By Doreena Naeg
It has always been meant for bigger and better things. Even from the very beginning, it was predestined to do more good for mankind than to go down in history as merely the first Roman Catholic Church in a Bidayuh stronghold.
The Catholic Memorial and Pilgrimage Center (CMPC) on Mount Singai, Bau is obviously blessed by the Almighty” for it has risen from the humble rungs of ‘obscurity to the highest rungs of reverence.
No one, even those who initiated the center, ever envisaged its significance to the Church today. For Roman Catholics in the State, the center ranks second only to St Joseph’s Cathedral in Kuching, The centre is the embodiment of determination, perseverance and most importantly faith in God, that all things are possible even though they may seem impossible at a particular juncture of time.
It is the realization of the dreams of a courageous young Dutch priest who refused to bow to any adversity. Father Felix Westerwoudt was fairly new to the State when he undertook the seemingly insurmountable task of spreading the faith to the Bidayuh community on Mount Singai.
The decision was not met with much enthusiasm from his superiors. They had their reservations because the newcomer had yet to learn the local culture. The fact that the Bidayuh communities of Singai were known for their hostility and penchant for war didn’t help either.
To make matters worse, they were tied to their pagan ways, which often included occultism and sorcery. Westerwoudt refused to budge and forged on despite the daunting task ahead. Young and impressionable, Westerwoudt was fueled with passion to do the Lord’s work. Still, things did not, work out as the young priest had planed.
The Young priest began his work by setting up a school in the area to educate the young people but few turned up. He also built a church, which was rejected by the locals who refused to give up paganism.
In his desperation to reach the community, the young priest engaged the help of Franciscan sisters from Lundu in the hopes of attracting girls to attend the school. That too failed, as by nature Bidayuhs are shy and were petrified of the austere appearance of the sisters in their black habits.
Thinking he could earn their trust, Westerwoudt assimilated with the community’s way of life, which by today’s standards was rather primitive. He refused to give up even when he was met with strong resistance from all corners. Westerwoudt lived as one of the community for 12 years. Unfortunately the young priest contracted typhoid fever, which eventually led to his death at the young age of 37.