Thousands of Catholics celebrated the birth of the parish of St Joseph in Serengkah. Thanks to the missionary work of a Chinese man, Tan A Hak, a Dayak tribal chief asked to be baptised along with 68 children. Mgr Pius Riana Prapdi, bishop of Ketapang, praised the "spirit of altruism and sharing" practised by Tan A Hak and Mgr Pacificus Bos, apostolic prefect of the time.
Serengkah (AsiaNews) – The celebrations that marked the first hundred years of the Catholic community in the Diocese of Ketapang, West Kalimantan province, were full of enthusiasm and participation.
The event took place yesterday in the parish of St Joseph in Serengkah, where a seed of Christianity bore the first fruit a century ago with the conversion of tribal Dayak.
Even today, traveling in the vast and remote district of Ketapang is quite complicated due to poor roads: it takes about six hours of off-road travel to reach Serengkah from Ketapang City.
In 1910 five Chinese traders, all brothers, arrived in the area after a long journey that saw them go first to Penang (Malaysia) and then Singapore.
After a few years, two of the brothers returned to China whilst the other three, Tan A Hak, Tan A Ni and Tan Kau Pue, settled in Serengkah, which at the time was accessible only by river boat.
Of the three brothers, only Tan A Hak loved to travel and socialise with the local population. Moved by a strong spirit of evangelisation, he introduced natives Dayak to Christianity.
Stories about his work eventually reached Pontianak, home to the apostolic prefect for Kalimantan, Mgr Pacificus Bos.
The bishop visited Ketapang in 1911 and met Tan A Hak after ten hours going up river on a boat. After that, two Dutch Capuchin missionaries, Fr Salvator and Fr Marcellus, began to make regular pastoral visits to the remote location.
In 1918, Mgr Bos was informed that Gumalo Moerial, a local Dayak tribal chief, had asked to be baptised along with 68 children, which was done following ten days of catechesis by Tan A Hak. The following year a missionary Catholic school was built in Serengkah.
Yesterday, thousands of Catholics from every corner of the Diocese of Ketapang took part in the service remembering the events that led to the birth of the local community.
Mgr Blasius Pujoraharja, bishop emeritus of Ketapang, travelled to the parish of St Joseph from Yogyakarta (Central Java) to take part in the festivities.
His successor, Mgr Pius Riana Prapdi, and the district chief Martin Ratan led the celebrations. The provincial superior of the Passionist Fathers, Fr Mark Robin, was also present along with 22 local priests.
In his address to the crowd that filled the Church of Saint Joseph, Mgr Prapdi invited everyone "to exercise the spirit of altruism and sharing practised by Mgr Pacificus Bos and Tan A Hak. Both bore witnesses to faith in Serengkah and the Diocese of Ketapang ".
In the cemetery behind the church, Tan A Hak's spiritual legacy was remembered at the family plot. One of his daughters, Sister Agnetha, is an Augustinian nun and now works as a nurse in Menyumbung, a remote village in the diocese.
(Fr Mardianus Indra PR contributed to this article. Photo credit: Fr Mardianus Indra Pr)