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Vincentians Urged To Be Culturally Sensitive As They Serve The Poor

Updated: September 02, 2003 05:00 PM GMT
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An assistant general of the Vincentians has emphasized to Indonesian confreres the importance of understanding the culture of those they serve, as well as their congregation´s mission to the poor.

Vincentian Father Victor Bieler, a Rome-based assistant general of the Congregation of the Mission or Vincentians who is in charge of mission, said at a recent seminar in Surabaya, "A missioner who has no knowledge about the culture and language of the people in the foreign country he enters will only face difficulties and will not able to do any true mission." Surabaya, capital of East Java province, is 650 kilometers east of Jakarta.

The seminar at which he was speaking was held on Aug. 21 to discuss "The Mission of the Past, Nowadays and the Future." Besides Vincentian priests and seminarians, the 150 participants included Daughters of Charity sisters and other members of lay and religious groups belonging to the Vincentian family.

The seminar was organized to mark 80 years of Vincentian presence in Indonesia. Their first missioners to Indonesia came from the Netherlands and the congregation, whose mission is to serve the poor, has been working in East Java since 1923. There are now 81 Vincentian priests in the country and their average age is 46.

Father Bieler urged the participants to assess how well the missioners whom Vincentians in Indonesia had sent to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Taiwan have mastered the culture and language of their mission areas.

He stressed that today´s Vincentians must "work together with anybody to serve the needy, no matter whoever and wherever they are." His confreres are currently helping to provide socio-economic development for poor people in Jakarta, and in East Java and West Kalimantan provinces.

He also noted that "dialogue with the poor, cultures and other religions" to build the kingdom of God is now generally accepted. The Federation of Asian Bishops´ Conferences promotes this "triple dialogue" as fundamental to its vision of being Church in Asia. Father Bieler also explained that converting people no longer has a significant role in mission. Noting that there is no "mission for mission itself," he said every mission work should aim to empower the needy to live their human dignity as fully as possible.

After the seminar, he told UCA News that the Vincentians´ prime mission in Indonesia should be to empower street children, homeless people, beggars and other urban poor in Surabaya, Jakarta and other big cities on Java Island.

When Father Hugh O´Donnell, director of the Vincentians´ Paris-based Ongoing Formation Center, spoke, he suggested three groups with whom the Vincentians could work in their service to the poor -- lay people, women, including those of other faiths, and people from non-religious organizations or NGOs that also serve the poor.

Father O´Donnell also highlighted three key areas he says are important for future mission -- dialogue, partnership and mysticism. "The first and biggest challenge is to understand others through dialogue," he said. He also said that a Vincentian aiming to serve people effectively needs to have "interiority, a mystical experience of his union with God."

Mathieu van Knippenberg, a theology professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, told the seminar that the first five Dutch missioners to Indonesia were products of their time and had a limited sense of mission. For them, the professor said, mission was merely proclaiming the Good News to those who had not heard of it, as well as to those who had forgotten it.

In the preface of "80 Years of the Vincentians in Indonesia," a book launched at the seminar, Vincentian Father Antonius Sad Budianto, superior of the Vincentians in Indonesia, wrote that the early missioners had to learn about the cultural and social situations in which they worked and how to respond appropriately in those contexts.

The book says that in 1923, there were about 4,600 Catholics in the mission area of Surabaya and the surrounding districts of Rembang and Kediri. At that time, during which Indonesia was still under Dutch rule, local and other Asian Catholics numbered only 40, while the rest were Europeans. Now there are 184,808 Catholics in Surabaya diocese, mostly Javanese and ethnic Chinese.

The Vincentians were founded by Saint Vincent De Paul, a Frenchman, in 1626.


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