SAAOC Meeting 2015 – Journey to Small Heaven Falls on Earth

saaoc1The email from Br. Paul Smith OFM on behalf of Br. Babu OFM the president of the Conference made me a little surprise. Why? Usually the SAAOC meeting takes three days only, but this time which held at Jayapure, West Papua took one week, that is, from September 6 to 12, 2015. Immediately, I contacted Br. Gonsa the Custos of West Papua Custody asking the agenda of the Meeting. And his respond was that the meeting will be in three days only (7-9 September) and 10-12 September would be a visit to Wamena to see high mountains tribe there. From his information I made my plan, what I call, Journey to small Heaven falls on Earth.

This is the third times I went to West Papua. Actually since in Novitiate I wished to go there as missionary. For us Franciscan in Province of St. Michael Archangel, West Papua was considered as mission area. Every year the province sent two friars there for studying and work there. But since they become Independent custody there is no obligation anymore from Indonesia Province to go there except if one wishes to go there with the permission of the Provincial and the Custos.

First time I went there was 2009 on my occasion of holiday. I wished to visit Mgr. Alo Murwito OFM, the former provincial who become the bishop of Agats Diocese. I took this occasion also to visit of my ‘small father’ family (younger brother of my father) whom I had never met before in Timika and my auntie (sister of my father) at Jayapura whom I met last time when I was in elementary school. Unfortunately, because of the climate reason I was not able to reach Agats, but I was able to meet my relative. It was also gave another happiness.

saaoc2The second time was in 2012 on the way to Aitape, Papua New Guinea. The easy way was to pass West Papua. It was the occasion of 75 years anniversary Franciscan Presence in West Papua, so all of us were invited to join the celebration before going to PNG. And this time was the third time to visit the land I had dreamt to work there many years ago.

Twice visiting there, I agree with the famous song about Papua mentioning it as small heaven falls on earth. This is a journey to small heaven falls on earth. If we took flight then we can see how the beauty of Papua: forest, mountains, lake, eternal snow, different kind of birds, butterflies and so on just expressing the dream of many people about the beauty of heaven as expressed in the story of many religions.

While swimming, drink water

saaoc3As a famous Indonesian proverb says while swimming, drink water stands for we can do two things at the same time, I took this opportunity to do another thing as well. After arranging everything I left Lamsai on September 4 for Surabaya. From Surabaya I was brought to Malang another two hours from Surabaya because the following day 5 September in the morning I had a blessing of the ‘capsule hotel’ of a friend of mine and spent a little time with them and visiting a nun from SSpS congregation from my relative as well whom I met last time 25 years ago. September 6th, after visiting Madura island, other side of Surabaya and enjoyed the famous duck of this island I left for Papua. Transit at Makasar more than three hours and another one hour at Biak, finally my flight landed safely at Sentani Airport. Br. Gonsa OFM, the Custos and Br. Hendrik Nahak OFM, the Parish Priest of the area were waiting for me there.

Most of the participants arrived already except Br. John Wong OFM the Custos of Singapore who had got small accident so he had to cancel his ticket and travel and Br. Hipolitus OFM the Custos of Sri Lanka was without any news. All brothers were around the table for breakfast. I was the last one. They welcomed me around the table hehe… After taking breakfast and shower we started our meeting in 09.30 a.m.

saaoc4As usual in the meeting we share the situation of our own entities, some difficulties and dream and what kind of help one can ask from another entities. Beside this of course some issues in the Order that we should discuss in the lever of the Conference. Since, it was the second year administration of the president and vicar of the conference so we did election for the new president and vicar. It was Br. Paul Smith and Gonsa Saur elected as president and vicar of the conference. In third day, we listened to the presentation of Mr. Theo van der Broek, former friar, who has spent most of his time to work for West Papua both as friar and lay person. From his presentation we could see how is social and political situation in Papua, the reality of Papua why some of them still want to be independent from Indonesia. From his presentation then we can see how small heaven on earth has been torn by the greedy of human being, by the big companies and coorporation. After lunch of third day, we went to visit some Franciscan communities and the city of Jayapura. We had dinner with the friars at Custos house, the bishop of Jayapura Mgr. Leo Laba Ladjar OFM also joint us.

10 September early in the morning most of the friars left for Wamena, Br. Yusuf Bagh (Pakistan) and Br. Adrianus Sunarko (Indonesia) left for Jakarta. I still remained at Wamena. It should be noted that in West Papua there are many tribes but they use to group the native people in two: sea or land people and mountain people. Land or beach people are those who live along the sea and mountain people are those who live in the mountain. In the mountain people for example in Wamena where the friars work there, we can see traditional people wearing the traditional dress, even we can see their mummy as well. The friars who went there would see different character, culture, and way of life from people of Jayapura which are beach people. Jayapura itself even along the sea but most of the people now are migrants from other part of Indonesia so it is difficult to distinguish them anymore.

saaoc5I used this time to visit a friar my classmate and my relative of course. Last visit I just met my cousin only and this visit I was able to see my niece. In the evening I spent with the friars in community with mass and recreation together. By incident it was religious community gathering of this area so I could meet some sisters from other congregation and also some friars around this parish. Thank you for this fraternal gathering and joy.

September 11th, I left for Jakarta. I spent one night in Bogor on my way to Cipanas a place I wished to take rest before going back to Bangkok. It was Friday so the family who was willingly to drive to Cipanas advising to go early in the morning the following day to avoid the traffic. Cipanas is called also Peak (Indonesia: Puncak), the climate is very nice so it becomes recreation place for people from Jakarta during the week end. 12 September we went to Cipanas and since a friar in Cianjur (not so far from Cipanas) was alone so I had to stay at Cianjur Parish for presiding the mass the following day on Sunday. After the mass, I went to say thanksgiving prayer at a family for 7th month pregnancy. So, I stayed one night at Cianjur, the first place I was working as young priest 2001 before going for mission in Thailand. It was good remembrance and good time after so many years. It was good occasion also to meet different people there. Many of the youth during I was there having their family already and working.

saaoc6Since, I promised already to the parish priest of Cipanas so I spent another two nights there. A friend of mine from Bandung came to Cipanas and spent one night there and with them visiting our orphanage and community with its beautiful ‘garden of prayer’. Here also I got certainty about the charity concert we have been speaking since last year that will be held in Bandung on November 19, 2015. 30% of the profit will be donated to St. Clare Hospice Building.


West Papua specially the Diocese of Jayapura was apostolic vicariate under the Franciscan since more than 75 years ago. Three years ago Franciscan celebrated 75 years anniversary of Franciscan presence in West Papua. All the parish and missionary works were under Franciscan. Since the Diocese is established the two bishops are Franciscan. Later on some congregations both male and female join it. The diocesan priests also increase in number. Franciscan has to leave some parish and give it to them. We have to give great appreciation to the first missionaries who started it with big difficulties.

saaoc7It is the big challenge till now that naturally Papua is not easy place. The big forests, mountain, river and so on make they have to use plan and walk for their ministry. Another challenge is the unstablity of political situation. Some of the native people demand the independence from Indonesia. The history shows up that even though West Papua was under Dutch colony but had different story with other parts of Indonesia. They just joint Indonesia in 1967 through unjustly general election. The richness of the land of Papua (gold, copper, mining and so on) becomes bargaining point of many countries which has interest in. Another challenge of Franciscan there if we put it in the context of the encyclical of Laudato Si is how to fight against deforestation done by big corporation. If all people and stake holder does not care of it, so a small part of world which contribute some percents to oxygen of the world called small heaven falls on earth will remain ruins and desert.

It is really a journey to the small heaven falls on earth and in this journey swimming and drink the water at the same time as well. Thank you for this occasion and payer for the friars there and their ministries.

by: Fr. Gregory Pontus OFM

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