QUEZON CITY – January 8, 2020 will go down in history as the “official birthday” of the first Recoletos community in Indonesia. That’s practically around sixteen months after the arrival of the pioneer group of Augustinian Recollect missionaries in this Muslim-dominated country.
It was on September 19, 2018, feast day of St. Alonso de Orozco, an Augustinian saint, when the two Recoletos missionaries – Frays Russell Lapidez and Dominador Mercador Jr. – first set foot in the Archdiocese of Pontianak in West Kalimantan (Borneo). They were accompanied by no less than the Prior Provincial himself, Fray Dionisio Selma, and the Section Head for Mission Apostolate, Fray Edgar Tubio.
In compliance with the mandate of the 55th General Chapter and the Life and Mission Project (2018-2022) of the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno, the mission in Indonesia was opened, thanks to the cordial welcome of Archbishop Agustinus Agus. And thanks as well to Frays Lapidez and Mercado who, equipped with missionary experiences and fervor, blazed the trail and “broke ground” for what would become the first Augustinian Recollect community in Indonesia. Together with the newly-ordained priest, Fray Jovy Gallego, they comprise the Province’s 26th local community, which will later be headquartered in the district of Ledo, of the Bengkayang Regency.
Fray Lapidez was appointed Local Prior. Fray Mercado was recommended to be the Parish Priest (or whatever is the equivalent title) of soon-to-be-declared Sts. Peter and Paul Quasi-Parish. Fray Gallego was appointed Local Procurator and Chronicler.
In his protocol that gave the green light for the establishment of this new community, Prior General, Very Rev. Fray Miguel Miró, OAR, told the Prior Provincial, referring to the three missionaries: “All of them deserve our trust and recognition for their audacity and availability.”
Frays Lapidez and Mercado are seasoned missionaries. Still in their early 40s, they had already spent more than six years in Sierra Leone, West Africa when they made themselves available to work in this Southeast Asian mission. In a few months’ time since their arrival, they were able to gradually adapt to the new environment, including its distinctly Malay language. But the journey was – and is – not that easy. As Fray Mercado tried to describe it: “Many would think and say that Bahasa Indonesia is easy to learn because of its similarities with the Filipino and Visayan languages. But the truth is, the similarities are nothing compared to the dissimilarities of vocabularies, sentence structure, and idiomatic expressions. It is difficult and energy-consuming.”
But having personally assessed their communication skills in Bahasa Indonesia to be satisfactory, the archbishop handed each of the two his initial yet temporary appointment: Fray Mercado was to extend help in the Katedral Santo Yosep (St. Joseph Cathedral) while Fray Lapidez, in the Paroki Maria Ratu Pencinta Damai (Mary Queen of Peace Parish).
While this was the arrangement for six months, until June of 2019, the conscientious bishop saw to it that the two Augustinian Recollect friars would be able to keep their religious observances as well. The Theologate House of the archdiocese became their “home base,” where they would meet after their parish works, sit together and make sense of their lived experiences in their respective parish ministry. Here, too, they would join in the basic daily schedule of the seminarians such as the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, recitation of the holy rosary, celebration of the holy mass, meals, recreation, study, and rest. Fray Mercado likened this place to a training center because it was here that, plucking up enough courage, they had started to preside the holy mass in Bahasa, and to deliver their homily also in Bahasa.
Much earlier, before their sojourn in this Theologate Seminary, they first stayed for a month at the convent of the “Kongregasi Bruder Maria Tak Bernoda” (“Congregation of the Brothers of Mary Immaculate Conception”) adjacent to the cathedral to first learn the local language. This was actually the cradle of their transition to Indonesian culture.
On the last week of June 2019, the two Recollect friars left for Bengkayang, one of the 17 districts of the eponymous regency, around 170 kms from the city of Pontianak. The convent of Paroki Santo Pius X (St. Pius X Parish) here would be their home for the coming months. (Coincidentally, St. Pius X, pope from 1903 to 1914, is historically linked with the Augustinian Recollects for having elevated their Congregation into a Religious Order in 1912. Pius X was canonized in 1954.)
Meantime, this convent where the diocesan priests assigned in this parish also stay, serves as the friars’ halfway house to their pastoral activities at Sts. Peter and Paul Chapel (which will later become a quasi-parish) and its different “stasis” (or “outstation chapels”). The two Recollects have already visited almost all these stasis and celebrated mass with the parishioners. “The people received the missionaries with open arms and expressed their excitement to work alongside them,” Fray Mercado observed.
According to Fray Mercado quoting the archbishop, St. Pius X Parish will soon be divided into two: this matrix parish and the one to be administered by the Recollects. The present Sts. Peter and Paul Chapel which is located in Ledo district, around 30 kms away from Bengkayang district, will fall under the jurisdiction of the Recollects. An interesting feature is highly noticeable here: a road is separating the present chapel from the newly-built convent. When Fray Gallego arrives in March 2020, the three-member community will transfer in this convent for a temporary stay until the bigger one and the new parish church some three minutes away from Sts. Peter and Paul will have been constructed and ready for occupancy. When asked about the name of this bigger convent and new parish, Fray Mercado replied: “It’s still up in the air.”
In his latest report to the Prior Provincial, Fray Lapidez echoed the plan of the archbishop i.e., to start the construction of the parish convent within this year, and “that a quasi-parish will be established first, without specifying the exact date.”
He also said that their ability to speak Bahasa Indonesia has greatly improved. “We can communicate better now and have adjusted well to the culture of the people.”