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New book depicts Dutch missionary's life in Papua

Launch of book about Franciscan Father Frans Lieshout marked 100 days since his death

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

Ryan Dagur, Jakarta

Updated: August 10, 2020 08:51 AM GMT
New book depicts Dutch missionary's life in Papua

'Shepherd and Teacher for Papua' was launched on Aug. 9 to honor Franciscan Father Frans Lieshout, a Dutch missionary who spent 56 years working in Papua. (Photo supplied)

Activists and religious leaders have published a book about a Dutch missionary who spent 56 years working in Indonesia’s Papua region.

The 634-page book, Shepherd and Teacher for Papua, was launched in Papua on Aug. 7 to mark the 100th day since Franciscan Father Frans Lieshout’s death from prostate cancer on May 1 in the Netherlands.

It was written by 69 people including Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura, priests, nuns, activists, journalists and lay Catholics.

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Markus Haluk, the editor, said the book highlights pastoral work the Church can learn from.

“[Father Lieshout] became a spiritual father to thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics in West Papua," he told UCA News.

He "presented Jesus in real ministry among the Papuans” and always respected Papuan culture and rights.

"He always protested and fought against various injustices, violence and violations of human rights,” he said.

Father Lieshout was also remembered for his contributions to education, including providing scholarships sponsored by his family in the Netherlands for children from remote areas.

In Bishop Ladjar’s contribution to the book, he said Father Lieshout’s pastoral style was not just being among the people “but knowing and being close to them, finding out about their outlook on life and feeling the meaning of humanity in their customs and in rituals.”

"He saw that the seeds of the gospel were already in them. Therefore, he did not carelessly dismiss cultural items as paganism as some missionaries from other churches did, but he watched and found the gospel seeds that were there and tried to let them grow,” he wrote.

This pastoral style saw the priest accepted and loved by Papuans.

Hardus Desa, a lay Catholic who worked with the priest for 45 years, said Father Lieshout regarded the people he served as subjects, not objects.

"He realized that as a missionary what had to be built was a local Church. He paid serious attention to the formation of local groups,” he said.

Budi Hernawan, an academic, said Father Lieshout helped dispel negative views that Papuans were "stupid and backward people."

While working in Papua, Father Lieshout also wrote books on culture and history. He was also known for his fluency in a local language spoken by people in the Baliem Valley in Papua’s Jayawijaya area.

As well as the book launch, Papuans also held a memorial Mass to commemorate the priest.

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