Father Frumensius Andi from the Congregation of Missionaries of the Company of Mary uses a banana leaf as an umbrella while walking in the rain to visit a remote village. (Photo supplied)
Walking dozens of kilometers for several hours on a hot sunny day and in the rain to serve Catholics in remote villages is not something new for Father Frumensius Andi from the Congregation of Missionaries of the Company of Mary, known as Monfort Missionaries or SMM.
He has done that since January when his congregation appointed him to help another Monfort priest to be responsible for the welfare of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Mbeling village of East Manggarai district in Indonesia’s predominantly Catholic province of East Nusa Tenggara.
“I was surprised at first as the situation was completely different,” he says.
Before serving the parish, which has 8,123 Catholics or 1,655 families as well as 11 mission stations and 68 groups of basic ecclesial communities, he served as a formator of SMM seminarians in Ruteng, capital of Manggarai district.
The 36-year-old priest, who was ordained on July 11, 2014, used to ride a car to do all his work. He never faced any challenge in visiting various places across the city as the infrastructure was fine. For instance, the roads were covered in asphalt.
“But here I have to walk for several hours to visit parishioners who live in remote villages dozens of kilometers from my parish church. My parish has a motorbike but I cannot ride it because of the difficult area,” he says.
Most remote villages can only be reached by walking through rocky and uneven paths. It can take nearly three hours for the priest, who has served as chairman of Ruteng Diocese’s Commission for Family since 2018, to reach a village.
“During the walk, I always wear shorts and carry a backpack filled with items used for a Eucharistic celebration as well as personal needs. I put on a hat on a hot sunny day and grab a banana leaf if the rain comes suddenly. The rain never stops me from walking as I have to be in a remote village on time to lead a scheduled Mass,” he says.
The priest, who was born on Dec. 17, 1983, is usually accompanied by a seminarian and a young parishioner on pastoral visits. Each time he spends at least two days so that he can visit some remote villages located close one to another and stays in a parishioner’s home.
“What touches me is the parishioners’ enthusiasm. They are very excited when they see me coming to their village. They even prepare everything. Maybe it is because they long for a Eucharistic celebration,” he says.
Besides leading Mass, he spends some time talking to parishioners as well as seeing the sick, the elderly and people with mental illnesses during the pastoral visits.
For some mission stations with chapels, the Mass is held there. If a remote village has no chapel, the Eucharistic celebration is held under a temporary tent or in a rumah gendang, a traditional cone-shaped house with a roof made of palm leaves over a wooden frame.
“A Mass is attended by between 80-100 parishioners in a remote village,” he says.
Despite such challenges, Father Andi, who is also a member of Kelompok Kasih Insani, a group of volunteers caring for people with mental illnesses which was formed in 2016 by Divine Word Father Avent Saur, never feels tired. He finds his pastoral visits impressive.
“I had an impressive experience when I visited two mentally ill parishioners who were shackled in small huts located close to their families’ houses in a remote village,” he says.
Shackling remains a common practice in Indonesia when dealing with mentally ill people who are considered a threat to others.
“When I asked them to pray with me, they did so. Even they did it just like normal people. According to the villagers, it was the first time for the two to have a pastoral visit by a priest,” he says.
Another impressive experience was when the priest, who served Catholics in Central Kalimantan province, visited a lonely old parishioner. This old layman’s wife had left him, while his children had left his house to work outside the remote village.
“One day I visited him to give him the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I came to see him again a week later. That was when he died during my visit, and I led a requiem Mass. Local villagers told me that he looked so fresh after receiving the sacrament. Maybe he had waited for it for so long,” he says.
Father Andi sees everything he has done as a true meaning of service. “A priest must not just stay in a parish rectory. He must be able to visit parishioners no matter how hard the situation is and be among them. A pastoral visit can strengthen parishioners’ faith,” he says.
That is exactly what Anselmus Manci, a parishioner living in Ajang village, hopes for. The 36-year-old father of three, whose main livelihood is growing coffee, always longs for Holy Communion every week.
“The situation makes it difficult, though, so once a month would be enough,” he says.