UCA News

Laypeople to trace history of Church in Papua

A team has been formed to help the Church hierarchy and the government decide the date of arrival of the first missionaries
Soleman Itlay (left) and Yan Ukago (right) are on a mission to find history of Church in Papua province in Indonesia

Soleman Itlay (left) and Yan Ukago (right) are on a mission to unearth history of the Church in Papua province in Indonesia. (Photo: Jubi.id)

Published: May 23, 2024 11:43 AM GMT
Updated: May 23, 2024 12:08 PM GMT

A group of lay Catholic people has formed a team to trace the history of the Church in Indonesia’s Christian-majority Papua province as dioceses differ on dates for the arrival of the first missionaries.

Four dioceses - Jayapura, Timika, Manokwari-Sorong, and Agats-Asmat observe May 22, 1894, as the beginning of Church in the province with the arrival of Jesuit missionary Father Le Cocq d'Armandville while Merauke archdiocese has been marking it on Aug. 14, 1905, when the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart arrived.

"Whether based on May 22, 1894, or Aug. 14, 1905, the hierarchy and the government can read the results of our research. Then they can make wise decisions guided by the Holy Spirit," Soleman Itlay, deputy team leader, told UCA News on May 23.

The team has been named Dapur Harapan or Kitchen of Hope.

“We want the  Church in Papua to celebrate a mission day,” Itlay said.

He said the difference occurred because "there are egos between dioceses and congregations, regarding the history of their missions."

“We also reviewed the history of all religious congregations. We will involve them in discussions," said the deputy head of the team.

He said many laypeople have been working since 2020 to search for historical records.

Yan Ukago, head of Dapur Harapan, said Catholic schools in Papua learn history from outside, as history “related to Catholics in Papua is not included in the education curriculum.”

Papuans who helped the missionaries are not mentioned in detail in history books written by foreigners, including priests, Ukago said.

"We are raising the issue of names as well as the honor and dignity of the local community so that they can be recognized and respected," he was quoted as saying by Jubi Papua daily on its website.

He said, “If we don't maintain our history, then people can easily trample us."

However, Sacred Heart Archbishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Merauke pleaded ignorance about the formation of the team.

“Sorry, I haven't thought about that, because it's not that important," he told UCA News.

"Each diocese in Papua has its Church history," he said.

Responding to the archbishop's statement, Itlay said they had communicated the formation of the team to each bishop "and the results of our work are always informed to the hierarchy in the five dioceses."

Of the 5.4 million population in the underdeveloped Papua province, 765,000 are Catholics.

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