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Diocese reaches out to Borneo tribals

Mission to evangelize Dayaks is in full swing

A mission station built to help Dayak people in Ka'ar A mission station built to help Dayak people in Ka'ar
  • Dionisius Santosa, Banjarmasin
  • Indonesia
  • March 30, 2012
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Four years ago Banjarmasin diocese in South Kalimantan made evangelizing Dayak tribal people living in the Meratus Mountains a priority.

Bishop Petrus Boddeng Timang said during a diocesan assembly at the time that the Church must defy the jungles of Kalimantan and reach out to Dayaks.

With a team of volunteers, priests, seminarians and lay people, the mission started with the setting up of basic facilities in order to educate Dayak children, whose parents are mostly illiterate and heavily rely on whatever nature can produce.

According to government statistics, there are more than 35,000 Dayaks scattered around South Kalimantan. They are mostly poor people living in remote areas, and depend primarily on farming, planting rubber trees, and panning for gold.

The team then established several mission centers in Uren, Ka’ar, Magalau, Malangkayan and Manginding, all within the jurisdictions of Ave Maria Church and St Vincent a Paulo Church.

The Magalau center was inaugurated in 2009 by the former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, while other centers began operations early this year.

The centers are multi-functional, and serve as elementary schools, places of worship, children and adult catechism centers, and health clinics among others.

“We are grateful to the team for providing us with clean water facilities and teaching our children,” said Ibramsyah, a local Dayak leader in Magalau. “The lives of people have improved notably,” he said.

“I hope in the future the Church will also build a high school and set up a cooperative which can lend money to people to buy seedlings or start small business,” he added.

Most Dayaks still follow their traditional belief of Kaharingan (which the Indonesian government views as a form of Hinduism), but in some areas many of them have embraced Christianity.

“When I taught catechism in Uren, I got the impression that Catholicism was really something new to them. Many Catholics did not understand the liturgy,” said Regina Maria Herlin, a volunteer from Jakarta.

She said working with the team was extremely challenging.  It required persistence, as they had to overcome the language barrier, cultural differences, and a different faith.

It used to take hours climbing up hills and crossing big rivers, to meet up with the people, she recalled.

Another volunteer Caesilia Betan said: “The people in Magalau are very interested in Catholicism and every Friday they attend catechism classes.”

Since the launch of the mission, 65 Dayaks have been baptized Catholics.

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