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Cardinal Sim feeling at home among young people. All photos are from the book: Duc in Altum - Our Reflections on the Life and Faith of Cornelius Cardinal Sim

Memories of a much-loved cardinal in a book

SEPT 6, 2021: Franciscan Sister Grace Deosing was truly surprised on her birthday last year. She received the biggest birthday cake she had ever gotten in her life and it came from the late Cornelius Cardinal Sim.

“The Sisters at the convent were saying that the cake was especially delicious and special since the person who sent it was all the way in Brunei. He was suffering from cancer, and it was during the pandemic when we were not able to visit each other, but he was still warm-hearted and thoughtful. After sending my thanks to him, he replied that since he could not come over to celebrate my birthday physically, he thought of trying another method of sending his well-wishes.”

She first met him when she was the Mother General of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and had attended the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia. “I cannot quite remember how we first started talking to each other, but I do recall that my first impression of him was that he was an easy-going Bishop. He was approachable, friendly and a simple man, so much so that I found myself comfortably talking to him in no time. Furthermore, he preferred to speak in Bahasa Malaysia with me and we became good friends from there. He was truly a humble, respectful, gentle, soft spoken, caring, and loving person.”

Cardinal Sim at the anniversary celebration of the Franciscan Sisters in Sabah.

Sr Grace wrote this in the book Duc in Altum – Our Reflections on the Life and Faith of Cornelius Cardinal Sim which was released today. Duc in Altum was what Jesus told Peter when He first met him. Peter had spent the whole night trying to catch fish and was heading back to shore with empty nets. Jesus was at the shore, His eyes on Peter. He then told him to “put out into the deep”, to go into the deeper part and lower his nets for a catch. Peter reluctantly did as he was told and caught a huge number of fish. “Put out into the deep” in Latin is Duc in Altum. This was the motto in his coat of arms, according to Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek, OFS, who worked very closely with the late cardinal for numerous years.

“He was never content with going through life like it was, in his own words, ‘business as usual’. He saw in everyone a potential to be more, to do more, and to give more. He deeply desired that Catholics should not just be “spectators”, but that they should make it a way of life to contribute their “time, talent, and treasure” to the Church. For the sake of the Gospel, he believed that we should always creatively attempt different ways to reach the world with the message of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, His Son,” he wrote in the book.

This book is a compilation of reflections by Splendour Project members. This is their way of remembering the cardinal, who passed away on May 29 this year in Taiwan after losing the battle to cancer. Cardinal Sim served as Vicar Apostolic of Brunei from 2004 until his death at the age of 70. He was made a cardinal at a consistory last November but he could not attend the consistory in Rome due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The Splendour Project is a community of friends made up of clergy, religious and laity responding to the call of the Holy Catholic Church for a New Evangelisation through the proclamation of truth, beauty and goodness. The book can be downloaded for free at the Splendour Project website.

Just about everyone who wrote a chapter in Duc in Altum – Our Reflections on the Life and Faith of Cornelius Cardinal Sim, talk about his friendliness, fatherliness, compassion, and his love for young people.

Felicity Chan knew him when he was still Father Cornelius. “He was the priest who baptised me and presided over my communion and confirmation,” she wrote. “My interaction with Cardinal Sim then was very much limited to seeing him at Mass or at events, where he would be surrounded by leaders from the various church ministries. Yet, he was not stern or aloof with us children. Unknown to me back then, he was the only priest in Brunei and he had to rotate his time between all the existing three churches. It was common to wait for Father Cornelius to arrive from Bandar to celebrate the Easter Vigil. It made it more fun as we got to stay up late.”

When she became an adult, he invited her to join the Vicariate of Young Adults. “I was working in Kuala Belait at the time and the meetings were held in Bandar Seri Begawan every Wednesday evening. Which meant that it was a three-hour return trip for me. I told my parents that I was attending a “Church” meeting (technically true!) and made that first trip. I was hooked after that and decided to really dive into it, and I did commit to it for weeks. I didn’t know it then, but it was the kind of evangelical formation that I had been craving for. That was also the time I came to know the kind of person Cornelius Cardinal Sim was.”

“I became more involved with the Church because Cardinal Sim encouraged and motivated me in his own mild-mannered way. It was so much fun to be able to look into the meaning of my faith. Cardinal Sim casually floated thought-provoking topics and discussions (although this was very much planned by him) during our sessions. This drove us to face our own inadequacies and thus dive deeper for answers and to not fear the unknown but fear ignorance and complacency. The mentality he proposed was not to fix what was unbroken but to challenge it, elevate it and make it better. And just when you think that you have finally reached one level, you would find that it was only the foundation for the next level. Cardinal Sim explored and brought us together with him in his journey to seek knowledge joyfully and not to try to conquer it.”

Audrey with Cardinal Sim at the St Joseph’s Cathedral in Kuching in 2018.

Audrey Yu, OCDS (Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites), talks about how he reached out to her after she joined the Splendour Project community. This, despite her attempts to stay away from crowds and blend into the background.

“He was the one who began reaching out to me. Whenever we met, he would greet me first and give me a warm embrace. On some occasions, he even invited me to hang out with him. It was never uncomfortable being in his presence. He was to me a father, in whom I experienced God’s love and affection. I confidently speak of this for those whom he knew, especially for his staff, as I have witnessed the same gentle affection that he has shown towards them.”

Cardinal Sim enjoying during with visiting priests and Deacon Sherman (far left) and his family in Johor.

And then there is his love for good food. For that and many more wonderful anecdotes, you will have to read the book.

More stories on Cardinal Sim:
RIP Cardinal Cornelius Sim
Cornelius Cardinal Sim’s legacy lives on