BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s first cardinal Cornelius Sim has passed away at the age of 69 on Saturday morning, the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei announced in a statement.

The head of Brunei’s Catholic Church died at 8.28am in Taiwan’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital.

In the statement, Vicar General Robert Leong said the cardinal was quarantined after arriving in Taiwan on May 8 to get cell therapy treatment but his health had deteriorated.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei did not provide the cause of death, but the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei said he passed away “due to cardiac arrest”.

Cardinal Sim’s death comes just six months after Pope Francis promoted his rank from bishop to cardinal – a high-ranking priest right below the Pope in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Born in Seria as the eldest of six children, Cardinal Sim previously said in an interview that he never thought of becoming a priest after graduating with an electrical engineering degree from Dundee University, UK.

He quit his job at Brunei Shell Petroleum after about 10 years to study theology in the US.

His vocation to priesthood reportedly began when one of the expat priests leading Brunei’s small Catholic community at the time convinced him to become the first local priest.

He was ordained as priest in 1989 and the Vatican appointed him as Brunei’s first bishop in 2004.

Leading a 16,000-strong Catholic community in a Muslim-majority country, Cardinal Sim had said the Catholic church plays an important role in inter-faith relations with Islam and other religions.

Inter-faith dialogue is “less about theological discussion than about respecting others’ beliefs and interacting harmoniously in seeking the common good”, he said in an interview with Vatican News.