11 February 2008

Perceptions challenged

One of the things I like about this job is that it constantly challenges my perceptions. Br John Antony and I just completed a visitation of the Province of Medan in Indonesia. Before the visit, what I knew about Indonesia could fit on a matchbook cover: it was made up of many islands, it was home to Bali (where a lot of people were killed in a terrorist bombing), and it has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.

This last fact especially colored my perceptions about the three provinces of Indonesia. I assumed that the Catholic population of the country would be relatively small, and therefore well served by the more than 300 Capuchin friars in the country. What I found surprised me. The Province of Medan covers the northern part of the island of Sumatra. The Christian population of the area is actually quite large, and about 60% of those Christians are Catholic. Add to that the fact that there are only about 20 diocesan priests in the area, and that other religious congregations have only recently begun to enter the area. As a result, most parishes are still staffed by Capuchins. More surprising to me was the size of the parishes. The smallest parish that I encountered during my visit had about 9,000 parishioners, with about 6 outstations. The largest parish had 35,000 parishioners and 63 outstations! Even the largest parishes had at most two full-time priests to serve it, although friars in other ministries often covered some of the Sunday masses. Because of the number of outstations, the main parish church might be able to have a Sunday mass twice a month. The people in the outstations might have to wait three months between masses.

Obviously, given the great need, most Capuchins in the Province have until recently been parish priests. Recently, however, the Province has been turning some of the parishes over to the diocese and to other congregations, leaving friars available to serve in other ministries or in missions.

Another surprising discovery during my visit to Medan was the way the friars have tried to inculturate the Catholic faith. The predominant cultural group of northern Sumatra is the Batak, whose homes have a very distinctive architectural style. The friars have incorporated many of these architectural elements into their churches, to beautiful effect. They also use Batak musical instruments in their liturgies. Such attempts at inculturation have lead to the large scale acceptance of the Catholic faith among the Batak. The friars of the Medan Province, most of whom are Batak, are now enriching the Church and the Order with their friendliness and strong work ethic.


Anonymous said...

Ho sentito che capuccini della provincia Medan cominciano missio in Vietnam!

Mi interesa, e vero questa notizia?

Pace e bene!

JAB said...

Anonymous: if you include an e-mail address in your profile, I can e-mail you a response.