KK Pilgrims Travel To Cadiz In Honour Of Pioneering Missionaries Of North Borneo

KOTA KINABALU : Pilgrims from the Kota Kinabalu Archdiocese recently travelled to the southwestern Spanish city of Cadiz to gain a deeper understanding of Monsignor Don Carlos Cuarteron, the Catholic priest credited to have pioneered propagation of the faith in Borneo.

The pilgrimage led by two priests, Fr Cosmas Lee and Fr Thomas Madanan also met the descendants of Monsignor Cuarteron. He is well remembered for having founded the Catholic Mission in Sabah with the establishment of the Mission of Labuan, 166 years ago on 16 April 1857. After his ordination at 37 years old, Monsignor Don Carlos Cuarteron left for the island of Labuan with two priests. They had some successes initially and were welcomed by the British on the island.

Things started to get challenging when the two priests that came with Monsignor Cuarteron were transferred to Hong Kong, leaving him alone. Against all odds, he persevered in the face of financial, political, personnel and health problems.

It is estimated that during his time in Labuan and Northern Borneo, he redeemed about 50-70 slaves. He firmly believed that the Gospel is the answer to the miseries of piracy in the region. He left Labuan on 30 July 1879, went to Rome and handed over his charge as Prefect Apostolic. After a week of his return to his home town, Cadiz, he passed away on 12 March 1880.

During the pilgrimage in the ancient coastal city from July 1st, Fr Cosmas and Fr Thomas, accompanied by several parishoners from their respective parishes of St Simon in Likas and the Blessed Sacrament in Labuan, met locals in Cadiz city and the Catholic church officials of Cadiz.

Their journey in Cadiz included visits to the city’s old Cathedral where Cuateron was baptized and the Cathedral Crypt where his remains were interred in 2003. They also visited the house marked by a plaque placed by the Cadiz city council where Cuarteron was born in 1816 and another residence in the city where he died in 1880. The group also met Cadiz Deputy Mayor and Councillor, Pablo and Ma Teresa, to whom they presented a book on the life and times of Cuarteron in Borneo from 1816-1880 entitled Crowned with the Stars, written by Mike Gibby.

Cadiz resident Jose Gutierrez who helped coordinate the pilgrimage said Cuarteron had a passion to become an explorer from an early age. According to him, Cuarteron was already a sailor at the age of 13 and seven years later was commanding ships sailing between the Philippines and Spain. At the age of 28, Cuarteron came across a sunken ship laden with silver on a South China Sea reef. Instead of living a life of luxury, Cuarteron dedicated his life to the Catholic faith and eventually was ordained as a priest. He made it his life’s mission to return to Borneo and the Philippines to free slaves and establish the Catholic faith in this region.

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