Monday, October 01, 2007

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Malacca was colonized by the Portuguese in 1511 and the Catholic Faith by brought to these shores by illustrious missionaries such as St. Francis Xavier who had used Malacca as a base for his missionary endeavours to China and Japan.

There's a Chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross in Malim Hill which has been a pilgrimage site because of the graces that have been obtained by those who had devoutly prayed there and Santa Cruz is a major Feast for those in Malacca, second only to St. Peter's and Holy Week in drawing the crowds.

Here's an account from the local newspaper of how this Feast was celebrated this year.

MALACCA: Without fail, Hong Kong’s Jacob Ng Wey has been making it a point to attend the prayers to commemorate the Feast of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) in Malacca for the past eight years.

The 48-year-old who is based in Singapore said he had found a sense of peace since joining several of his Catholic working colleagues on a pilgrimage to Malim Hill in 2000.

Act of devotion: A devotee lighting a candle during the night vigil preceding the feast celebrations.
“I hold a great reverence to this feast. Somehow, since the visit, I have managed to overcome many personal difficulties and this has given me a refreshing sense of peace and life’s tranquility,” remarked Jacob, a shipbuilding senior technologist at Sembawang.

He joined thousands of pilgrims and devotees both Catholics as well as non-Christians from all over Malaysia and Singapore to commemorate the Feast of Santa Cruz or Holy Cross observed annually on the second Sunday in September.

Housewife Lynette Lai of Kota Kinabalu who was baptised a Catholic, said the origins of the feast is unclear and shrouded with uncertainties

“It is the belief by so many that inspires me to seek special blessings and grace of the Holy Cross, she said.

Aloysius Arokiasamy of Klang who is making his 12th consecutive pilgrimage here concurred with Lynette’s views.

He said that devotion to the Holy Cross had brought spiritual and material relief to many.

The quaint Chapel of Santa Cruz on top of Malim Hill along the old Malacca-Alor Gajah trunk road has been surrounded for generations by an intriguing mix of mystery, legends and faithful devotion.

Despite the chapel’s origin laced with nothing concrete, the Feast of Santa Cruz continues to draw more Catholic pilgrims and non-Christian devotees.

Located between an old rubber estate and an ancient Chinese graveyard, the chapel, which comes under the jurisdiction of Malacca’s St. Peter’s Church, is open only once a year during the commemoration of the feast and has been a place of Catholic homage for over 150 years.

Morning prayers: Rev Fr Moses Lui of St Peter's Church presiding at the early morning religious service at the Feast of the Holy Cross in Malacca recently.
Historically, there is little to substantiate the basis for the beliefs and devotions surrounding the chapel but a small wooden chapel was built between 1870 and 1880 following the discovery of a cross in the vicinity. The then wooden edifice was eventually replaced by the present brick building.

Indeed, tracing the origins of the Feast of Santa Cruz proves an interesting exercise with varied versions from sources lending still more mystique.

Several accounts tell the tale of a certain devout Catholic lady from Kubu in Malacca who had fallen ill and all possible medical aid was given to her but to no avail.

Then, one night in her dreams, an old man appeared and told her that a cross would be found at the top of Malim Hill.

A couple of days later with the assistance of several neighbours, the women’s family found a 46cm high wooden cross on the hill, partially covered by a termites’ nest.

Still another version attributes the finding of a wooden cross to one of the children of Joanna Sta Maria of the Portuguese community residing in Tengkera.

The child supposedly dreamt for three consecutive nights about a small cross that should be sought after at Malim Hill.

Others are more prosaic when discussing the origins of the feast.

According to the book Survival Through Human Values authored by the late Fr Manuel Pintado a former parish priest of St Peter’s, Malacca was a Christian town from 1511 to 1641 with a church or chapel along every street and atop hills.

The cross could well have been a grave marker or affixed to a place of worship which subsequently went into ruin during the 154-year Dutch occupation of Malacca where the practice of the Catholic faith was not permitted, said Fr. Pintado

Whatever the origins of the cross may be, the Feast of Santa Cruz will continue to draw large numbers of pilgrims and devotees to Malacca yearly in September.

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