Archbishop Agustinus Agus of Pontianak. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari)
Pontianak Archdiocese in West Kalimantan was established decades ago. But it somewhat lacked vision and a mission until Archbishop Agustinus Agus officially took office early last year.
The archbishop was surprised when he discovered that such a huge archdiocese, with a long history, was managed like a family business, without any clear guidance.
The archdiocese’s history dates back to 1313 when a Franciscan priest went to Singkawang, West Kalimantan. It would be hundreds of years later — 1961 in fact — before Pontianak Archdiocese was born.
The Vatican appointed Archbishop Agus last year — he was previously bishop of Sintang — to succeed Bishop Hieronymus Herculanus Bumbun who retired in 2014.
The prelate, who was ordained a priest on June 19, 1977, said it was strange that the archdiocese did not have any written diocesan guidelines, despite its suffragan dioceses — Ketapang, Sanggau and Sintang — already having them for decades.
"The situation affected archdiocesan life particularly in terms of the discipline in administration," the prelate said.
To rectify this he invited all the priests in January 2015 to sit together and draft some visions and missions.
On Jan. 23 this year the archdiocese completed writing them and are now in process of being published.
"Written visions and missions are important. With them, we can set priorities," he said.
Pressing issues challenging the archdiocese include a priest shortage, difficult geographical conditions, poor education and environmental destruction.
As of last year, Pontianak Archdiocese has 415,239 baptized Catholics living in 26 parishes stretching across seven districts. It has about 90 priests, 43 brothers and 317 nuns.
"A shortage of priests is the most pressing issue," the prelate said. For instance, St. John the Baptist Parish in Pahauman, Landak district, only has three priests serving about 50,000 Catholics in 170 villages.
However, the prelate born in Lintang, in Sanggau district, on Oct. 22, 1949 says other archdioceses and dioceses also have a shortage of priests.
"This is a global issue," he said, which can be a result of the requirement for celibacy, and also a lack of promotion of religious vocations among young people.
Another challenge is the archdiocese’s geography, since it covers 39,840 square-kilometers, and has many poor gravel roads.
"Roads are terrible when it rains. Also, some villages can only be reached by river. It takes hours," he explains.
A priest can serve a large number of Catholics living in towns. But it’s very difficult to do so in remote areas. As a result, a priest can only visit a village at least once a year.
According to the archbishop, poor education is another problem people in villages have to put up with. Many villagers have no education at all or are school dropouts, he says.
Another big issue in West Kalimantan is environmental destruction, which is partly blamed on government’s palm oil plantation initiative.
According to the United Nations Development Program, Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil. In 2013, the total plantation area for palm oil production in the country was estimated to account for approximately 10 million hectares, generating 27 million tons of palm oil. The country aims to increase palm oil production to 40 million tons by 2020. Much of it is in Kalimantan.
"The government, for the sake of people’s interests, changed forests into palm oil plantations. The problem is, it’s no longer easy for people to get clean water or firewood," says Archbishop Agus.
Forest fires are also a serious problem faced by the archdiocese.
Pontianak, the provincial capital, doesn’t have forests nearby but has experienced several fires in empty fields near housing areas. Since July this year, dozens of hectares have gone up in flames fire. Some have occurred on peat land, where fires are more difficult to extinguish causing air pollution as a result of the haze.
On the brighter side, the archdiocese is good at promoting religious harmony and inculturation, Archbishop Agus says.
"People from different religions live in harmony. Although there’s no religious-based conflict, there have been ethnic tensions between Dayak and Madurese people in the past," he says.
In 1996, tensions boiled over in West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan between the indigenous Dayak and Madurese migrants. The violence left hundreds of people dead and thousands homeless.
Catholics in the archdiocese are from several ethnic backgrounds: Dayak, Chinese, Javanese, Papuan and Toraja as well as Timorese and Florenese. About 80 percent of the Catholics are indigenous people.
In Pontianak, where many Chinese Indonesians live, Imlek or Lunar New Year celebrations have been incorporated into church activities, the archbishop says.
Under the leadership of Archbishop Agus, the archdiocese has embarked on three main programs.
First, the archdiocese will improve people’s welfare by developing a people-centered economy, and paying special attention to educating children from poor families.
The people-centered economy could come in the form of a credit Union or the formation of a diocesan commission on economic development, to focusing on helping people come up with a way of earning more money.
Second, land rights of indigenous people are to be respected which will involve monitoring mining and plantation activities to ensure that the environment is looked after.
Lastly, the archdiocese is seeking to encourage the government to facilitate a dialogue between religious and ethnic groups, to guarantee people’s safety, and to hire more Catholic teachers.
As a first step, the archbishop will introduce the written visions and missions to Catholics.
"The first step I will make isn’t that big. But I want to make parish priests and parish councils aware of the written visions and missions," he says.
Part of the job is also keeping Catholics informed about the challenges we face and to encourage them to continue to live the spirit of our missions.
"A lot of things need to be improved within the church," Archbishop Agus says.