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Tuesday, 02 December 2014 09:26

Lay vitality behind Indonesia's growth in religious life

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Fr-Bill-Burt-svdThe amazing growth of the Church in eastern Indonesia, has largely sprung from the seeds planted long ago by pioneer missionaries from the Society of the Divine Word and the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, writes Fr Bill Burt svd.

Recently I caught-up with an ordination class-mate, Father Agus Watu, who is a spiritual director at the SVD seminary-high school in Kuwu, western Flores. Agus and I, and four other confreres were ordained way back in 1973. Two have already passed away, two are working in Madagascar, and Agus and I are in Indonesia.

We talked about the growth of the Church here in eastern Indonesia, which has been truly amazing over the past 100 years. The SVD and the SSpS have had very significant roles in this growth, sharing in God's mission here since 1913 and 1917 respectively. Since the first of our confreres and sisters came to Indonesia, 530 foreign-born SVDs have served in Flores, Timor, nearby islands, and other areas entrusted to us. A large number of foreign sisters have been here too.

Now times have changed. Already, more Indonesian-born SVDs have served, or are serving, outside their homeland, than those who came here from other countries. I don't know the number of SSpS who have gone overseas, but it would be similar.

Times have changed in other ways, too. For most of last century the SVD-SSpS "conglomerate" was almost synonymous with the Catholic Church in Flores & Timor. Any gathering of clergy and religious was dominated by our two societies. There were very few members of other orders working here, and there weren't many diocesan clergy either. Then things changed....

Now most parishes are run by diocesan clergy, and there are literally dozens of women's religious orders here, as well as a growing number of male communities. In the town of Ruteng in western Flores, there are 52 convents, and in Maumere we have 34!

I think St Arnold must be proud seeing what has sprung from the seeds planted so long ago by our pioneer missionaries. Back in 1913 and 1917, no one could have envisaged that the SVD-SSpS would lay the foundations of such a vital Church. The real vitality, is, of course, in the millions of lay-people who are such active Church members. It is from them that the religious orders are getting so many recruits. Many of these are going overseas as missionaries.

As the SVD evolves, it is continuing to attract young men to our formation program. More than 100 novices are now in residence in our novitiates in Flores and Timor. On 1st October, 18 young men were ordained SVD priests here. Three will take up assignments in Indonesia, while the others will go overseas. Another 12 have just taken Final Vows.

For me, it is a privilege to be living in the largest seminary in the world! My role is not a large one, though. I am a spiritual director, or maybe more appropriately I should be called a "grandfather" for the Ledalero seminarians.

Seventy-six years ago the SVD started Ledalero ... I am very glad they did! It is exciting, sharing in God's mission here.

This article was first published in Issue 20 of In The Word, the eNewsletter of the Society of the Divine Word Australia Province.

Read more about life and work of the Divine Word Missionaries in Australia (SVD).