Close to 10000 people from all over the country flocked to Bukit Mertajam this evening to witness the episcopal ordination of Sebastian Francis as the fifth Bishop of the Penang Diocese.
They came as early as six hours before the ceremony many of them arriving in chartered buses.
The crowd broke out several times in spontaneous joyful applause when Sebastian was consecrated and anointed as their new Bishop in the presence of Archbishop of KL Diocese Murphy Pakiam, Johor-Malacca Diocese Bishop Paul Tan and outgoing Penang Bishop Antony Selvanayagam. Also present were Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez, who had once served as the third bishop of Penang, and priests and members of religious orders from all over the country.
The ceremony was meticulously organised by the parish of St Anne’s in Bukit Mertajam, the only church in the diocese with premises large enough to accommodate the crowd.
But even then, the organisers were overwhelmed by the the multitude that turned up: one of them said they had prepared dinner for 6000 people after the service, but 8000 had turned up for the occasion. A couple of observers each estimated the crowd inside and outside the church at 10000.
Choirs, brought in from Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church in Pulau Tikus, led the singing of lively popular hymns, accompanied by an organist from the same church.
One of the gifts at the offertory was the scales, symbolising Justice that comes from above. A powerful orator, Bishop Sebastian made stirring references to justice and peace and reminded the congregation of Jesus’ words: “I have overcome the world”.
In a nod towards inclusiveness, the new Bishop reached out to differently abled group using sign language and acknowledged the presence of people of other faiths.
Towards the end, Bishop Sebastian delivered a special Raya greeting to Muslim friends and added, “Maaf Zahir dan Batin”, an early indication that his tenure could see openness towards inter-religious dialogue.
A few thousand people packed the church while outside on the church grounds and corridors, thousands more followed proceedings from afar.
One Johor resident said after the Mass, “No matter who you ask, few people will have anything negative to say about the new bishop.”
Among those in the congregation were Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and federal Deputy Minster of Information, Communication and Culture Maglin Dennis D’ Cruz.