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Exploratory visit to Flores Island

By Fr Vaclav Klement, SDB

Ruteng - Ende - Maumere, Flores Island, Indonesia, 8 October 2019 -- The motivation for the 4 day exploratory visit (4-8 October)on the roads of Flores Island (Eastern Indonesia) comes directly from the Rector Major's animation visit to Jakarta, February 2018. When Fr Ángel asked the 12 novices for their names and places of origin, the vast majority simply replied 'I'm from Flores.' And when he asked the Delegate for Indonesia how many communities we have in Flores after 33 years of our mission in Indonesia, he received the answer 'not yet'.

Flores is home to 3.5 million of people, one of the very few Indonesia territories with a majority Catholic population. In some places there are 87% Catholics, in some places there are many inter-religious marriages between Christians and Muslims, one of the best ways for inter-religious understanding and a harmonious society. At the same time, Flores is among the poorest islands in the entire country, only recently developing thanks to the tourism industry. Aside from the 3-5 larger cities, the great majority of young people in Flores live in poor rural settings, in the landscape that reminds one very much the mountains and nature of Timor Leste.

On the journey, Fr. Boedi Soerjonoto (INA Provincial Economer) and Fr. Klement (EAO Regional Councillor) visited the key Catholic institutions (seminaries, schools and diocesan centers) of Ruteng diocese, Ende archdiocese and Maumere diocese. Due to time constraints they were not able to visit the most eastern diocese of Larantuka. The journey started from the West and concluded in the East, through three of the four Flores Catholic dioceses, starting in Labuan Bajo (Komodo airport, Ruteng diocese) and ending in Maumere.

About 55% of the Catholics of Indonesia (9 million = 3.5% of total population) is concentrated in Flores and adjacent islands of NTT (East Nusa Tenggara province), mainly as a fruit of first evangelization done by the Portuguese missionaries in the 16th and 17th century and since 1913 by intense evangelization entrusted in the initial stage to the SVD (Society of Divine Word - Verbites) missionaries mainly from Holland.

The two visitors travelled by car and visited three minor seminaries of ‘St. John Paul II’ in Labuhan Bajo and ‘Pius XII’ in Kisol (Ruteng diocese) and in Mataloko – Bajawa (Ende archdiocese). In each of them hundreds of secondary school students are studying, with high quality education and accompanied by formators from diocesan and inter-congregational clergy. Everywhere the superiors expressed their openness to welcome Don Bosco's Salesians, even for simple ‘vocation promotion’, since the ‘SDB Congregation’ is basically unknown in the local Church.

Very impressive was also the short but deep insight into the largest Catholic formation Asian Major seminary of St. Peter in Ritapiret (diocese of Maumere) and adjacent School of Philosophy (Ledalero, Maumere diocese). Over the past 50 years of official recognition the Ledalero Philosophy-Theology study center has prepared more than 5800 graduates, including 19 bishops, 1822 priest and 3978 lay people; some 500 of them have been sent as missionaries ad gentes to all five continents. At present the “Filosofat” has more than 1300 students.

At an informal level, the two visitors also met the three Vicar Generals of Ruteng, Ende and Maumere dioceses and enquired about the needs of the young people, of the local Church and of the need for another religious congregation in the diocese.

Young people of Flores are looking for better job opportunities at home, to prevent the massive work migration to Malaysia and other parts of the country. Catholic education and especially technical schools are still not fully developed, while every diocese recognized that young generation of faithful are drifting from active Church life. The key word is ‘guide and accompany the young’ out of the parish or school structures. Recently founded Catholic University (Ruteng) or Flores University (Ende) are just starting their youth – campus ministry.

For the Salesians of Indonesia, Flores is a familiar place, since almost 50% of the perpetually professed confreres and also many SDB missionaries ad gentes were born here: Fr. Jebarus – Holland, Fr. Togo – Ecuador, Fr. Poma – Paraguay, Cl. Beatus Tola – Brazil, Fr. Werun – Mongolia and Cl. Paulus Bataona is doing his practical training in PNG. During the short stay the two visitors were able to meet many of their parents and share the joy with two missionaries at their family visit.

At present the INA vice-province has 62 Salesians living in 7 local communities (6 in Java island and one in Sumba island) with 6 novices.

We pray for the solid discernment of the Indonesia Vice-province first apostolic work in Flores island. The Indonesia vice-province has already begun an official enquiry about invitation from the four dioceses to share our charism according the needs of the youth and the local Churches. As our Rector Major says: ‘I’m happy about this exploratory trip to Flores. We need to dream about Flores and make this dream come true with our first presence there!’












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