Indonesia: training seminarians for mission and evangelization
di Santosh Digal
In the Ledalero Catholic institute of Philosophy and Theology more than 200 candidates are preparing for the priesthood. The number of applicants in this Muslim country is overwhelming. The Indonesian island Flores boasts one of the largest training center for Catholic priests. Ledalero has already produced nearly 10,000 priests including 10 bishops
At 7.30 am in the morning, the 1st year students are arriving at the Ledalero campus, a short distance from the port city of Maumere. More than 1.000 Philosophy and Theology students are currently registered here. The majority of them are preparing for ministry in the Catholic Church.
Although the Seminary has been operating for nearly 90 years, the university buildings were new after earthquake in 1992 in which more than 2000 people died. The Church in the campus was rebuilt partly with the financial assistance from Germany. Father Otto Gusti Madung Ndegong, SVD teaches here at Ledalero Catholic institute of Philosophy and Theology, a member of the Indonesian Province of the Divine Word Missionaries.
Fr. Ndegong also studied in Germany. He returned home 10 years ago and he is now rector of the university, where he himself was trained for the priesthood. Much has changed since then. “This is one of the largest Seminary in the world. We have 1.060 students. More than half of them, almost 600 are candidates for the priesthood,” said Fr. Ndegong.
Founded in 1937 to train the Divine Word Missionaries, the Seminary is now one of the Region’s most prestigious universities. Several dioceses and 14 religious orders send their seminarians at Ledalero send their students there, of course, not all young men reach the ordination.
“Some end up working as journalists, teachers of religion, as university’s professors, or even as politicians. Actually a year ago, we have a deputy Mayor at Maumere who completed the study here,” Fr. Ndegong added.
There are 40 lecturers on the staff, most of them Divine Word Missionaries. The Philosophical and Theological training takes six years.
The island of Flores is just 15 square kilometers, one of the smallest in Southeast Indonesia. The 1.600 meter volcano attracts some visitors but the island has not yet being targeted by mass tourism. Flores has population just 1.5 million, 90% of the residents are Christians. When Divine Word Missionaries first came to the island in 1914, they looked for the suitable side for a Seminary. Eventually, they built one in Ledalero, in the rain forest, 10 km South of Maumere.
The older seminarians live in eight residential units. Jhonto who expects to be ordained next year is one of them. His current responsibilities include much more than just academic study.
“We are divided into some groups, and we are responsible to do this one day, cooking also, and clean the rice,” he said.
The students prepare their own meals. It is simple effort, but it introduces the seminarians to the basic skills of cooking. “We have to learn how to cook, but now, I think that all of us have do or have to give the best of ourselves although it might be not delicious but our goal is that all of us do not feel hungry,” he asserts.
The rooms are small and furnished only with desk and cupboard and a bed. As a future missionary, Jhonto has to live a simple life. The only personal item he has is a picture of his father. Jhonto left home at young age. Before coming to Ledalero, he attended what called the Minor Seminary for six years where he completed High School.
For young people from the country side, Minor Seminary often provides the only opportunity for an education. But, even as a child, Jhonto wanted to become a priest. “It is my vocation. I do not have any other best answer. That is to say it is my own will that that I want to become a priest and I feel that God calls me. I just want to give what I have found, according to my experience in the gospel, in the bible. I feel that all the things I got here it come from God, and I will share with others,” he further adds.
What was a Seminary be without a playing field. Sports are encouraged here, to balance all the mental and spiritual tasks. Being a missionary can be strenuous work. Jhonto’s superiors have already informed him where he would be sent. “I want to go abroad and I chose Liberia, a country in West Africa. It is my first chosen country. I have prepared myself to face all the challenges that I may face in my assigned mission place,” he assured.
Early morning three times a week the seminary’s truck takes students to the market in Maumere. Each residential unit sent a group to do a week’s shopping there. Buying fish and fresh vegetables are not the only purpose. Regular visits to the market also bring them into the contact with the locals.
“I think it is good for us because we are not only to learn about Theology and Philosophy in the classroom, but we also have time to go out from the Seminary to serve people in the rural area. It is important, because after the ordination as a priest, we have to work with people. This is the real work, not only about Philosophy and Theology problem but the parishioners’ concerns. So during our study we have to know people’s issues, concerns and realities,” he added.
On their visit to the market, the students learn how to recognize whether the fish are fresh or not and how much it costs. They come well prepared with the shopping list, since they have limited budget. They have to shop wisely; otherwise they will only have rice to eat toward the end of the month that happened sometimes.
Most of the islanders are farmers or fishermen, and many of the seminarians come from the poor families, however some are children of the government officials or wealthy businessmen.
The priest in charge of their formation takes care of that they do not lose touch with everyday life, and with the parents. Persons who to be ordained cannot just lean from books and must learn from life, and that’s where contextual theories come in the life, begin with experience.
“What strikes me year by year, even today is when the students have been living with the old women in the market place, with the street people here, with the youngsters, with unemployed. They talk to all and interact with them–doctors, patients, and prison inmates, women in vulnerable situations, children and people of every walk of life,” said Father Ndegong, rector of the Seminary.
“These realities shocks and but they learn for them and their life conditions. So, these guys now in their twenties, some nearly 30 in their age and first time that they actually sat with women selling vegetables and trying to live with that and possibly have to pay for their child’s every day. So you know if they do not do this, how will they, what will they do later?” he explained.
Special occasions at the university, an important visitor here the Governor of Flores with the impressive entourage. He received by the rector of the university Fr. Otto Gusti, good relation with the government is important for the smooth running of the Seminary which received its charge as university in 1971. The Governor is accompanied by Fr. Lukas Jua, SVD, as Provincial Superior, Ende/Flores of the Divine Word Missionaries. Fr. Jua is ultimately responsible for the university, “15 or 20 years ago we saw that this Seminary would be empty or less seminarians but what happen it a contrary now because of we are getting more seminarians now,” he said.
The auditorium was packed, and his welcoming – Fr. Jua outlines the university aims and special identity. Catholic are count for only 3% of the Indonesian’s population, but they are proud community. “We live among people with different religions. Muslims, like others, are very devout. That’s why it has a positive influence on Catholics, because we want to keep our identity,” he added.
Ledalero has already produced nearly 10,000 priests including 10 bishops. No wonder the Seminary received request from regions—all over the world where there is a shortage of young pastors. Former students from Ledalero are now working in over 50 countries. The abundance of religious vocation in Indonesia can be traced back to the work of the missionaries and the local towns and the villages over the years, says the Provincial Superior.
“First of all, the presence of the missionaries from Germany and Poland. Their presence among the people, the poor people in the villages, remote areas, for years some even stayed for 40 years in parishes, with so difficult access, no transportation, is noteworthy. This witness, personal witness through Christianity is edifying. This is to me is the main attraction for the young people in the villages to become priests,” Fr. Jua said.
The European missionaries prepared the ground and handed over nearly all authorities to local priests.
Fr. Georg Kirchberger, SVD is a German missionary who came here 43 years ago. He is the last German priest lecturing at the university.
“When I arrived, there were just two Indonesians among the 20 lecturers. Now there are just two foreigners among staff of 40, me and an English man, and we both at the retirement age,” he said.
It Sunday, Mass is being celebrated at the small parish at the mountain. Fr. Georg has been coming here for years to minister to the villages.
It is common for lecturer from Ledalero to do pastoral work in the surrounding villages on Sundays, usually accompanied by seminarians. It is a valuable experience for the students. Here in the villages the people’s faith is strong.
“They are troubled by doubt; they lived in two different religious life. It is something that they do not question,” he said.
Devine Word Missionaries like Fr. Georg continues to have great influence on young people here in the mountain villages which they served for many years.
“Becoming priest is to consider interesting and attractive to young people all over Flores. They have almost no reason not to do it, if I think of my time in High School; we hide our plan to enter into priesthood or rather other will bully or teas us. It is not the case here, which is easy,” Fr. Georg said. “Becoming a priest to out village leaders in Flores, Indonesia carries social standards,” he said.
In his lecture, Fr. Gusti examines the motives of young men who want to become priests. He has a clear idea on what kind of person a priest should be today.
“They must have a sound theological education and socially involve, by which I mean he must be open to social issues. I believe Devine Word students should love people to have an open heart to them, and especially love the people who need our help,” Fr. Gusti said.
A special project supported by Divine Word Missionaries is in a women’s shelter. Many of the women who seek refuge here have suffered years for domestic violence. One of the priests from Ledalero, Fr. Ignatius Ledot, SVD, lecturer at Ledalero, visits the house with seminarians each week. Here children, young women and mothers find protection. They also received support, so the abuse they suffered for years would not be repeated. For the seminarians, it is an encounter with deep suffering.
“Domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, HIV/AIDS, all of these problems, so the idea is they have to have the experience of the victims. I think this is a good experience for them because they can reflect on their vocation. When they meet some victims or a girl who was raped share her story with them. I think seminarians want to help the victims, but the victims also help them to think better on how they are to live their vocation,” said Fr. Ignatius.
A game of card can sometime produces smile on faces that they have forgotten how to laugh.
Sr. Estaquia founded the project tracked off 20 years ago. She is encouraged by the seminarians’ involvement. They can help draw society’s attention by domestic violence. The students read the bible together with the women, comfort and courage them to make a fresh start.
“In the past, people here think that if you want to be a priest you only have job to celebrate Mass, to pray and to work in the community, but I think now days people recognize that you are called not for your own community, but called also to work with the social problem,” Fr. Ingantius added.
“Like Jesus, one helps the sick and sees the problems and live with the people who have problem. So I think now days as a priest we should if you want to follow Jesus, you have to work and live like Jesus,” he asserted.
Sunday Mass at the Seminary’s church at Ledalero, Fr. Ignatius who teaches Liturgy at the university is the main celebrant. Although this is a male world, the priest breaks with convention and they attempt to protect women.
Fr. Ignatius tells on the violence men he had to deal with. “He wants to kill a girl, and Sr. Estaquia called me and Fr. Gusti, and we just take the woman and brought her here in Seminary for couple of weeks, I think they learn how to protect the victim,” Fr. Ignatius shared.
“We go out to the poor, to marginalized group because of Jesus’ option for the poor. I remember Pope Francis’ saying –the Church can be only converted by the poor – that means the main reason we go out to the poor is not to help them but because the poor can convert us from being a triumphant to be a serving Church,” Fr. Gusti said.
Church is at the service of humanity. These students practice theology every week together with their lecturers. With Fr. Jhon, they visit the prison in Maumere. During the day the cells are opened. The prisoners use this opportunity to sleep on the ground. There is no bed in the crowd tight room that house 5 to 8 men. The prison built for 75 inmates, it holds now 165. Fr. Jhon invites the inmates into prisoners’ chapel. It was recently decorated by a young man who was sentenced to 10 years in the prison for sleeping with 16 years old girlfriend. The painting shows people behind the prison’s wall. Respectfully, they gathered around the table but they are not alone, Jesus is there offering them hope and comfort. It is a challenge for Fr. Jhon and the seminarians.
“The biggest crime I suppose would be domestic violence. In the past it was murder, but it is now domestic violence. No one is thought to be in corruption. They wait and see, and if they see the student is only there because it is part of the school program, no! But if they see that the student has a heart for them and wished to listen and understand them, then there are openness in anything and they open themselves to them, which is very excellent.
“I have something like them to insert themselves wherever they are sent, to become one with the people. You know, to make a clear option with them, with the poor, and the marginalized. That’s the choice in life they make and enjoy it,” said Fr. Jhon.
Mass at the cemetery of the Divine Word Missionaries – a former teacher at the university has died – and his brother and collages are holding a requiem Mass for him. The grave stone commemorates the first missionaries from Germany and Holland who came to Indonesia to preach the gospel.
Today the situation is reversed; young Indonesians prepare themselves in Ledalero to go to a country where Christian communities are rare because of the shortage of priests. Nobody knows how long this miracle of Flores will continue, but the young men preparing here for ministry at home and abroad are learning the valuable lesson that priest must live close to the people they serve.
Indonesia, a nation made up of 17,000 islands, is the world’s third-largest democracy after India and the US. It is a home to 260 million, including home to hundreds of ethnic groups and languages.