Provincial Curia, QUEZON CITY – A week before those natural disasters that wreaked havoc in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi hit the headlines, the Recoletos missionaries were already starting to acclimatize themselves to the routine of their new environment in Pontianak, at the extreme west of the island of Kalimantan (Borneo).
Makassar Strait, a waterway of around 130 to 370 km wide and bounded by Celebes Sea to the north and Java Sea to the south, separates the island of Sulawesi to the east from that of Kalimantan to the west.
“We did not feel the temblor here. We were actually at Jagoi Babang at that time,” informed Fray Dominador Mercado Jr., one of the Recoletos missionaries.
In the afternoon of September 28, Fray Mercado and Fray Russell Lapidez accompanied Archbishop Agus for the ordination of two Capuchin deacons at Jagoi Babang, a district of Bengkayang Regency at the north of West Kalimantan which shares border with Sarawak, Malaysia. It is around 250 km to the north of Pontianak City.
According to the news, the earthquake with 7.5-magnitude struck at 5:02 P.M. of that Friday, Sept. 28, and a powerful tsunami with 18-ft waves followed, pummeling particularly the seaside city of Palu in Sulawesi island that claimed approximately 1,200 lives, as of this writing.
Indonesia: new Recollect mission territory
The two Filipino Recollect missionaries arrived in the Archdiocese of Pontianak on September 19. Father Provincial, Fray Dionisio Selma, and Fray Edgar Tubio, Section Head for Mission Apostolate, accompanied them. Fray Tubio, who had already visited the place twice, made their travel and meeting with key persons easier and more relaxed.
But as stated in the Life and Mission Project (LAMP) of the Province, the two missionaries are to first learn the Bahasa Indonesia, the lingua franca of this Muslim-majority archipelago. Only when they shall have learned to speak the language will the new Recollect community be established—by next year, God willing.
Meanwhile, Frays Lapidez and Mercado are staying with the MTB (Maria Tak Bernoda or CFH: Congregatio Fratrum Huijbergensis) Brothers at Jalan Pattimura (Pattimura Street) in Pontianak City. Bro. Damianus Costa, MTB, is the prior of the community composed of 15 religious brothers and 2 OAR religious priests. And the good news that reached the Provincial Curia through the archbishop’s secretary was that the MTB major superior in Huijbergen, Netherlands had given permission to the OAR friars to live in the congregation’s local community in Pontianak.
The day in the convent starts at 5:00 in the morning for the praying of lauds at the chapel. At 5:30, the brothers join in the celebration of the holy mass at the adjacent St. Joseph Cathedral (except on Tuesdays and Fridays when the mass is held at the convent chapel). “All masses are in Bahasa,” Fray Lapidez said. “A visiting priest comes to preside the mass, and in that way, we gradually familiarize with and get accustomed to Bahasa mass.”
Breakfast follows at 6:00, then by 7:00, everybody reports to his assigned work. Snacks at 9:00, then lunch at 12 noon. In the afternoon, they may take siesta at 1:00 P.M., then afterwards go back to work, take merienda at 4:00, and observe silence or have spiritual reading at 5:00. At 6:15 P.M., the brothers gather again at the chapel for the vespers; it is followed by dinner, common washing of dishes, night prayer at 9:00 P.M., and recreation at 10:00 P.M. The day ends with “silentium magnum” for night rest.
Fray Lapidez clarified that the Recoletos friars join the community in all common activities except during office hours or school apostolate which, instead, becomes their schedule for studying the language. “Formal classes in learning Bahasa Indonesia will be on the third week of October,” he said.
Fray Tubio, moreover, also said that another Filipino who is a religious priest from the Oblates of St. Joseph (OSJ) will join the two Recollects in their language lessons.
Prior Provincial meets the archbishop
Arriving at Supadio International Airport in Pontianak, the Filipino Recollects were welcomed and fetched by Fr. Pius Barces, CP, the archbishop’s secretary. Frays Lapidez and Mercado were brought to the MTB convent while Frays Selma and Tubio, to the 6-storey pastoral center where the Indonesian Passionist Sisters, the assigned caretakers of the building, accommodated them.
After breakfast, the two visitors proceeded to the convent of the “Bruder MTB” beside the cathedral to see the physical space where the OAR missionaries would temporarily stay.
Past mid-morning, Fray Tubio and Fr. Barces went to the nearby ticketing office to book Father Provincial’s flights for Sintang and Ketapang. Then, they made a tour of the “Katedral Santo Yosef” (St. Joseph’s Cathedral), the mother church of the Pontianak Metropolitan Archdiocese.
They met the archbishop who was then talking to a group of Charismatic leaders in his office. The 68-year old prelate warmly welcomed them and introduced them to the lay leaders.
The conversation with this Indonesian-born and former bishop of Sintang continued up to lunch time at the archbishop’s residence. A natural shift of the topic to Indonesian cuisine occurred when a snake curry cooked by Archbp. Agus himself was served.
“Lami man pud” (“It was tasty”), replied Father Provincial in Cebuano when asked how the exotic food was.
In the afternoon, after siesta, Fr. Barces brought the four Filipinos northwards, in the Bengkayang Regency. (Note that, in Indonesia, every Province is divided into regencies and/or cities, and each regency into districts. West Kalimantan has 12 regencies and 2 cities.) This road trip headed for Karangan in Landak Regency and on to the four districts of the Bengkayang Regency.
First stop was in Karangan, around 110 km from Pontianak, at the Gereja Santo Yosef parish convent of the OSJ, where they got to know Fr. Ray Sales (rector) and Bro. Jose Bart Cancio (collaborator), who are both Hiligaynon-speaking Filipinos.
Second stop, around 59 km away from the first, was at Bengkayang, capital of the regency of the same name. The parish here has 103 outstations. Due to the vastness of the area, the archbishop plans to divide it into two. While the matrix parish remains in Bengkayang proper, the new one which shall be given to the Recoletos shall have its center in Ledo, around 30 km away.
Third stop was in Ledo district where the chapel (Gereja Katolik Santo Petrus & Paulus), belonging to the Bengkayang parish, stands. Here will soon rise the St. Peter and Paul Parish when it shall be turned over to the Recollects.
Since evening had fallen, the group returned to Bengkayang, and took their overnight stay at the religious community of the Congregation of the Carmelites of Saint Elijah (Congregatio Sancti Eliae or CSE), a clerical religious institute of diocesan right.
Proposed Lot for the Recoletos
The following day, September 20, the OAR Fathers and Fr. Barce joined in the 6:00 AM mass of the CSE community. The community members of the CSE female counterpart living nearby joined them also in the mass which was said in English. Fray Lapidez read the Gospel and shared a short reflection.
In order not to burden the community, the Recoletos group took their breakfast at a resto in Ledo. Shortly after, they returned to their future parish church which they had already seen, then moved to the proposed site of the Recoletos convent which is three minutes away. Settled in an area of 5.3 ha, the varied terrain is characterized by clayish type of soil and is physically landscaped by elevations and slopes, with patches of tropical trees and shrubs (and most probably inhabited by some reptiles).
From there, the group proceeded to Sanggau Ledo, another district, around 22 km in distance, and dropped by a parish church administered by the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap).
The last stop was around 30 kms away, in Jagoi Babang, where a brand new parish rectory was given to the Capuchins. Archbp. Simon Poh Hoon Seng of Kuching (Malaysia) blest the edifice.
The Fathers took their lunch at the town proper of Jagoi Babang. Again, the ubiquitous snake curry, boneless turtle meat (how was it cooked by the way, Father Egay?), and pakó (fern) salad were among the “delectable” food on the table. After which, they retraced their route back to Pontianak City, with a stop-over at Bengkayang town for coffee, and when nearing the city at about 7:00PM, they just took their dinner at a roadside restaurant.
Formal meeting with Archbp. Agus
They woke up early on September 21 unmindful that back in their homeland, the day recalled the historic declaration of martial law 46 years ago.
After the holy mass and breakfast, the four Recollects and Fr. William Chang, OFM Cap., Vicar General, had a meeting with Archbishop Agus. Among the salient points discussed were: (1) the stay of the missionaries with MTB community to learn Bahasa; and (2) when they can already speak, one of the friars may already start going to Bengakayang for the initial pastoral exposure while the other stays in Pontianak to look for and create linkages in view of the physical development of both the church and the convent.
The arrangement for the second point which was simply a proposal may still be modified later. Father Provincial explained that for the meantime that was the plan because the archbishop, speaking from experience, knows better the place and the prospective benefactors who can help the Recoletos financially.
Visit to Sintang
At 10:10 AM, Frays Selma and Tubio took NAM Air for a 40-minute flight to Susilo Airport in Sintang Regency. The family of Sr. Felicitas OSA, an Indonesian and currently assigned in the Diocese of Ketapang and whom Fray Tubio had met before, welcomed them at the airport. The request to the family through the sister of Sr. Felicitas was made only after Fray Tubio could not contact Fr. Anyo, the bishop’s secretary, whom he had made a prior agreement.
It turned out that Fr. Anyo who was then at a retreat house where the mobile phone signal strength was zero, had earlier requested Fr. Abong, parochial vicar of the Katedral Kristu Raja (Christ the King Cathedral) to fetch the two Filipinos. Thus, there were two groups of welcomers.
With the family giving way to Fr. Abong, the latter brought the visitors to the bishop’s house, around 45 minutes from the airport. And there, during lunch time, they met the 63-year old Bishop Samuel Oton Sidin, OFM Cap., D.D. Fr. Anyo and another priest of the diocese were also there to welcome them.
“They were hospitable like us, Filipinos,” observed Father Provincial. “The bishop was simple. The place was simple.”
After siesta, the two guests had a formal meeting with the bishop, together with Fr. Anyo, the secretary. Aware of the previous communication that the Recoletos will not yet open a community in his diocese, the bishop expressed his hope that in the future the Recoletos will also come to collaborate. “You are always needed here,” he said.
Fr. Anyo toured the two Filipinos to the cathedral and to Seminari Menengah St. Yohanes Maria Vianney, a high school minor seminary where they met its rector, Fr. Ferry, CM.
After dinner, the family of Sr. Felicitas fetched the two Recollect Fathers and brought them to their family residence where a simple welcome treat was prepared.
Visit to Ketapang
The following day, Sept. 22, the two Recollects attended the 5:30 A.M. Bahasa mass in the cathedral. They took breakfast during which they got acquainted with other five priests residing in the bishop’s house.
Together with Bishop Oton Sidin who was on his way to Jakarta, the two friars went to the airport for their mid-morning flight back to Pontianak City, the main hub for connecting flights, at least, within West Kalimantan. The three took their lunch at the airport.
At 2:30P.M., the friars left for Ketapang Regency. After 40 minutes in the air, they landed at Rahadi Usman Airport. Two Augustinian Sisters, Sr. Priscilla and Sr. Cecilia, met them and, with Sr. Cecilia on the steering wheel, they arrived safely in the convent which is just a 15-minute drive. Upon arrival, the OSA (Order of St. Augustine) Sisters smilingly showed the Fathers their Indonesian brand of hospitality, placing a hand-made garland around their neck. Then, they partook of the merienda prepared at the refectory.
An early dinner was scheduled, during which Fr. Jose Seidel, Jr., OSA was invited to meet the visitors. The Antique-born Fr. Seidel is a classmate of Fray Mercado during their theology years at the Recoletos School of Theology in Miranila, Quezon City. He lives in a three-member community of the OSA Fathers in Ketapang, which belongs the Augustinian Province of Sto. Niño de Cebu.
It was during their stay with the OSA Sisters that Father Provincial noticed how these daughters of St. Augustine in this part of the world are living with fidelity and joy their consecrated life. “Whatever the Sisters are doing, be they in the school or in the hospital, as long as the bell has been tolled for another common activity, they would immediately come together to participate in that activity,” he narrated. And he wished that Recoletos friars learn from that example, having a similar sense of responsiveness in the observance of common acts.
Meeting Bishop Prapdi
Father Provi’s fifth day in Indonesia was a Sunday, Sept. 23. The day started with the celebration of the holy mass at the chapel of the OSA Sisters. Fr. Seidel presided the concelebrated mass in Bahasa. Only the three Fathers took breakfast since the Sisters had already taken theirs at 6:00 A.M.
With Sr. Cecilia, the ever available driver, and Sr. Angela as companion tour guide, the Recollects were able to visit the convent of the OSA Fathers, which is just 5 minutes away from that of the OSA Sisters.
At the request of Fray Tubio, they entered a department store to buy some ice cream for a later gathering, then, they passed by the St. Augustine Parish Church before proceeding to St. Gemma Galgani Cathedral.
At the cathedral, they met the Vicar General who suggested to them that they also meet and greet Bishop Pius Riana Prapdi who was then at his office, to which they agreed. The 51-year old prelate was surprised at their visit, but nonetheless, he was happy to know that the Recoletos have already committed themselves to assist in the pastoral work of the archdiocese. He also assured Father Provincial that when the Recoletos missionaries are already ready to work in Ketapang, they are very much welcome anytime.
They went back to the St. Rita convent of the Sisters, where they took their lunch, took siesta afterwards, and at 4:00 P.M., they paid a visit to the hospital, which was actually a birthing center, run by the Sisters. Father Tubio said that within the entire block occupied by the Sisters, one can find the St. Rita community, the birthing center and a school, the St. Augustine House of Spirituality, and the so-called Motherhouse where the elderly and sick Sisters are being taken care of. It was at the Motherhouse where they took their dinner—their last supper actually in mainland Kalimantan—as their presence with the community was considered a special occasion.
See you soon, Indonesia
September 24 marked their last day at least for this visit in Indonesia. Fray Selma presided the 5:30 mass in English and gave a brief sharing to the Sisters. Fray Tubio concelebrated.
Immediately after the mass, they went straight to the airport. The food served at the plane during their 7:30 AM flight back to Pontianak already sufficed for their breakfast. Upon arrival, they were fetched by Pak Henry Cruz, a common friend of the cathedral parish personnel in Pontianak. He brought the friars to the archdiocesan theology seminary whose rector is a Filipino and ex-Provincial, Fr. Edmund Nantes, OP.
Fr. Nantes told Fray Selma that aside from learning the language, which is important, is also the commitment of the missionary.
They also visited the OSA Sisters whose convent was near the cathedral. There, with Frays Mercado and Lapidez, and the Sisters, they took their lunch sharing the KFC products they bought along the way.
After freshening up, they took a Grab taxi to the airport to catch up with their 5:45 P.M. flight to Jakarta, and the connecting flight at 12:25 A.M. to Manila via Cebu Pacific Air.
Two weeks after
Two weeks swiftly passed since the Recoletos missionaries had first set foot in the Indonesian soil. In their updates to the Office of the Prior Provincial, they said they are doing well and they are continuing their learning of the language.
When asked about their assistance to the victims of the Sulawesi tragedy, they said that aside from the prayer intentions for the victims offered during masses, the archdiocese had mobilized its Commission on Social Action in order to bring the relief goods to the Ground Zero of the disaster.
“The Commission has gathered donations from all parishes under the archdiocese to help the tsunami victims,” Fray Lapidez informed the office of the Prior Provincial.
“Right now, Bro. Cris, the Commission in-charge, is in Bali, to coordinate both with those in the affected areas and the archdiocese,” he added.