Witnessing in the City of Heroes

By Fr. Nilo A. Lardizabal, OP

It seems quite nostalgic for me to write this article on my work and ministry in Indonesia, particularly in Surabaya, where three priests, including myself, administer the parish of Redemptor Mundi (Redeemer of the World). It is nostalgic because I left the Philippines at the end of October 2011 for this new assignment, and now I have spent almost a year in Indonesia. Of course, there is still a lot more to learn, but I take things one step at a time.           


The City of Heroes

Surabaya is a bustling metropolis. The name comes from two Javanese words which represent both a fish and an alligator, both cunning predators. This is quite sufficient to describe the temperament of the people. Like a fish, they are diligent and gentle. But like fierce alligators, they are also valiant warriors, as proven in the early 40’s when the people gained their independence from the Dutch, earning for Surabaya the “title” of “The City of Heroes”.

The roads in Surabaya are clean, the people are mostly disciplined, and traffic is tolerable. Since Indonesia is a country of many islands, we were relatively far from the capital city of Jakarta. It takes two hours by plane to get to Surabaya but from the airport, everything is smooth and relaxing.

Indonesia is also the biggest Islamic country in the world – around 90% of its 242 million-population are Muslims. But it is a democratic state – all religions are seen as equal in the eyes of the law. The majority of the people are quite moderate in their views of Islam which could explain why there are fewer fanatics and less quarrels with other faiths.

Called to be Heroes too

The Dominicans were invited to Surabaya by the bishop, Monsignor Vincentius Sutikno. He organized the diocese quite well by establishing a seminary and organizing the faithful into Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC). He wanted the seminary to teach Thomism and other related topics, and that became my assignment. Bishop Sutikno also gave the parish of Redemptor Mundi to the Indonesian Dominican fathers. This parish is an international parish and the only one with Masses in English. Hundreds of parishioners and visitors flock to this church in the hope of being inspired by the Word of God.

One very important and inspiring event is when many people ask to be baptized as Catholics. Most of them are Buddhists, while some are Hindus, Muslims, and from other Christian denominations. We are cautious though to admit Muslims because there might be pressure from the Muslim community (to not baptize them). But still, God’s grace allows them to be baptized as Catholics. Last Easter Vigil, we had an astounding 30 new Catholics – three were Muslim. Our work though is not really aimed at converting people and convincing them to “switch” to Catholicism. We work there to bear witness to our Catholic Faith, to invite our parishioners to be heroes of their Faith, just as in their history when they became heroes of their country.

Some Difficulties

Although the Indonesian language is quite similar to Tagalog it still is a great challenge to be able to communicate well. Bahasa Indonesia is easy as there are no conjugations, but it still takes time to learn to speak it fluently. A phenomenon for me is the fact that I use formal Indonesian, equipped sometimes with the poetry of the language. But I cannot speak the same way casually. Now, students, workers, young people – they all speak casual Indonesian which, like Tagalog, includes many slang expressions, shortened words and the like. Learning Bahasa Indonesia is both a struggle and an interesting experience.

The culture in Indonesia is, of course, very different. It is highly respectful of elders and authorities (like priests) and is more conservative. Once, they were shocked to see me in jeans and rubber shoes! Normally they would see priests wearing the Roman collar all the time, not just a plain shirt. It was quite unique though because the people were looking for young and vibrant priests. It is good that all the priests in Redemptor Mundi are young. We try to evangelize in new, yet ever traditional, ways

Hopes and Dreams

The parish will be administered by the Dominicans for only five years. We hope that we can give and share the Word of God to the best of our abilities. We pray that the Catholics will truly come to love their Faith more, and draw closer to Jesus and the Blessed Mother. Tensions are there of course, even among fellow Christians. But there are more people, even from other religions, who wish for cooperation and peace.

I am still learning a lot in this missionary experience. It is not easy to evangelize where Catholics are the minority. But it does give one a sense of belonging, of oneness with fellow Catholics, whatever the race or culture. Overall I am happy where I am – this is something I did not expect, yet I hesitatingly obeyed when I first heard of this mission. God indeed has greater plans, and I am happy to be a part of it. Puji Tuhan! Praise the Lord!

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