30 Neocatechumenal Way communities thriving in Northern Borneo

The Neocatechumenal Way is helping people who have experienced difficult times living as Catholics in the the Malaysian state of Sabah.

“When Islamisation increased during the 1970s, people began to ask ‘What next?’ Many were in difficult financial positions. They were desperate.”

“They once had everything and enjoyed everything and suddenly there was nothing,” said Stephen Chu, a member of the Way

“When the Neocatechumenal Way came here initially no one expected that it would stay but it thrived,” said Chu.

The Way numbers about 1,000 members and it is growing. The Catholic population in Sabah is around 370,000.

They meet twice weekly, once to read the Bible and again each Saturday evening for a private Mass, separate from the main congregation.

The first community in Malaysia was formed from a core group of about 20 or so in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital city.

Now there are 30 communities.

The growth took place when the Catholic community in Sabah was in a state of flux when the country’s leaders were prioritising Islam at every level.

In the 1970s the clergy, made up mainly of foreign priests were expelled from Sabah. So were expat nuns.

Christians were uneasy; the government machinery was being used to change the demographics of the state from mainly Christian to Muslim. Conversions were encouraged and rewarded. Many did. Others coped or emigrated.

Father Patrick Ryan, a priest who left Sabah in 1971 and now lives in England, said the declericalisation of the church in the state resulted in the laity becoming more involved in church affairs during the 1970s.

By and large many Catholics in Sabah saw the church as a wounded institution. What’s more they felt they were on their own.

“This gave the Neocatechumenal Way credence in Sabah,” says Ryan, who sees the group as “having the makings of a cult.”

He believes the rigidity of the Neocatechumenal Way is unsuitable for Sabah as it “does not integrate into the harmonious and easygoing Sabah way.”

The Neocatechumenal Way, a lay movement founded in 1964 in Spain, is dedicated to the Christian formation of adults.

Called “a community of itinerants who preach the Gospel around the world,” it has about 13,500 communities in 4,000 parishes and 650 dioceses in more than 90 countries.


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News category: Asia Pacific.

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