Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pilgrimage to St Anne's Church, Bukit Mertajam (Pt.1)

This was our first pilgrimage to the Church of St. Anne at Bukit Mertajam, to attend the actual feast day of St Anne on July 26! Shameful, huh...when thousands of non-Catholic devotees from near and far take the trouble to pay homage annually to St Anne for favours and prayers answered while we (my beloved John and I) who are baptized Catholics for more than 4 decades are just lukewarm in this matter. Why? Just that we're not so habitual in asking saints to intercede for us, except the Blessed Mother of God, of course.

About time that we change our mindset! If we can ask our earthly 'saints' to pray for us, why not the heavenly saints in God's midst! Stronger cable, right? Aren't we all One Body of Christ, the Family of God, believing in the Communion of Saints that includes the Holy Souls in Purgatory too?

Hopefully this is the beginning of many more St Anne's pilgrimages to come where we can gather together as a huge and diverse family of God to celebrate Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Redeemer!

St Anne's Church, Statue of St Anne and a broader view from St Anne Square, Bukit Mertajam
Clockwise from left: St Anne's Church, Statue of St Anne and
a broader view from St Anne Square, Bukit Mertajam

Nevertheless, this recent pilgrimage had truly been enriching and an eye-opener, with our hearts and minds now humbled and warmed towards St Anne. She was the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandmother of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! A powerful prayer intercessor as millions have attested, holy St Anne is the patroness for miners, healing, housewives, childless couples, marriages, and families. Having witnessed an amazing miracle (read about it here) right before my eyes on St Anne's feast day itself had really astounded me to the core of my heart! Praise the Lord!

Annually at the Church of St Anne at Bukit Mertajam, thousands of pilgrims and devotees will throng there for the St Anne's 10-day Novena and Feast Celebrations which will usually end during the last week of July. This year, it started from July 23 and ended on August 1. The actual feast day falls on July 26, but the crowd is predictably massive during the last 2 days that fall on the weekend.

Chronology for July 25 2010 :

A busload of 43 pilgrims from churches in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya that included 4 non-Catholics departed from KL about 1 pm. John and I love following pilgrimage tours organized by George Yeow, himself a Catholic and a dedicated licensed tour-guide who always prepares us spiritually during the journey with a booklet of relevant prayers and songs of worship and praise.

This Prayer before pilgrimage that was contained in the booklet is one example of George's dedication to guide us pilgrims, spiritually:

O, St. Anne who showers abundant favours on all who come to Bukit Mertajam, the hallowed place of pilgrimage chosen by you, obtain for us the grace to make this pilgrimage in a spirit of giving glory to Jesus Christ who is your Grandson and our God.
May no evil come upon us on our way and may we bear with Jesus Crucified all the inconveniences and troubles which we may meet on our way. Let this pilgrimage be an example of patience, good behaviour and brotherly and sisterly love.
Above all, let it be an occasion for renewal and evangelization.

O St Anne, our protector, we come to you to express our deep gratitude and petition in person.
You who know our hearts, graciously obtain for us the grace to grow in the love of God and neighbour and thus give you honour as our powerful intercessor together with Joachim, your husband and your daughter Mary, the Blessed Virgin who is our Heavenly Mother and accept Christ as our Savior.
We ask these through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Besides, he always comes prepared with stories about the patron saint of the Church we'll be visiting to enlighten us further.

We arrived at St Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam almost 5 hours later. A little later than expected due to traffic jam, thus the Way of the Cross that was scheduled was scrapped and postponed to the next evening. Had just sufficient time to freshen up though and managed to survey a little of the Church's surroundings. I was captivated by the expanse of its grounds (read somewhere that it's about 20 acres?) and the tranquil and lush surroundings. And, of course the beauty and magnificence of God's dwelling, the Church of St Anne, both inside and out, is remarkably spectacular to say the least!

Church of St Anne and Shrine of St Anne (the old church), Bukit Mertajam, Penang
The new Church of St Anne and the Shrine of St Anne (the old church) on the left and right respectively

Anyway, we joined the 3rd day of the Novena prayers and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy from 7pm, which was then followed by the Eucharistic Mass Celebration at 7.30 pm.

Collage showing the interior of St Anne's Church, Bukit Mertajam, Penang
A collage showing the beautiful interior of St Anne's Church. The ceiling design is awesome!

Collage of interior of St Anne's Church, focusing on its altar and the Blessed Sacrament
The altar on the left image and the Blessed Sacrament to the extreme left on the right image

The Mass was celebrated by Fr. Joe Steven from the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ipoh with the theme, "Mission of/to the Sick". In his homily, he exhorted us to care for our elderly and sick, as well as to pray for them with reference to the Bible text: James 5:13-16 which reads -
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
It was raining 'cats and dogs' during the Mass and we could see some raindrops falling through the roof structures and some attendees shifting places. Msgr. Stephen Liew, the parish priest apologized and explained that it was due to the strong winds. A healing and anointing session followed soon after the Mass around 9pm. We then participated in the fellowship dinner that was graciously offered. Though dinner was very simple, we're grateful and thankful, nonetheless!

Subsequently, we travelled to Penang, about an hour's journey away, and checked into Stella Maris Holiday House by the beach at Tanjung Tokong after midnight for a 2-night stay! Hehe...of course, not before gobbling down a plate of Char-koay-teow at a food court, nearby the Naza Talyya Hotel! Truly yummy, but per plate's serving was relatively small, though compensated with a generous serving of 3 large prawns, slices of 'lap cheong' (Chinese sausages) and Ipoh taugeh (bean sprouts)!

Quickly took a warm bath and hit the sack straightaway! It had been an awfully tiring day though enriching and fruitful spiritually! Hmm...finally, sweet dreams...zzzz...not long though as early next morning at 7.00, we have to attend a meditation session (with focus on Catholic Centering Prayer) by Father Paul Cheong at the St. Felix of Cantalice Friary (Capuchin House of Formation) next door!

Brief History of the Church of St Anne, Bukit Mertajam :
  • 1833 - Catholics of mainly Chinese and Indian origin first settled at Batu Kawan and then moved to Permatang Tinggi, Macang Bubok and Bukit Mertajam.
  • 1840 - The Chinese Catholics started settling down at the Bukit Mertajam foothill and were visited by the French missionaries who traveled from Batu Kawan.
  • 1846 - The first visiting priest, Fr. Adolphe Couellan built the first chapel on top of the hill where the current 15th station (i.e above the final station of the Way of the Cross - the Crucifixion) is sited and named it after St Anne, a popular saint among the French missionaries.

    Left image with 15th station in the background and the boulder in the foreground is the relic of the foundation of the 1st chapel, built in 1846 by Rev. Fr. Adolphe Couellan who worked in B.M. for
    13 years. On the right is a close-up shot of the statue of St. Anne and the young Virgin Mary.
    These are the last two Stations of The Cross atop a hill, behind the Shrine of St Anne.

  • 1865 - Another bigger chapel was built by Fr. Maistre, the first visiting priest from Permatang Tinggi, at the site where its remains can still be seen just behind the well of St. Anne's water today. In 1869, Fr. Allard became the first resident priest.
  • 1888 - Fr. F.P. Sorin completed the building of the first church. This is currently known as St Anne's old church and since the dedication of the new church on 26 July 2002 it was converted and became known as the Shrine of St Anne, the main focus of St. Anne's Feast annually. The stained glass set installed in 1896 by Fr. Charles Grenier behind the altar is still apparent today.
    Shrine of St Anne (the old church) at Bukit Mertajam
    Shrine of St Anne (the old church) at Bukit Mertajam

  • 1938-1999 - Fr. Joachim Teng had bought the land in 1938 where the Kim Sen school and the second church are now located. In 1957, Fr. Thomas Chin built the second church, located next to Kim Sen School which has been called the new church for the last 45 years. Read further about this 'complicated' history at these sites: St Anne's Santuary BM and Penang TravelTips.
  • May 2000 - July 2002 - The current new church building complex that included the present Minangkabau-Gothic-styled Church of St Anne was constructed to cater for the increasing number of pilgrims and devotees that flock annually for St Anne's 10-day feast celebration. Truly magnificent and spectacular, this church, ranked as the biggest church building in the northern region of Malaysia, has a seating capacity of 1,800. Its feast celebration is touted as one of the world's top 20 Catholic gatherings, drawing a massive annual crowd of between 40, 000 to 60,000 pilgrims, local and foreign, and this year was estimated to have reached within 100,000! Amazing!

St. Anne Sanctuary Bukit Mertajam
Jalan Kulim
14000 Bukit Mertajam
(Tel.: 04-538 6405; Fax: 04-538 7422)
Website: St Anne Sanctuary, BM

Follow up Part 2 of the pilgrimage here!

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