Fr. Valentin Shukuru,sx is a new Xaverian Congolese priest. He arrived in the Philippines in 2006 and was part of our community for almost six years. After ending very successfully his theological studies at Loyola School of Theology, he went back to his country where he was ordained, in the city of Bukavu, last September 23, 2012. Since the beginning of November, he is in Indonesia where he has been assigned for his missionary work. Our community thanks him very much for keeping in touch. We are very glad to publish his contributions as a way of sharing the joy of a missionary in the beginning of his journey, the same joy all of us hope to experience every day of our missionary life. Ingat ka dyan palagi…and God bless!
Fr. Valentin SHUKURU, SX
Ever since I arrived in Jakarta, I got the habit of going around the city visiting strategic and historical places and sites of the city. My model as I enjoy this is Saint Paul! Indeed, it was the habit of Paul (perhaps also his pastoral strategy) to first look for and go to some key places in each city he arrived in for the first time. And so Paul would always go first to a synagogue or a public place like the Aeropagus in Athens. Paul did this with the hope of finding there someone to convert, to dialogue with and make friends with. Since I arrived here in Indonesia I do almost exactly the same thing. But I’m different from Paul and very much different from Saint Paul! Paul didn’t have any camera to take pictures. He didn’t have a facebook wall where he could post his pictures. I have a good camera and I always take pictures, many pictures whenever I visit new places and since I have a facebook account, I always upload these pictures on my wall.
The visit this morning took me downtown Jakarta to the main mosque (Istiqlal Mosque or Independence Mosque) and to Gereja Santa Maria Pelindung Diangkat Ke Surga (The Church of Our Lady of Assumption), the cathedral of Jakarta. My tour to these two landmarks that stand side by side that were purposely built near each other to symbolize religious harmony, diversity and tolerence in Indonesia, was a nice tour which became also for me a journey back in time.
I was born in a family of Christian and devout Catholics. My home was and still is so close to the parish church in my village that some say I grew up in the sacristy! Aside from the priests, a family of Jehovah Witnesses was among my immediate neighbors in our small village. Before I begun schooling, I used to stay with one of my sisters who after many years of being a catholic suddenly became a new protestant ‘convert.’ She would, then, always take me together with my nieces to church, on Sundays, but I never felt at home in the church of my sister.
Indeed, God was in my catholic church as it was told to us while attending catechesis classes. We were asked to always look for that corner in the church were there was always a lamp, a small burning candle. There Jesus was and he was always waiting for us to visit him. He would, in turn, bless us. In my sister’s church, I never found that small light. And many times, before the service could end, I used to run away and return home. Of course, I sometimes got punished by my sister, not because I was a catholic, but because I left without telling her. After service as she could not find me, she always was afraid I got lost, I could not find my way back home. What if something bad, a accident happens to you on the way alone? She would ask me.
Many years later, another sister of mine got also ‘converted’ in the Adventist church. For my mother, the ‘conversion’ of her two daughters remains a wound that will take time to heal. Thus on Saturdays, on some occasions I used to accompany my other sister also to her church. But again, I never felt home anywhere except in my catholic church.
And when for study reasons I ended up in a protestant school, even there I always felt that I was missing something of my identity. Indeed, I moved to another city for study reasons. I wanted to study in a Jesuit college but there were none in that city. The Marist brothers’college where I hoped to find a place, was not offering the subject I wanted to study. The only place left where I could pursue my studies then was a nearby protestant college. I enrolled there and for four years I studied there. On Wednesday a service was held in the church near the school and in class religion and catechesis were taught to us the protestant way!
The house of my sister with whom I used to stay before I begun schooling was near the main mosque of the city in Bukavu. And on Fridays we would admire the Muslims (even little boys like us) in white robes going to pray and greeting each other on the way Assalamu’aleikhum. The curiosity and the spirit of discovery of childhood always were pushing us to get closer and closer to the mosque and see, if we could, what the Muslims were doing in their prostrated position and murmuring Allah! Allah! However, our curiosity was never pushed up to the end because we knew we were crossing the boundaries. In fact, there were many told and untold myths about the Muslims We were told for example that the day we would enter the mosque, that day would be our last day on this earth. According to what people used to say, if you enter a mosque and you are not a Muslim you would disappear that day because the jinns, the spirits of Muhammad make little children to disappear.
It’s only now here in Indonesia that I enter a mosque since I was born. Yes, I entered a mosque and I came out alive. I didn’t die, I didn’t disappear. And when after visiting the mosque I went to the cathedral that stands nearby I looked intently inside the cathedral and as I saw the radiance of the small lamp at the back of the altar, I exclaimed in the silence of my heart: “Really God you are One and the Same; but we your people are many and different in our religions and beliefs!”
From early childhood I learned to live with people of different religions and beliefs. I learned very early to love and respect them. After all, were not my own sisters people who were now different from me because of their new beliefs? In spite of different faith convictions I could not reject my sisters and they never denied us who remain catholic. So why should I despise and reject people of other faiths? As I return from this long journey back in time I look ahead with hope, firm as never before in my faith and convictions as a Christian, a catholic. But I have learnt also to purify the way I look at others.