Two weeks ago, I visited prisons in Marang and Dungun in the state of Terengganu. Joining me on this trip were Edmund Bedurus (a varsity student) and Dr Pakiam. Coincidentally, and interesting to know, Bukit Besi Prison in Dungun is known as Pusat Koreksional Dungun (Dungun Correctional Center) and not penjara. Instead of calling it a ‘prison’, it is called a ‘correction centre’ – which certainly sounds less harrowing and more comforting to the ears.
While at the prisons in Terengganu, I met two inmates – one was an African national and the other was a Malaysian man in his 40s. When we met, the man held a Bible in his hand and expressed his love for Christ Jesus, as well as his desire of wanting to become a Christian. Initially, I was a little hesitant to baptise him, however, after seeing him holding back his tears and utter the name Jesus a few times, I decided to have a deeper and longer conversation with him despite noise from the heavy rain outside. We talked, and I highlighted several verses from the bible to him. Finally, I baptised him with the name that he chose for himself (Simon Peter) and gave him his First Holy Communion. He was so happy and immediately wrote his baptism name, date and the fact that he is now a Roman Catholic, in his bible.
On Friday, 20 May 2022, I celebrated Mass with the Migrant Ministry at the Indonesian oil palm plantation workers in Sri Jaya in Maran, Pahang, which is about 100 km away from Kuantan. All these workers are currently undocumented, and they have been living in remote areas of the plantation with their spouses and children, for more than 10 years.
While I was there, I baptised eight children including several infants. These children don’t even have their birth certificates as it is challenging for their parents to get them registered. On behalf of the Church, I administered the necessary Sacraments to them, and I could tell that it brought much joy to the children and their parents.
There are about 10 adults living together who have not been married in the eyes of the Church. I am currently waiting for official letters declaring that they are free to marry and once these have been obtained, I shall then proceed to do the needful.
This community needs our help, and we intend to give them proper recognition of their faith in Christ Jesus and the Catholic Church. They need to be welcomed in the eyes of the Church and we should provide spiritual assistance and not deprive them of the Sacraments and other celebrations, just because of their situation. We should also provide them with basic needs to enable them to hold on to their faith in the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis reminded us on the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees (29 September 2019) that we should welcome, rather than remain, unfavourable, insensitive, deafening our hearts towards migrants and excluding them. We should respond to their needs without fail.