Agats marks the 50th anniversary of local diocese (photos-videos)
by Mathias Hariyadi

The important anniversary is celebrated with a cultural festival, a Mass and a new radio station. Card Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, archbishop of Jakarta and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia attended the solemn Eucharistic celebration. The local bishop exalts “the great enthusiasm shown by the Asmat people”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The approximately 60,000 Catholics in the remote region of Agats, Papua province, are marking the 50th anniversary of their diocese, established on 29 May 1969.

The celebrations culminated in a solemn Mass officiated on 24 November by the local bishop, Mgr Aloysius Murwito, at Holy Cross Cathedral.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Bishop Mgr Murwito said that the Eucharistic service was part of a series of cultural events called Asmat Festival (20-26 November), named after the local ethnic group (video 1).

On this occasion, locals showed off their skills in woodcarving and navigating the imposing waterways that cross the region.

Card Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, archbishop of Jakarta and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Indonesia (KWI), and Mgr Piero Pioppo, apostolic nuncio to Indonesia, attended the service (video 2), as did four other Indonesian bishops: Mgr Antonius Subianto Bunjamin (Bandung), Mgr Aloysius Maryadi Sutrisnaatmaka (Palangka Raya), Mgr Yohanes Harun Yuwono (Tanjung Karang) and Mgr Pius Riana Prapdi (Ketapang).

The Diocese of Agats also launched Fu Radio Fm, "a radio station for the community", managed by Fr Lucius Joko, a missionary priest originally from the diocese of Bogor.

For Bishop Murwito, the station was established “to improve communication between Church, residents and local government agencies. Its frequency is easily accessible even with smartphones.”

Irene Setiadi, representative of the Jakarta-based Kelompok Bakti Kasih Kemanusiaan (KBKK) foundation, spoke movingly of the Catholic presence in Agats.

"It all started in 1936 with the Dutch Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC). Now the story continues with the Order of the Holy Cross (Crosiers),” she said.

Mgr Alphonsus Augustus Sowada, Agats’s first bishop, belonged to the Order founded in Belgium at the beginning of the 13th century.

The prelate led the diocese until his retirement in 2001 replaced by Bishop Murwito, a former provincial superior of the Friars Minor (OFM) in Indonesia.

The Diocese of Agats is very isolated, with traits found nowhere else in Indonesia. In total, ethnic Asmat number 70,000.

The natural environment is central to the group’s existence. Its culture and lifestyle greatly depend on the local rich natural resources, on the forests, rivers and seas.

Catholics represent almost 60 per cent of the population. Evangelisation as well as material and spiritual assistance represent a challenge for the local Catholic Church.

Last year, the region was hit by a serious humanitarian emergency, which killed over 70 children due to measles and malnutrition-related diseases.

Travelling around the region is very physically dangerous and financially expensive.

In 2013, the AsiaNews correspondent accompanied the Bishop of Agats on a pastoral mission to the area’s remotest settlements.

(Photo credit: Komsos KWI, Komsos Keuskupan Agats, KBKK).