Christ calls, Asians respond

Lent series 2023


Ethnic Chinese man in Indonesia charts his own ‘road to Damascus’

By Ryan Dagur

March 08, 2023 03:13 AM

For Hans Febianto Hidayat, it wasn’t a sudden, radical change but a slow, long path of realization

Hans Febianto Hidayat, a 34-year-old Indonesian man of Chinese descent wants to be baptized during this year's Easter Vigil in iCiamis, West Java

Hans Febianto Hidayat, a 34-year-old Indonesian man of Chinese descent wants to be baptized during this year's Easter Vigil in Ciamis, West Java. (Photo supplied)

Hans Febianto Hidayat was born a Buddhist in Ciamis Regency of West Java province. At the time discrimination and restrictions against his ethnicity were still strong under the authoritarian New Order regime in Indonesia.

The world’s largest Muslim nation of 270 million people has a long history of racism towards the Chinese people dating back to colonial times. The ethnic minority group experienced widespread and institutionalized racism from the 1960s to the end of the 1990s and still faces racism in their daily lives.

As a result, many Chinese people thought it prudent to change their names to those that were uniquely Indonesian.

“Many parents also added religions that were considered more acceptable to the government. My Buddhist parents gave me and my older sister Javanese names and listed us as Catholics on our identity documents, including those for school,” Hidayat recalls.

The 34-year-old assumed a Catholic identity some 30 years ago but he wasn’t baptized.

As he grew up, his parents told him that they had “chosen” Catholicism because the Catholic Church does not forbid its followers from continuing to practice their cultural heritage or family traditions.

It was merely a clever choice back then as Catholicism was one of the religions that were said to be “quite safe," he told UCA News.

For Hidayat, back then, Catholicism merely meant a piece of paper, an adopted identity, though he would sometimes go to the local Catholic church to attend Mass and other activities.

After all, he also happened to attend a Catholic school.

That bond ended when he was admitted to a Protestant high school managed by the Javanese Christian Church.

He then no longer attended the Catholic church.

During his high school years, Hidayat did participate in spiritual activities organized on campus but soon after he was pulled away from religion.

“I became a person who no longer cared about religious matters and it remained so for nearly a decade and a half," he recalls.

The turning point came two years ago when he began to feel “the need for inner peace in my life,” Hidayat says.

 And so, he become an active participant at Hok Tek Bio Temple, a place of worship for Buddhists in Ciamis, where his father was the community leader.

 “But I did not find what I was looking for … I didn't feel anything that moved my heart," he says.

At some point childhood memories of attending Mass at the Catholic church and the peace and calm he felt inside the church began flooding back.

He began to wonder if it was an indication for him to choose Catholicism.

It took him a while before he actually met Father Mikael Adi Siswanto, the local parish priest at St. John the Baptist in Ciamis in Bandung diocese, on Nov. 7, 2022.

Hidayat told Siswanto his story that he was never baptized and was interested in doing so.

Siswanto welcomed him and after a long chat, asked him to register as a catechumen.

Siswanto also invited him to a requiem Mass for a parishioner, and then to church on Sunday. 

“I felt as if I had finally found what I had been looking for all along. I was more convinced than ever after participating in these activities," Hidayat said.

“My heart was at peace whenever I joined others in praying or merely entered a church. I felt it in my heart — a feeling of serenity when you are there [inside a church] and when you pray,” he explained.

The feeling of calmness and peace was beyond words, he told UCA News.

Hidayat discussed his choice of Catholicism with his parents before taking the plunge.

“They did not oppose it. What was important to them was that I continue to follow our traditions as Chinese. And, there was no problem with that in the Church. I did accompany my parents to the temple during  Chinese New Year this year," he said.

Hans Febianto Hidayat, (back end, carrying ceremonial equipment), participated in the Chinese New Year event in February in Ciamis, West Java. (Photo supplied)

Siswanto told UCA News that he explained to Hidayat that he would have no problem following Chinese traditions as a Catholic.

“I told him that ethnic identity is celebrated in the Catholic Church. Ideally, faith never stands alone. It is always wrapped in the cloak of tradition, growing, blooming and thriving in various traditions. As long as it doesn't harm the faith, the Church celebrates traditions with gratitude," he said.

He also explained how the choice of faith is a much deeper exercise, unlike choosing a favorite cloth or food item, which can be bought, used and replaced easily.

Hidayat will join 10 other catechumens in the 500-member parish for his baptism at this year's Easter Vigil.

 "I'm ready and can't wait for that moment,” the young man says.

 He is looking forward to starting life anew after being baptized.

He’s also discussing his future plans with his partner, a Protestant woman.

“She appreciates my choice and has also agreed to later convert to Catholicism. As long as the religion chosen remains Christian, it doesn't matter for her," he said.

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