ASIA/INDONESIA - The Franciscan Sisters of Sukabumi were born from the mission of a Dutch religious congregation

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Sukabumi (Agenzia Fides) - The missionary history of the Franciscan Sisters in the city of Bergen op Zoom (Boz), in the Netherlands, fully expresses the authentic spirit and apostolic dedication of many people and congregations who, in their missionary work, they have detached themselves from any colonialist approach and have fully immersed themselves in the local context. To the point of becoming an integral part of it, eventually dissolving and giving rise to a local religious congregation. This whole historical process was remembered in Indonesia - a land where the Portuguese settlers arrived first and then the Dutch- in a celebration organized these days by the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Sukabumi (SFS), a city in West Java, who celebrated the 90th anniversary of its presence in Indonesia, recalling its foundation in 1933. Although, at that time, the institute did not have that name and was only made up of European missionaries.
It must be said that, at that time, the islands of Southeast Asia were still the "Dutch East Indies", colonial possessions of the Netherlands in Asia, which began in the 16th century. The Dutch presence lasted until the middle of the 20th century, when, in 1949, the government in Amsterdam granted independence to the Dutch East Indies, which were renamed Indonesia.
A Dutch Franciscan nun, Sister Rosa de Bie, was the first to go on a mission there and opened the door of the first convent 90 years ago. "I'll probably be the last one, the one to close the door," says Sister Marie-Cecile Herder, one of the three Franciscan Sisters from Bergen op Zoom still alive. Sister Marie-Cecile Herder, who came from Holland, joyfully participated in the celebration, recalling how what today is for all intents and purposes a local religious congregation, recognized by the Indonesian bishops, emerged. The religious congregation of Sukabumi is, in fact, the "Indonesian version" of the Dutch religious institute of the Franciscan Sisters of Bergen op Zoom. It assumed and adopted the Franciscan spirituality, recognizing itself as "a branch of that plant" and recognizing it as its inspiration and root.
Addressing the Indonesian sisters, Sr. Marie-Cecile was very happy to see that the charism of the Dutch Franciscan sisters has flourished again in Indonesia, in its specificity and creativity, a true example of "inculturation": "There are still three Boz sisters in Holland. One -she says- is 96 years old and the youngest is 80 and is sick. I am the one who is still the most active and was able to travel to Indonesia. I did not want to miss it. I carry in my heart the joy of such an intense and festive celebration here in Sukabumi. The sistersand the people experience community unity, they are rooted in the Eucharist. Here there is a flowering of vocations to the consecrated life that gives us so much hope. The sisters of Sukabumi are like a new sprout born from an ancient trunk".
Sister Marie-Cecil recalled the missionary adventure of the six sisters who, in 1933, set sail from Marseilles to Jakarta, then called Batavia. First they dedicated themselves to caring for the sick in the hospitals of Semarang and Muntilan. They then moved to Sukabumi, where they continued to work in healthcare, sheltered in a home by the locals. Later they obtained a permanent residence, which is still today the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Sukabumi.
Sister Vincentia, Indonesian, who is the current mother superior of the SFS, says that today the institute has 109 religious, present in various Indonesian dioceses, such as Bogor, Semarang, Palangka Raya (in Borneo) and, in the near future, in Samarinda (also in Borneo). In 1996, the SFS congregation was recognized as an autonomous religious congregation in the Bogor diocese, as the number of Dutch sisters in Boz was declining due to a lack of religious vocations.
Sister Rosa de Bie was the founder of the Dutch congregation of the Sisters of Boz, and Sister Marie-Cecile will probably be the last of the sisters to visit the former mission in Indonesia. The missionary returns to Holland with a certainty and a consolation: the work of the Holy Spirit continues and the spiritual legacy and apostolic zeal of the Dutch religious live on in the life and pastoral work of so many Indonesian religious today. (MH/PA) (Agenzia Fides, 17/5/2023)