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Young Catholic turns the internet into a campaigning tool

Facebook fans help fund church improvements

Young Catholic turns the internet into a campaigning tool
This 22-year-old Facebook group administrator helps raise money for poor churches (Photo courtesy of Albertus Gregory)

In 2010, Albertus Gregory traveled hours by motorbike from Jakarta to a church in Sorkam village, North Sumatra.

“The church had no roof, no concrete floor,” he remembers. “The wall was made of wooden planks."

He was touched by the fact that about 200 Catholics regularly prayed at the church, despite its appalling condition.

“It was more like a stable to me, but people were still praying there,” he says.

Returning to his home in Jakarta, Gregory kept thinking about what he had seen in the village, pondering ways to help those Catholics.

Two months later, when he was asked to be an administrator of the Facebook page of Gereja Katolik (Catholic Church) he saw an opportunity.

The page was launched in 2008 and had about 270,000 fans when he joined. It was co-managed by 12 people, including two priests, with the goal of strengthening people’s faith and calling them to action.

Gregory, 22, started talking with other administrators about using the page for fundraising campaigns, but his colleagues were concerned about the potential for fraud.  

But in February 2011, Carmelite Father Antonius Manik, a priest serving at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Sidikalang, North Sumatra, asked Gregory to help in the church’s fundraising project.

“I quietly published the priest’s request on the page without asking permission from other administrators,” said Gregory, who at the time was studying public administration at the University of Indonesia.

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In just two months readers donated 270 million rupiahs (US$28,400) to the church.

“It was a success,” Gregory admits, but the process was hardly over.

During other campaigns, donors complained about the lack of transparency in the reports. To resolve it, Gregory used his own bank account to make the transfers.

“I sent all the money I received to the church construction or renovation committees,” he said.

At first, donors did not trust him, he says, but over time the system has worked.  

Raquel Eugina, a 32-year-old donor from Surabaya, East Java, never had doubts.

“I want Catholics to have proper churches, where God is. By having proper churches, Catholics can pray solemnly,” she said.

“There is a huge joy in giving that money can’t buy,” she added.  

Now Gregory is soliciting money for the renovation of St. Peter Church of Lahurus in Belu district, East Nusa Tenggara, which needs 1.2 billion rupiah.

The church’s pastor Father Kristoforus Oki said the parishioners, mostly farmers, can’t afford to fund the project on their own.

The parish has 1,400 families and each family is encouraged to contribute 200,000 rupiah (US$20) for the renovation, but even that much is hard. “We have collected 300 million rupiah since 2010. We cannot force them to make their contributions quickly,” the priest said.

Since Gregory started, 21 churches have been built or renovated through his Facebook fundraising campaigns; more than 2.5 billion rupiah has been collected from more than 2,000 donors.

“I only fund churches located in remote areas where many Catholics are poor,” said Gregory, a parishioner at the Assumption of Mary Cathedral in Jakarta.

“We Catholics, no matter how rich or poor we are, are equal in God’s eyes,” he said. “God works through Facebook. He changes something virtual into something real. This is God’s call to me.”

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