Pluralism (1): Beautiful Yet Challenging

Written by Yohannes Bosco Isdaryanto SVD

Translated by Tami Sulistyo

Nowadays in most parts of the world it is not possible to live in a culture or nation sheltered from outside influences. Communication technology is evolving very rapidly. This has sped up the  process of globalization with all of its positive and negative consequences depending on how we respond to it.

In the following I will share my experiences living in an intercultural environment that includes love and grief and hope for the future. I will start the process with my family, followed my my education years, and finally my time in service to the international community.

 Cross-Cultural Family

I was born into a large family with a long and deep background in Javanese culture. My father, who works as an elementary school teacher, comes from Yogyakarta, Indonesia and my mother from the area around Solo, also on the island of Java. My father migrated to the region of Solo and met my mother. As a teacher in the village elementary school, my father had many relationships, both in environmental education (with the many students and educators) and in the community. In the past, teachers were treated with dignity, and were emulated. People listened to and obeyed them. This was my father’s way of life. As far back as I remember, my father has known a little bit about a lot of areas. He did a lot of reading about a lot of things, as well as avidly listening to the radio news.

I have to admit, his knowledge is not deep at all. But he knew enough that people asked him about a lot of things. He was like a walking dictionary, which was enough to satisfy the needs and curiosity of the neighbors and the communities that lived around us.

My dad also hung out with people from various cultural backgrounds. That is what it takes with his job. We inherited what our parents did, coupled with our education in various schools, in various cities, even different countries. It all totally enriched our life experience. We even have intercultural (intertribal) marriages among our family members: our brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins. At first things felt odd, but gradually we started feeling comfortable with each other and appreciated the beautiful relationship and interaction with the various tribes that exist in Indonesia. We learned from each other, appreciated and complemented each other.

We used to think that only Javanese culture exists in Indonesia, which was a typical understanding of people unaccustomed to pluralism. Then when we met up with another culture, we initially felt weird, as if there was something missing from our own and in other’s culture. But with a positive attitude, we finally got to see how beautiful differences are, and this may be what God desired from the beginning of the creation of the world. In other words, difference is indeed desired by the creator so that we need to learn from each other, co-exist and complement each other. The more we open up and mutually accept each other, then we are progressively enriched.

Reflecting on this experience, I can only be grateful and thankful to the Lord and our parents who have taught us to love difference and plurality. Education within the family indeed determines how someone behaves at a later date in addressing differences and similarities. I feel fortunate to have a large family with many differences, so that I feel our family is like a cross-cultural school.

Experience Formed In Cross Cultural Environment

Time continues to run following a straight line leading into the future that was never 100% clear. I was going through a formation and preparatory education as a missionary priest in a multi-cultural and cross-cultural environment. That is how we prepared ourselves to become a missionarist and to be ready to leave our own cultural background. One of the conditions for us to become missionary-priests of the SVD (Societas Verbi Divini or States of God’s Words) is to be ready, able and willing to voluntarily live in and outside our own culture.

For example: as Javanese I should be able to live in an environment alongside our brothers and sisters from the Indonesian islands of Flores, Sumba, Bali, Timor, Batak, Dayak, as well as the countries of Germany, Poland, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Romania, Russia, India, Vietnam, Argentina, etc. At first I was too afraid and felt pessimistic: “Will I be able live as a monk-missionary SVD priest who must live outside of my Javanese culture?” The Javanese philosophy of “Being able to eat or not, we should stay together”  was still strongly attached within me at that time. Moreover, I was the first Javanese admitted to the SVD Congregation.

At that time I also didn’t know if I would survive in the SVD or not, because as a new member I was overwhelmed by the length of the education period. There were ten of us when we started the SVD Novitiate: five persons from Java, and the others were from Bali, Flores, and the Mollucas. The Founder was from Europe (Poland).

Time seemed to flow naturally. I opened myself up and got ready to be shaped somehow by our Patrons. In the process of formation I experienced the reality that no single culture is excellent in all things or bad in everything. Each culture has a positive element and also a negative element. There are advantages and limitations. That’s where the art is, after mutual learning, it turns out that they are all beautiful as well. There are also holes that need to be filled and enriched.

This experience made me aware that I need to learn a lot from nature. In nature I find all kinds of plants and they live harmoniously and they are beautiful. Indeed it is because harmony arises from differences. For example in the world of music, there are both pentatonic and diatonic melodies. It is precisely the combination of different instruments that conjures up the beautiful symphony. This is also true  in our life together in our community. My brothers come from various backgrounds. There are fun times, and there’s the occasional arguments, but that’s the reality in our community. If I made a litany of errors and shortcomings there will surely be very much to be discovered. But why not make a litany of strengths and talents of each member? It will definitely be much more beautiful and will radiate an aura of positivity. A good combination of talents and differences will be synergistic and very interesting. Any community is not made up of a group of perfect people, but a collection and combination of many limitations and many strengths. Each member brings something to add.

My experience during the formation laid my foundationfor carrying out the duties entrusted to me at a later date. Experience is indeed the most valuable teacher! Beyond comparison. Experience cannot be learned like knowledge learned through school.

 Work in the Parish

After being ordained as a priest, I was given the task to be a colleague pastor in one parish in Jakarta, Indonesia. Our parishioners are indeed heterogeneous. It is understandable because Jakarta was a place for many people from various tribes in Indonesia to wander to seek their fortunes. In the city of Jakarta we can observe a plural and cross-cultural society. And in the meeting of cultures there has always been an expression of each culture bringing its own characteristics. That’s what I experienced as a young pastor in Jakarta. Our community consisted of people from Flores, Timor, Java, Manado, Batak and Chinese. Those were the large groups. During Christmas time, there were multiple variations of celebrations based on the differing customs across the country. I sometimes came to their events because the pastor always gets an invitation to attend. Indeed each had its own specifics: in terms of liturgy, hymns, the food menu, party favors, etc. How rich is my country, Indonesia.

Too bad I was not given a long enough opportunity to serve the people of the parish. After approximately two years I was sent to study in Europe, in Rome to be exact. Previous experiences made me more open to new cultures at that time. Lectures in school are indeed great, but the experience of hanging out with various people from varying cultural backgrounds is also as valuable. Theory needs to be combined with experience and practice.

Yohannes Bosco Isdaryanto, SVD lives di Roma, Italia.

Copyright@2017StoryLighthouse. All Rights Reserved.

Pictures are uploaded from google images:


SVD Congregation


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