Evangelization in remote areas of Kalimantan, where the mission overcomes adversities

The diocese is lost in a remote part of the island of Kalimantan. Here priests (and bishop) arrive every three or four months, only if river conditions allow it, after hundreds of kilometres on difficult roads and rivers that are barely navigable.

Jan 13, 2017

JAKARTA: The diocese is lost in a remote part of the island of Kalimantan. Here priests (and bishop) arrive every three or four months, only if river conditions allow it, after hundreds of kilometres on difficult roads and rivers that are barely navigable.

AsiaNews’s correspondent made this trip, together with Mgr Pius Riana Prapdi, bishop of Ketapang, to visit some of these remote and inaccessible parishes, between the end of 2016 and the first days of the new year. Here they met the natives and heard their problems and saw the challenges of a land where the mission requires "a strong motivation and a tough mentality."

Here is the story of the trip:

Pastoral mission in remote areas of Ketapang Diocese, strong will and tough mentality needed

Even for Indonesian Catholics in Kalimantan – and even more in Java and other islands across the nation – Ketapang Diocese in West Kalimantan Province is a place that many people have nothing to say. They have no idea about this huge diocese whose major areas are located in remote areas. If they have some idea of it, then their stories are limited only in the “downtown” of Ketapang. But Ketapang Diocese is not only Ketapang’s district downtown which is almost similar to a sub district in Java.

Lying in the southernmost part of West Kalimantan Province, Ketapang Diocese’s huge area is almost similar to Central Java and half of West Java Province. With its 329 “stations” –a quasi-parish administration area as commonly known by Indonesian Catholics—it is not yet completely done by its bishop Mgr Pius Riana Prapdi to visit them all within his four-year long tenure as its bishop.

“I hope I can fulfill my dream to visit all ‘stations’ this year in 2017,” he shared with AsiaNews during a seven-day long trip to remote areas in two parishes: Sepotong Parish Church and Sandai from 28 Dec 2016 to 3 Jan 2017.

Strong motivation and tough mentality is needed

Yes, it is definitely only two parishes. But to reach some stations in Holy Family Sepotong Parish and another station in Sandai Parish, it needs not only strong motivation and will but also tough mentality from all parties who join this pastoral mission to remote areas.

To reach these various destinations with its 350 km from the Ketapang’s main downtown, we have to ride a 4x4 wheeled-drive double cabin car Toyota Hilux to meet the real challenge of slippery muddy roads across the jungle. The inland journey was then followed with hours of “canoeing” using a 15-HP engine motor-boat to reach remote areas that can only be reached by river stream, mostly when the surface is good due to heavy rain fall. If not, then these remote areas cannot be reached.

AsiaNews joined this trip as Ketapang Bishop Msgr. Pius Riana Prapdi offered us a good opportunity to see something totally different from Java. Here, in Ketapang’s remote areas, pastoral mission can only be done with strong motivation and will as well as tough mentality to meet real challenges on the trip to meet “unthinkable” things that might not happen in Java: canoeing the river stream for hours as well as riding above the muddy slippery roads in the middle of “nowhere”.

20 year long of knowing nothing about the bishop

Limat, Tanjung Beringin, Selangkut Raya and Merapu are Sepotong’s stations in Ketapang Diocese. Their location is found in Laur River’s upstream.  These locations can only be reached with a small motorboat if only the level of river’s stream is ‘high’. 

You can enjoy the trip within 2-3 hours long with these small motorboat worth of 4 passengers only with their baggage in a ‘normal’ season: high water level. During dry season, the water level is too low that trip may take days compared with only hours during normal season.

It was on December 2016 that heavy rains fall almost every day that Bishop’s tourney to these remote areas could be made: to perform the Sacrament of Confirmation, to commission a new chapel and meeting these native Dayak catholic people with whom bishop had never meet for almost 20 years.

Confirmation Sacrament was made in Tanjung Beringin, Limat, and Selangkut Raya to dozens of children, young people and adults.

A new chapel was commissioned in Merapu after four-year long of efforts to construct a simple church in a remote village in the jungle.

To meet local native Dayak Catholics in scores of these remote areas were definitely an amazing experience as today they strongly adopt Catholicism despite rare opportunity to meet priest and the bishop. Priest’s arrival to their community is done once within three or four months’ periods and it depends on the weather or the water lever of the river. In some area, people may use off road motorcycle but the road is too dangerous with its muddy steep uphill road.

No electricity, no mobile signal, no good shower

Why this needs strong motivation and will as well as tough mentality?

This is not only a pastoral mission to take care of the local native Dayak Catholics to serve holy Eucharist, catechesis and confirmation. But also how far tough are the people to go there as there are not available: electricity, mobile signal, toilet, clean water, television.

The river is the best place to take shower where crocs sometimes appear. Electricity is provided individually with generator set in each family. Communication is not possible as there is no mobile signal, unless you are asked to hike to nearby hill for two-hour walk into a deep forest and you cannot safely return ‘home’ until local people guide your journey.

Indonesia has got its independence since 1945. But, in some parts of the nation including in West Kalimantan Province where Ketapang Diocese is located, development is still very poor.

And yet, Ketapang Bishop Msgr. Pius Riana Prapdi has his personal commitment to take care of these people who are not touched with development performed by central and local government. During his visit to these remote areas, he promotes not only catholic values and perform the sacraments, but also boost the morale of the people –mostly young people to obtain better education and health expertise by becoming teachers and nurse.

In Selangkut Raya station for example, it is only one local young people who has recently managed to complete his studies in Java with the help of the bishop. “It happened that a good donor from Central Java promoted this scholarship program for this local young people,” he tells AsiaNews.

It happens only in one station and it is only one person. The rest are only primary or junior high graduates who then work as low paid workers in rubber farm or in palm plantation but with no good financial compensation.

Nomadic farming

In almost Dayak village, they earn living by ‘mobile’ farming. They ‘burn” and cleanse the jungle and open a new farming compound. With the presence of massive palm plantation owned by huge corporations, the daily life of these native Dayaks is also in danger as their source of life in the jungle are becoming more and more limited: water source, various plants and vegetables that are easily found in the jungle, fruits, etc.

Kalimantan (or earlier known as Borneo) Island has been widely known as the world’s second “lungs” of the Earth after Amazon. Together with Sumatra Island, Kalimantan was originally almost completely forested. But today, much of these thick tropical forest has suffered major deforestation due to massive logging and palm plantation that endanger rare species including Sumatran tigress and elephants in Sumatra and Orang-utan in Kalimantan.

Facing serious challenges

With its huge territory, Ketapang Diocese has face lots of challenges, both spiritual and material. 

Together with at least 40 priests (diocesan and Passionist) and dozens of nuns from various orders and congregations, Ketapang dioceses face the following serious challenges.

Strong faith is endangered

Decades ago, the local native people (the Dayaks) make their living by ‘nomadic’ farming through cleansing forest into a new farming field. They did it traditionally for decades until finally deforestation is taking place where lots of area is changed into monoculture plantation (palm) and mining, following massive logging earlier. They changed their living from farming to accepting wages from companies. Social behaviour and relationship is radically changing which create new ‘phenomena’ namely office hour working is much more interesting rather than doing ritual ceremonies in their chapel.

Life goal

Their big dream is to become state civil employee, workers in palm plantation or mining companies. Religious vocation is poor since young people feel interested in other things rather than doing for the Church. Minor seminarians are now only 35, major seminarians 8, and priests are 40.

Environmental issue

There has been radical change in Ketapang Diocese’s geographical map: from farms to mining fields. From thick forest to plantations. Earlier, local people are much closed with their natural Earth and environment from where they earn living: fishes, fruits, vegetables, animals to hunt, etc. With the presence of vast palm plantation and major deforestation across the diocese, the Church of Ketapang Diocese is challenged to preserve the ultimate posture of all creatures in the region.--Asia News

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