Cardinal Cornelius Sim, apostolic vicar of Brunei and first Catholic priest, died in a hospital in Taiwan on Saturday at the age of 69.
A letter from the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei said Sim had been quarantined at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital since arriving in Taiwan on May 8 to receive medical treatment, apparently for cancer.
“Let us pray for his soul and for the vicariate. May his soul rest in peace ”, Mgr. Robert Leong, the vicariate general of the vicariate wrote in the announcement of the cardinal’s death.
Pope Francis made Sim the first cardinal in Brunei history during the most recent Consistory of Cardinals in November 2020. Travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Sim from traveling to Rome for the event, which he followed live by video link.
Cardinal Sim led the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei Darussalam for almost two decades.
His priestly ordination in 1989 marked the first time that a native Bruneian was ordained a Catholic priest for the country, which shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia and Indonesia.
He was appointed Prefect of Brunei in 1999, then Vicar Apostolic in 2004, and was consecrated bishop in January 2005.
The vicariate has a total of three Catholic priests who serve the approximately 20,000 Catholics who live in Brunei, a small but wealthy state on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
Sim once described the Church of Brunei as “a periphery within a periphery”, recalling Pope Francis’ affection for “those little places where there is not much publicity” but where the faith is alive.
Brunei is a developed country of 2,200 square miles with great wealth derived from its oil and gas industries. Malay is the official language, but English and Chinese are both widely spoken.
The country is an absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. About 70% of the population is Muslim and one version of Islam is the official religion.
About 13% of the population of some 460,000 people are Buddhists, 10% have no religion and a small number have indigenous beliefs. Christians, half of whom are Catholics, make up around 10% of Brunei’s population.
The Catholic Church has been present in Brunei for over 90 years. It has three Catholic schools where it is estimated that 60 to 70% of the students are Muslims.
In Brunei, Sim was known to prioritize Bible training, youth and family ministry, evangelism, social welfare and the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
Sim was born in Brunei in 1951 as the first of six children to a Catholic family. Prior to discerning his vocation to the priesthood, Sim received an engineering degree in Scotland from the University of Dundee.
He was ordained a priest at the age of 31 and received a master’s degree in divinity from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Sim was pastor in Brunei before being appointed Vicar General of Brunei in 1995, then Prefect Apostolic in 1997.
On October 20, 2004, Saint John Paul II elevated the prefecture of Brunei to the rank of apostolic vicariate.
Bishop Sebastian Francis, president of the Malaysian, Singapore and Brunei Bishops’ Conference, said on May 29 that details of Sim’s funeral would be available at a later date and requested that prayers and masses be offered. for the future cardinal.
“Let us be in communion with the members of his family, the clergy, the religious and all the faithful of Brunei at this time of loss and mourning”, declared Mgr François.
Pope Francis offered his condolences in a telegram sent to Wojciech Załuski, the apostolic delegate to Brunei Darussalam, following the news of Sim’s death.
“With gratitude for Cardinal Sim’s faithful witness to the Gospel, his generous service to the Church of Brunei and to the Holy See, I gladly join the faithful in praying for his eternal rest,” said Pope Francis.
“To all those who mourn the death of the late Cardinal in the sure hope of the Resurrection, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in Jesus, the firstborn of the dead.”
This story was updated on May 29 to include the telegram sent by Pope Francis.