From the chilly Australian winter I traveled to the tropical climes of Indonesia, where Brother John Antony and I conducted a visitation of the Pontianak Province. I arrived in Jakarta on 1 August, and was met at the airport by Brother Heliodorus. The Capuchins serve two parishes in the Jakarta area: one by the Pontianak Province and the other by the Medan Province. The parish served by the Pontianak Province is in an area called Tebet, and the church and school is under the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi. I was surprised to learn that one of the former students of the elementary school is Barack Obama, current candidate for President of the United States.
The Pontianak Province was formed when the Indonesian Province, founded by Dutch missionaries, was divided into three provinces about 20 years ago. It currently counts about 140 friars, of which about 35 are in temporary vows. Other than the friary in Jakarta and a small presence in Central Kalimantan, the friars minister mainly in the Diocese of Pontianak, in the western part of Borneo (or Kalimantan, as it is knows by the Indonesians).
Brother John Antony arrived in Jakarta on 2 August, and the next day we both flew to Pontianak, located near the western tip of the island of Kalimantan. On the morning of 4 August, John and I were privileged to participate in the profession ceremony for three brothers making perpetual vows and three others making temporary vows. The Church of St. Augustine was filled to overflowing for the beautiful ceremony, which included elements from the local Dayak culture. At the end of the ceremony, the Provincial Minister, Brother Petrus Rostandy, called John Antony and I up to the sanctuary and introduced us to the assembly. Since he spoke in Indonesian, I'm not sure what he said, but everyone wanted to have a photograph with us after the ceremony!
In the afternoon, John Antony and I went our separate ways to continue our visitation. I traveled north to Singawang, where two brothers minister in a parish, then on to the novitiate in Poteng. The province currently has seven novices.
On Tuesday, 5 August, I traveled three hours by car to Sambas. Brother Yosnianto was both my driver and my interpreter on this trip and for the next two days. In Sambas, two friars of the province serve in the parish. Sambas is home to the Sultan for this area of Kalimantan. While he no longer holds much political power, the Sultan still maintains a palace here. The Muslim presence was much more evident here than in the other places I had visited in Kalimantan, but relations between the various religions is usually good, I was told.
The next morning, we basically retraced our steps from the day before to go to Nyarumkop, which is only a few kilometers from the novitiate. Here, six brothers work in a parish, in boarding facilities for the boys attending the diocesan elementary and secondary schools and in the diocesan minor seminary. In the afternoon, I made a short visit to the Capuchin Poor Clare monastery in Singawang. To my surprise, I met Sr. Paula there, a Capuchin sister I had driven from Mercatello to Rome many years ago, when she was studying in Italy. She was equally surprised to discover that I was now a General Definitor!
Leaving the coastal area behind, I moved further inland on Thursday morning. With Brother Yosnianto at the wheel, and accompanied by Brother Joseph, our three hour trip took us to Sanggau Ledo. There are two friaries in Sangau Ledo: one is attached to a parish, the other was built for the friars caring for the province’s extensive farm. At present, there are three friars at the parish friary and only one at the farm friary. The latter friary is built in the form of a traditional Dayak longhouse. The farm, which produces a modest income for the province, grows corn (maize), bananas, papaya, durian, and several other varieties of fruits. The friars are in the process of planting hundreds of rubber trees since the latex they provide is very profitable.
The next morning provided the most interesting drive of the visitation for me. We drove over a narrow road, badly in need of maintenance, through the thick forests of Borneo. At times, it felt like the forest would swallow the road completely. Along the way, however, we also saw large areas along the side of the road that had been clear-cut and burned to allow for planting rice (notice the empty land to the right of the road in the video).
I was saddened to see pristine forest land destroyed, but at the same time I knew that the growing population of Indonesia (and the world) combined with increased food consumption meant that additional land was needed to grow crops. I realized that balancing concerns about the environment and protecting habitats with the need to grow more food was not easy to do. The friars are also keenly aware of the dilemma, and many mentioned a desire to see more involvement within the Province in farms that model sound environmental practices. In Menjalin, I met with the three friars who work in the local parish and school. This is not your ordinary parish, however, The pastor estimated there are roughly 41,000 Catholics in his parish, scattered among more than 180 outstations. Several of these outstations see a priest only once a year.
After lunch, I went to a Marian shrine not far from Menjalin that belongs to the diocese, but is cared for by the friars. There, I met the Provincial Minister, Brother Petrus Rostandy, who had come to inspect the installation of statues for the Via Crucis, which winds its way through the dense growths of trees, bamboo and tropical plants. During the months of May and October, he told me, thousands of people will come to the shrine each Sunday for Mass and other prayers. Near the shrine’s entrance, there is a large, grassy area where pilgrims can eat their lunches after Mass. There are also four small ponds there stocked with fish. One of the workers at the shrine netted a few fish that Petrus intended to serve to John Antony and I as our last meal in the Province. He also spotted three bamboo shoots that he took to serve us. (Unfortunately, our plans changed, and we were unable to enjoy either the fish or the bamboo shoots.)
After visiting the shrine, I went with Petrus to the Provincialate in Pontianak, where I met with the three brothers living there. On the morning of Saturday, 9 August, I was taken a short way down the road to the friary of St. Augustine, where I met with the three brothers of that friary. Two of the three work in the parish of St. Augustine, and the other is the provincial secretary/bursar. Like the other parishes in the province, St. Augustine not only has a sizeable local community to serve, but has many outstations that need to be served, as well. In the afternoon, I visited the friary of St. Yusuf, which is also quite near the Provincialate. The friars here administer a carpentry school. When the province was young, the carpentry school not only provided the furnishings for the friaries, schools and churches that the Capuchins were building, but it also trained friars to carry on the work in the future and provided job training for the local men. Although it still provides some occasional furnishings for the churches and schools of the diocese, it is mainly a training center for local men today.
Having completed our visitation of all the friars of the province, John Antony and I met with the Provincial Definitory on the morning of 10 August to review our recommendations. Later that morning, we were taken to the airport where we departed for Jakarta and ultimately our next destination—Japan.
The overriding impression I had while visiting the Province is that the friars are very hardworking. The size of the parishes and the number of outstations they serve are staggering. Because the number of local clergy is still very small, the Diocese is almost totally dependent upon the Capuchins (although in recent years, a few other religious congregations have begun working in the Diocese). Although most friars expressed a wish that the Province would have more vocations, they receive a fair number of candidates each year. While it suffers from some of the problems that are common among young jurisdictions, it seems to me that the Province has a bright future.