by Fr. John Pozhathuparambil, OFM Conv.
In early 2013, I received a message from Malaysia: “Could you come and preach for four days on Saint Pio in Malaysia in 2014?” Father Valentine Gompok, a Capuchin Friar, asked me. Unfortunately, I was unable to and declined. Yet Fr Valentine proposed, “Then, you come in 2015. We will wait for you.” I was honoured to receive the invitation to celebrate the feast of St. Pio where, every year, they would invite a priest from outside Malaysia to preach. However, it would be the first time that they have invited a Conventual Friar to preach at their St Pio feast day! Thus, I took this as a blessing and privilege.
Finally, after two years of preparation, I arrived in Ulu Tiram in the state of Johor, Malaysia, in September to celebrate the Feast of Saint Pio who is one of the greatest saints of the Capuchin order. It is a huge annual event in Johor, bringing together many international pilgrims such as the Kadazans, Dayaks, Indians, Chinese and Filipinos from various parts of Malaysia (East and West Malaysia), Singapore, and Indonesia. I was very touched as every day during the triduum, I would see new groups of people arriving in the church for the Mass. Though tired from the hours of traveling, they came straight to the church. Their faith and belief is admirable.
In total, around 2000 people gathered to celebrate the feast of their favorite saint. I spoke on Saint Pio as a confessor, spiritual director, devout son of Mary, and follower of Christ crucified. After my preaching, many people came and told me that my words on Saint Pio had touched their lives! I am so happy that God used me as His instrument.
Little do they know that in my preparation and reading of Saint Pio, I came to know him better and he had changed my life too. One thing that struck many of the people is the statement from Saint Pio: “Do not sleep on the tomb of your sins.” This teaches us to not only repent, but to move on and be a better Child of God.
Another amazing experience was that it was also the first time that Friars from the three families of first order (Capuchin, Conventual, and Order of Friars Minor) were present for the feast and people were so happy to see three Franciscan families present on the altar to pray for them.
I am really blessed that our brother Saint Pio picked me up to preach about him.
My stay brought back warm feelings, as Malaysia looked just like my hometown Kerala, India. People are very hospitable and warm. It was monsoon time in Johor, therefore the climate was like American summer. The people eat rice and curry, sometimes even rice for breakfast. They cooked wild boar on the feast day and that was a delicious!
Like all Friars, the Capuchins lead a very simple life filled with love for their parishioners. One thing I found is that the people love to take pictures! I was like a mini celebrity with whom many wanted to take picture.
As I left Malaysia, I took back home the love and care of the people whom I met, as well as the warm hospitality, friendship, and care of the Capuchin Friars with whom I stayed.