Jakarta (AsiaNews) - After he developed a passion for architecture in his youth, when he wanted to "build bridges", and for medicine, when he wanted to "help others freely", Fr Yohanes Indrakusuma experienced the birth of his priestly vocation. Right after high school, he realised his youthful dreams by dedicating his life to God and his fellow man, "building bridges between people" and "helping those in need not only in body but also in soul, which is most precious."
Speaking to AsiaNews, the Indonesian clergyman said that evangelisation ad gentes and continuous conversion are needed now more than ever in order to experience Christ's faith fully. Indeed, the work began by European missionaries laid the foundations of today's faith and heralded a time that has "born fruit".
Born in 1938 in small East Java town into a Chinese family, Fr Yohanes Indrakusuma began his noviciate in a Carmelite monastery in 1960. Ordained as priest in 1967, he pursued his studies in theology in Rome and Paris and later worked in various parts of the country. In the mid-70s, he spent time in a hermitage involved in contemplative life.
More recently, he personally involved in the establishment of the Saint John of the Cross Institute of Theology and Philosophy, which opened in January. Named after the 16th century Spanish religious and poet who reformed the Order of Discalced Carmelites, the facility is designed to train "priests, religious and lay people to become actively involved in pastoral work" according to its sponsors.
For the Indonesian priest, Christians must promote "re-evangelisation" and proclaim the Word of God ad gentes so that everyone can hear its message of Salvation. As part of this, Fr Yohanes has been involved in seminars, prayers, Masses and spiritual activities with hundreds of believers.
Many lay people have also participated in these initiatives. Increasingly, they play an active role in the Indonesian Church, in spiritual training and Gospel meditations. "Many Protestants and even some non-Christians have come to our meetings," Fr Yohanes noted.
For the Carmelite priest, missionary work goes hand in hand with nonstop personal conversion. "Conversions to the Catholic religion are taking place in many parts of Indonesia," he said, "The numbers are growing." Catholics are now seven million and constitute 3 per cent of the population of the world's biggest Muslim nation.
By proclaiming the Word and promoting evangelisation, lay people make an important contribution to the cause. In some parts of the country, "there are still tribal areas not yet reached by the Gospel. We must insist on this kind of work because it offers promising results".
The 75-year-old clergyman is ALSO quite aware of the issues of religious freedom and relations with Islam, which he has studied in depth.
"Anti-Christian persecution does take place but it varies from place to place," he said. Violence and Muslim radicalism are strongest in places like Aceh, North Sumatra, Padang and West Java. By contrast, the situation in Papua, Flores, Timor and West Kalimantan is far better because of the large numbers of Catholics and Protestants.
At the same time, "not all Muslims are fanatical," he said. "Although we tend to have problems with extremist groups at the beginning, ordinary people (including Muslims) are usually friendly." For example, "at one point, a fundamentalist group wanted to cause trouble for our centre, but residents came to our defence."
In more recent years, Christians have also acquired greater visibility in politics and government. Indonesia's Defence minister is a Catholic. In Jakarta, the deputy governor is a Protestant of Chinese origin. The governor and deputy governor of West Kalimantan are respectively Catholic and Protestant. The governor of North Sulawesi is a Protestant.
"We are grateful to the missionaries, especially those who came from Europe," Fr Yohanes said. "They came to Indonesia and brought the Good News of Jesus Christ. Now, as secularism sweeps over Europe, we invite you Europeans to come to Indonesia to discover the seeds of the faith the missionaries sowed (in the past) and the fruits they bore." (D.S.)