VATICAN CITY, OCT. 20, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II established the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei and appointed as its first bishop, Cornelius Sim, a U.S.-educated cleric who’s been apostolic prefect in the Southeast Asian sultanate.
The Pope established the Apostolic Prefecture of Brunei in 1997. The vicariate encompasses the sultanate’s territory that has some 347,000 inhabitants, the Vatican press office said in its announcement.
The state religion of Brunei is (Sunni) Islam. Brunei borders Malaysia and the South China Sea.
The country was evangelized by Mill Hill missionaries.
Catholics in the sultanate number 16,000, including 3,000 who are recognized as citizens, the Vatican said. “To them are added some 15,000 Filipino workers. The rest of the Christians, most of whom are Anglican, number 3,500.”
Brunei has three parishes, four priests, two nuns and two seminarians. In addition there are 84 catechists. The Catholic Church runs four schools with a total of 2,500 students, the Vatican said.
Under canon law, an apostolic vicariate is “a specific portion of the People of God which, for peculiar circumstances, has still not been constituted as a diocese.” The apostolic vicar carries out functions “in the name of the Supreme Pontiff.”
Cornelius Sim was born in Seria, Brunei, on Sept. 16, 1951. After studying engineering at Dundee University in Scotland, he worked for Shell Oil.
Later he studied theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, and was ordained a priest in November 1989.
After working in several parishes, in 1995 Monsignor Sim was named vicar general of Brunei and, on Nov. 21, 1997, apostolic vicar.
The sultanate of Brunei’s influence peaked between the 15th and 17th centuries when its control extended over coastal areas of northwest Borneo and the southern Philippines.
Brunei subsequently entered a period of decline brought on by internal strife over royal succession, colonial expansion of European powers, and piracy. In 1888, Brunei became a British protectorate; independence was achieved in 1984.
The same family has ruled Brunei for six centuries. Brunei benefits from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields, the source of one of the highest gross domestic products per capita in the developing world.