Bishop-elect You becomes the first local prelate in 128 years of the Catholic Church in Papua
Retired Franciscan Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar (left) of Jayapura Diocese in Papua, Indonesia announces the name of Father Yanuarius Theofilus Matopai You (right) as his successor on Oct. 29. (Photo: YouTube)
Catholics in Indonesia’s Papua have hailed the appointment of the first native bishop more than a century after Catholicism found its roots in the easternmost region.
Pope Francis appointed Father Yanuarius Theofilus Matopai You as the new bishop of Jayapura Diocese on Oct. 29, 2022.
A member of the indigenous Mee tribe in Papua, Bishop-elect You, 61, succeeds retired Franciscan Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar.
During the announcement at the Christ the King Cathedral in Jayapura, Bishop Ladjar urged local Catholics to pray for the first native Papuan bishop.
"The letter from the Vatican Ambassador told me that I should announce in the local Church in this diocese that the Holy Father Pope Francis has appointed a person to be the new bishop of Jayapura," he said.
"He is a native Papuan," he said, which was welcomed with applause by Catholics.
Bishop-elect You will lead the Catholic Church in the conflict-torn region, which has one archdiocese and four suffragan dioceses.
With the appointment, the Vatican has paid heed to the call from indigenous Papuan Catholics who made public demands to have a native as the bishop.
This comes as indigenous Papuan priests have repeatedly called on bishops since 2020 to be vocal about human rights violations in the region amid an escalation of conflict between Indonesian security forces and pro-independence rebels in recent years.
Soleman Itlay, a lay activist who was present in the church during the announcement, told UCA News that many Papuans like him were emotionally moved when the appointment was made public.
"I am deeply moved. I also saw the mothers beside me crying after hearing the name of the bishop-elect being called. I asked them, what made them cry. They said it was because ‘we had been praying and waiting for the Vatican to elect an indigenous Papuan bishop,’” he said.
He said he thanked Pope Francis for listening to their hopes and “hope that the appointment of this bishop-elect will make the Catholic Church more deeply rooted in Papua and its development will also be more solid."
Frederika Korain, a laywoman said, “I am moved, and tears of joy are falling” and recalled that she spontaneously danced with her colleagues after the announcement.
"I thank God that our struggle and prayers to have an indigenous Papuan bishop have finally been granted and today it has come true," she told UCA News.
She said that as a layperson she would support the bishop-elect so that he could work effectively to help Catholics in Jayapura Diocese and in Papua Land in general.
“I hope that the Church will step up with the poor, the suffering, the deprived of their rights. So, the Church must be close to the people in the most remote bases and formulate appropriate programs to serve them,” she said.
Neles Siep, another lay Catholic, said 128 years since the Catholic Church entered Papua in 1894 “are enough for a native Papuan to become a bishop in his own land.”
He said, as a conflict area, Papua "misses the voice of the shepherd which has been difficult to obtain until now."
"I hope that the suffering of the people on this land will be the main struggle and burden in the pastoral task of the bishop-elect," he said.
Born in 1961, You was ordained a priest in 1991. He looked after various parishes before working in the education sector. In 2002, he became the parish priest of the Cathedral Church in Jayapura and served as the Vicar General of the diocese until 2007.
He studied for a master's degree in psychology at state-university Gadjah Mada Yogyakarta from 2008-2010 and a doctorate in anthropology at Cenderawasih University Jayapura from 2015-2018.
Since September 2019, he has been the rector of the Fajar Timur Abepura School of Theological Philosophy. He is also a lecturer at the John the Apostle Catholic Pastoral High School, Waena, as well as a mentor for seminarians in Jayapura Diocese.
The diocese with an area of 115,350 square kilometers has 67,500 Catholics spread over 25 parishes.
Papua is a former Dutch colony that declared independence in 1961. However, Indonesia annexed the territory soon with a referendum widely considered a sham. A separatist movement for independence bubbled up, prompting Indonesia to maintain a heavy military presence in the resource-rich but underdeveloped. The conflict claimed thousands of lives.
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