery project is one of the several building projects under the vision “Towards an Amazing Parish”, an aspiration for St Michael, to improve the parish’s infrastructures and finance.

Leena Toyoi, Secretary of the Zone Penampang Finance and Property Committee, said the proposed project is the best solution to solve possible land erosion, and the sum received will also be used to do some physical upkeep and to build new infrastructures for parish common use.

“The Parish Cemetery project is the best solution for the parish. The construction will stabilize the hill slopes. It will provide funds to upgrade the existing cemetery. It will also provide funds to carry out other parish planned projects like Tadika Harmoni, Multi-Purpose Catholic Centre and the carpark. Furthermore, we would have a beautiful cemetery that we can be proud of,” explained Leena. 

The proposed project will involve the construction of 246 tombs (Phase 1A) complete with tiled finishes and a columbarium plaza (Phase 1B). Prices include whole life maintenance fee among others, continuous gardening.

“Priority will be given to Penampang parishioners, while non-Penampang parishioners will be levied a surcharge,” said Leena.

During the Q&A session, a concerned parishioner asked about the capital money and voiced out his concern of the Church’s usual practice of asking donation from the people.

Fr Atin said the Church is not going to do any fundraising among the parishioners for this purpose. The start-up capital will be from the upfront payment received from the sales of the tomb plots and the RM200,000 State Government grant received recently.

The more sensitive grievance raised was the nature of the proposed project which the concerned parishioners believed is a taboo to have near a residential area.

On a theological note, and to respond to the sensitivity of cultural taboo, Fr Atin said Catholic cemetery grounds are consecrated and these sacred grounds are an extension of the Church.

“There is no need to be afraid. Catholic cemeteries are reminders of the promise of the resurrection. It will be a Sacred Cemetery and also a Garden Cemetery, which is eco-friendly and non-scary.

“A parish cemetery is necessary because it is an extension of the Church. It will help the people of God (in Penampang) to understand more of their faith and prepare well for the next world.

“Since the cemetery is a holy place, it should be preserved in good condition, be well enclosed, and be free from unsightly objects. The paths should be clean, the headstones erect, and the grounds neatly sodded,” explained Fr Atin.

Proposed project

On the technical side, Robert Gondipon, Structural Engineer of the project, said the area involved for the proposed cemetery is 0.65 acre. Infrastructures to be built among others will be retaining walls, concrete drains, culverts, tombs, columbarium and a four-metre-wide road.

In their recent meeting Sep 2 to brief Archbishop John Wong on the outcome of the dialogue, the prelate has once again given his consent for the Management Committee to proceed with the proposed project.

The Committee targets to complete the works by Dec 31, 2023.