Darren Chan, a 21 year old young Catholic, shares his recent pilgrimage of experiencing God and the strengthening of his faith in Indonesia.

INDONESIA- I was to embark on my first overseas trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia with a group of 27 Catholics from Singapore. Days before, I heard news that Mount Kelud, an active volcano situated 200 kilometers from my destination had erupted. However, through God’s grace and fervent prayers, I was greeted by sunny and clear skies upon arrival and there was no sign that the eruption had occurred.

I felt that the Indonesia religious groups have touched me through their way of life and also by helping the less fortunate during my visit. One of the religious groups that left an impression on me was the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) in Rawaseneng and Gedono.I visited both the male and female monasteries. The monks and nuns in these monasteries lead a life of a Trapisan. I was invited to partake in joining the monks and nuns for their daily masses which I found to be reflective and calming even though it was said in Malay.

I had the opportunity in finding out more about their lives by speaking with two Catholic Trapisan monks, Brother Antonius Anjar Daniadi (OCSO) and Brother Joseph Marie Cassant (OCSO) from the male monastery. There are a total of 28 monks residing in the monastery with their abbot as their in charge. The monastery was affected by Mount Kelud’s eruption but it was just for one day which resulted in sticky ash, dust and also pools of water. They believe that it is through prayer and God’s guidance that they are able to open their hearts to stay spiritually grounded as Trappists. With 178 hectares of land, the monks have their own dairy farm, coffee plantation and bakery where they do daily manual work and also have created opportunities for the villagers to help them. They are self-sufficient in their own ways as instruments of God’s work.

These Trappists lead a life devoted to prayer through various spiritual methods such as fasting, spiritual readings, manual labor and observance of prayer in solitude. These catholic practices are a form of expression in making God the center of their lives. It is a life filled with complete devotion and faithfulness to God. To my surprise they shared with me that they adhere to a strict regime of not communicating with the outside world and working every day, without an off day. Brother Cassant shared that the monks wake up at 3am every day. He said, “It is the best time to remind ourselves of God as part of a vigil of great solitude in facing God in internal silence, we only go to bed at 8.30pm every day.”

Brother Cassant said, “Normally the people of Jakarta buy bread and coffee from us and it serves as a form of donation in up keeping the monastery.” Adding on Brother Antonius said, “The villagers will volunteer their help if they want to find a job and they also believe that by attending mass at the monastery, their prayers and intercessions are answered and 99 percent of them are Catholics.”

The monastery founding fathers have set aside special funds to give the villagers education and scholarships for those that achieve outstanding results. However, family background and income is also a criterion for the selection of these scholarships. Brother Antonius informs me that people can donate their used clothing or second hand items to the monastery and they will give them to the villagers during festive occasions such as Christmas and Hari Raya. Adding on he says, “The monastery will prepare meals for the villagers on such occasions and invite them to join these gatherings.”

The monastery has a guest house for guests that want to spend their time in prayer with the monks. Guests are allowed to volunteer at the plantation during their stay and also experience life as a Trappist. Brother Cassant said, “Being a guest at the monastery is a time of retreat in prayer and enjoying the peaceful surroundings in order to regain their balance from the outside world.” The Cistercian community is a family and Brother Anthony shares with me that in 2003, he joined the monastery. By doing so, he leads a life of humble learning, labour, love, perseverance and simplicity. In learning to live a life as a faithful catholic religious, Brother Cassant said, “Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly with peace of mind and as a faithful Christian.”

Sister Martina (OSCO) from the female monastery in Gedono shared that the trapisan community is a “school of love, love is given to us by God and we need to love God by loving others.” The community consists of 31 nuns and 2 aspirants and they are tasked to start every day with prayer as a community and they wake up at the same timing as the monks. They also believe that punctuality for church is very important and all timings must be met.

The female monastery was set up in 1987 and the nuns used volcanic stones from the eruption of Mount Merbabu in the past to build their buildings. The sisters also rely on manual labour to sustain themselves and they make use of every resource available. I had the opportunity to browse through their gift shop which sells a variety of items from jam made from guava fruit, tamarinds to make drinks, assortment of biscuits called kue khas, ketir yoghurt and holy pictures and cards. Sister Martina said, “Many people in Indonesia order the ketir yoghurt which we pack and send to them; it is our main source of income for us”.

The sisters also have a close-knit relationship with their community of villagers and Sister Martina feels that “The key to life is not perfection but reconciliation and we can start anew through God’s help.” She also shared  the importance of celebrating their baptismal day rather than their birthdays so as  to “thank the Lord for the Catholic faith, the people of God and also the religious people.”

Sister Martina also shared that there are 150 psalms in the bible and they are given 2 weeks to finish praying all the psalms. She feels that the book of psalms is a form of expression by Jesus and that Jesus knew the psalms by hard. She added, “We can grow spirituality as Catholics by absorbing the words of God.”

Sistha Pradipta Sari, a parishioner from the church of St Ignatius Magelang said, “The most memorable experience was the visit to the nuns who lead such a humble life and are different from the nuns in other Orders.” Adding on she said, “I was especially touched when Sister Martina told us that the nuns pray before dawn because, at those times, people are resting but the nuns are completing the circle of prayer. It makes me want to spend time there and to follow them in their daily life and prayer.”

As a Catholic, Sistha has learned a lot by sharing experiences with her family and by being open-minded in meeting Catholics from other countries. Adding on she said, “I was impressed with the amount of time the pilgrims from Singapore spent for prayer and praise and worship. Some of the pilgrims also shared their experiences with me and it motivated me to spend more time with God.”

I was touched by the monks and nuns’ hospitality and their sharing of their life in a trapisan community where they dedicate their time and effort in serving God. It showed their determination and perseverance in loving one another, keeping the faith through daily prayer and also praying in resisting temptations. Attending a prayer session with the monks and nuns also gave me peace of mind in reflecting on life and on the importance of prayer.

Other than visiting the religious groups, I had the opportunity of visiting the Ganjuran Church and Orphanage in Yogyakarta to distribute the used clothing and toys to them. The church caught my eye as it is heavily influenced by Hinduism.  I have never seen a church before that combines different cultures.

The Panti Asuhan Santa Maria Ganjuran Orphanage is 78 years old and the orphans are under the care of 6 sisters. Sister Emma Karini says, “We tell the children to have a dream when they are young and know their aims for the future.” Those children that leave the orphanage when they grow up have been successful such as being able to graduate from pilot school and work in Lion Air as pilots. Others work in the hospitals or embassies.

However, some of the childrens’ families request their children to be sent to the orphanage as they are financially unable to provide a future for their children. Some of the orphans come from broken families, while others are abandoned outside the church as babies. The sisters take in these children, raise them and provide them with education and a place to stay.

Sister Bernadeta Meity Sutarini says, “We rely on the gift shop to help us provide the necessities for children.” Adding on she says, “Sometimes we allow the children to help in the shop and also prepare herbal tea to sell.” The children come from as far as Papau New Guinea and from Indonesia. The sisters also grow their own vegetables and rear 12 sheep to provide for themselves and for the children they care for.

At the orphanage, the children also engage in activities such as praying, doing chores, gardening and caring for the sheep. The sisters also engage external teachers to come in daily to give the children enrichment classes on areas such as English, computer studies, sports, music and karate lessons. If there is no school on the following day, the children are allowed to watch television. Some of the childrens’ parents also visit them on holidays but mostly rely on the love of the sisters as consolation.

Looking at the happy expressions on the children’s faces when they saw the used clothing and toys that we had brought for them was a priceless experience. It showed that they are very appreciative and they even gladly showed us around as they do not get many visitors. The sisters also nurture and enrich these children through education and teach them to love God in daily prayer. With the resources they have, they welcome these children with both love and compassion and support them till they are old enough to support themselves. This experience changed me in learning to appreciate the little things in life and to trust in God through prayer.

Towards the end of my spiritual journey in Indonesia, I had the privilege of interacting with the local Indonesian Catholic Chinese community and to have a meal with them at an art gallery which could accommodate all of us.

The local Catholic community belongs to a group called the Forum Komunikasi Pengusaha and Professional Katolik Magelang (FKPPK). It gathers the community of Catholic professionals and entrepreneurs in Magelang. The community’s purpose is to raise funds for schools and kindergartens to help more children receive education. The community engages in social work such as helping orphanages and bringing their presence to nursing homes on Christmas and it is open to Catholics in Indonesia to join their community.

Daniel Lagaida and Antonius Ryan, two young adults who belonged to FKPPK told me that Catholics join them because of their own faith. Antonius Ryan whose father owned the art gallery says, “The art gallery is used to facilitate the exposure and a platform for aspiring artists to showcase their art pieces.” There are 50 members in the community and the junior community which consists of 20 members focuses on passing down the faith to the next generation of young adults as they are only 4 churches in Magelang. Daniel says, “I feel that priests that have connections can arrange more trips to Indonesia and that we can work together to engage more youths about their faith.”

Other interesting places that I visited were St. Aloysius Church, St Ignatius Church, and Cave of the Virgin Mary, Batik Factory and also praying the rosaries and singing hymns while going from one place to another. This encounter has made me treasure the small things in life, to pray more for God’s guidance through life’s challenges and to have more faith as a Catholic.

This trip was made possible by the arrangements and planning by Fr Robertus Sarwiseso as a spiritual director and we thank him for the hard work and time taken to bring us around these places and in experiencing God in many ways possible.


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