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Indonesian convert finds true meaning of mission

Catholic lay minister travels to India to follow in the footsteps of Mother Teresa

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Indonesian convert finds true meaning of mission

Prasetyo (left) at work in the Home of the Pure Heart, a hospice for the destitute established by Mother Teresa, in Kolkota, India. (Photo supplied by Paulinus Prasetyo Nurhardjanto)

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Paulinus Prasetyo Nurhardjanto said he was still a Muslim and a schoolchild when he became inspired by Mother Teresa’s work with the poor in Kolkata, India.

“I was watching a television news broadcast in which Mother Teresa talked about her charity work. For some reason, I told myself that I would go there some day and help the poor,’” said Prasetyo, adding that he and his family had taken a deep interest in Catholicism at the time and converted soon after when he was 12 years old.

“Mother Teresa inspired me. When I saw her for the first time on television, I knew that she was a remarkable woman,” he said.

His determination to go to Kolkota stayed with him for decades before he finally got the chance to fulfill his wish to help the poor.

It came just before Extraordinary Missionary Month (October 2019), which was announced by Pope Francis to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s apostolic letter Maximum Illud on the propagation of the faith throughout the world, issued on Nov. 30, 1919.

In September, the father of a 14-year-old daughter left for Kolkata in India’s West Bengal state for 10 days of voluntary work at a home for the destitute managed by the Missionaries of Charity.

The Home of the Pure Heart, or Nirmal Hriday, is a hospice for the sick and destitute established by Mother Teresa.

Prasetyo spent his time there cleaning the home, washing patients’ clothes and bed covers, washing dishes, bathing and feeding patients, and taking them to a nearby hospital.

He said his experience reminded him of Biblical verses from the Gospel of Matthew.

“I saw ‘Jesus’ in the patients: Jesus who was hungry and thirsty, Jesus who needed clothes,” said the Catholic layman, who now serves as a lay minister at St. Servatius Parish in Bekasi, near Indonesian capital Jakarta.

His mission in Kolkota was not his first taste of missionary work. In October 2018, he helped survivors of a deadly earthquake that unleashed a tsunami with waves measuring up to three meters high that hit Sulawesi Island on Sept. 28. He spent 12 days in the town of Palu, Central Sulawesi province, as a volunteer helping to distribute aid to survivors.

Some 832 people died as a result of the 7.4-magnitude quake and the tsunami, which also left more than 580 people injured and forced more than 16,700 others to flee their homes.

“It was like someone was whispering to me and telling me to go there and help them. I could not ignore it,” Prasetyo said. 

Besides volunteering, Prasetyo is a prolific fundraiser and even climbed Everest recently to raise money for child cancer patients. He said that endeavor, besides being exhilarating, raised about US$2,300 for the children.

He has also tried to help people by being a regular blood donor since 1989, which was recognized in 2016 when he received the president’s Satyalencana Kebaktian Sosial Award after his 100th blood donation.

“All I have done is a reflection of a mission God has prepared for me. What am I called to do [as a Catholic] in this world?"  said Prasetyo, who is also deputy chairman of the Association of Indonesian Catholic Intellectuals.

"All that I have done in life is a manifestation of God’s call.”

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