Card Cornelius Sim of Brunei has died
by Bernardo Cervellera

The 69-year-old prelate died from a heart attack while in Taipei for cancer treatment. Pope Francis had appointed him cardinal in November 2020. The cardinal had described the Church of Brunei (16,000 in all, mostly migrants) as a “hidden Church”, lively, small, “not noisy”, like a “Fat 500” whose apostolate focused on education and help to migrants. He had said: “people here in Asia are hungry for God.”


Rome (AsiaNews) – Card Cornelius Sim, Brunei-Darussalam's first prelate, died this morning in Taipei, Taiwan, where he was being treated for cancer. According to a statement by the hospital, he died from a heart attack. He was 69.

Pope Francis appointed Cornelius Sim cardinal in November 2020. As he himself noted in an interview with AsiaNews (November 17, 2020) he was surprised by the appointment, attributing it to the style of the pontiff who “loves the Churches on the peripheries”.

He described his Christian community to AsiaNews as “a hidden Church” – not a “noisy” Church, but a small Church, like “a Fiat 500,” alive, whose apostolate is centred on education and helping migrants.

The cardinal could not receive his biretta directly from the Pope due to COVID-19 restrictions that prevented him from taking part in person in the consistory of 28 November 2020.

Brunei’s “hidden Church” numbers around 16,000 members, 80 per cent migrant workers, surrounded by a Muslim majority with whom they have relations of service and friendship.

In addition to the late cardinal, the country’s Catholic community is served by three priests.

Card Sim became a priest in 1989 and apostolic prefect to Brunei In 1998. In 2004 he was appointed Vicar Apostolic and was ordained bishop the following year.

He came late to the priestly life. For years, he worked as an engineer, but driven by curiosity and wanting to strengthen his faith, he studied theology. Here's how he describes his own journey in the aforementioned interview.

The “bishop asked me to become a priest. At first, I rejected the idea, then I thought: maybe I am the last, the most reluctant, the least suitable, but I accepted. I worked as a priest, collaborating with the laity . . . Then came the post of apostolic vicar and I accepted to help the Church here. Then they asked me to become a bishop. There had been no bishop in Brunei for over 20 years.”

At this point, “I thought: This is for the good of the Church. Then a few weeks ago the Pope appointed me Cardinal. And I thought: in the name of my community, I accept. Of course, I am required to participate in the Indianapolis race having only a Fiat 500, and I find all of this a lot of fun!”

Clearly, “Pope Francis is brilliant: he says that the Church does not exist only in famous and stable communities, but also in small, hidden places, such as Laos and Brunei, perhaps in North Korea, or in Nepal. People in these places do not ask for much, but continue to believe, to hope ...”.

His great passion for the peoples of Asia remains a lesson for all. “We must not forget,” he said, “that the people here in Asia are hungry for God. I myself returned to faith after the death of my father, which raised the question of the meaning of life for me.”

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