Solomon Islands: Interview at Father Yohanes Werang CM
Fr. Yohanes Werang, CM, 44 years old, born in Solor Island, East Flores, Indonesia. After graduation from minor seminary in Flores, he joined with Vincentian in Java. He was doing his formation program as Vincentian including studying Philosophy and Theology at Widya Sasana College, Malang- East Java, Indonesia. And then, he was ordained to be a Vincentian priest in Indonesia. At the beginning of February 2007, he joined the mission in Papua New Guinea, Daru-Kiunga Diocese for nearly 8 years. During that time, he was working in various ministries such as Parish Priest, Vocation Director for Diocesan seminarians, Chaplain for Diocesan Youth, and Formator for pre-seminary. Since, 2018, he had been joining the international mission in Solomon Islands working as staff and formator of the Holy Name of Mary-Seminary – Solomon Islands.
What does it mean for you to be a missionary?
A person who is willing to go out to the place where he is being sent in order to bring the good news of Jesus. And he has a special mission which is to proclaim the gospel and the sacramental of the world, and call all the people to be the disciples of Jesus. In the other words, a person who leaves his comfort zone in order to reach out to the people who are living remoted places or periphery area. Therefore, a missionary is not a tourist who comes to enjoy life for a while in one place, taking photos around and wear a t-shirt proudly and go back and telling the stories, but a missionary is a man who in the mission to bring the Good News for the poor people. It demands the spirit of sacrifices, love, and humility as missionary.
Can you tell us how goes your day usually?
My main ministry in the Solomon Islands is to work as formator and staff at the Holy Name of Mary – seminary. Actually, our daily routine is to attend the daily mass with all seminarians at our chapel in the early morning, and then I have a breakfast and is ready to give the lecture for seminarians until noon. Usually, we have class for lecture from Monday until Friday, while on Saturday, we are getting ready to prepare ourselves to reach out to the people on Sunday for Sunday service or Sunday mass. In the evening part, sometimes I involve with all seminarians usually do the manual work, cleaning up around the seminary compound or do singing practice or other creativity work and after that we have evening bravery and we have a special adoration to the blessed sacrament on every Friday evening.
On every Sunday, I will visit some local communities under the Good Shepherd’s Parish with seminarians to minister the sacraments such as the sacrament of eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation and the sacrament of baptism. After the eucharist, I take an opportunity to share the knowledge about the faith, short catechism and any other formation talk for the parishioners who attend the mass. The purpose of this talk is to help the people to grow in the knowledge about Christian faith. They are so happy to listen this kind of talk after mass since they need to deepen their faith.
Among the many faces that you have come across in your experience as a missionary there is a face and its history that have remained etched?
I have been in the Solomon Island almost for 3 years now, and I experience that the people are so kind and have generous heart. They are good people who are willing to welcome the Good News of Christ. They are willing to work with us and welcome us if we are open ourselves to them. I think that as a missionary I have to enter into their culture through their door, so that I can know their way of life, struggles, pains, hopes, and joys, but they should come out through our door to solve their problem or to minimize the challenges that they face in their lives as a Christian.
Living as a missionary in the mission place brings joy and peace, despite all challenges I have been facing in my ministry as a Vincentian priest. It brings joy because I have a good chance to serve poor people and learn about their cultures. I remember what St. Vincent DePaul said that "poor people are our master". And then, I come to realize the truth of this word because Christ himself identifies himself with the poor people. Therefore, in the mission places, where I serve the poor people, I serve Jesus himself.
Does it still make sense today to speak "missio ad gentes" in your experience? What challenges do missionaries face?
I believe that talking about “the missio ad gentes” is preciously still actual and in need for our church today. There are some places, regions and churches are still lacking of the priests who are working and serving remoted areas. People need the priests to celebrate the sacraments. I remembered one time I visited one local community in another parish. When I arrived in that place, people were so glad to welcome me and share their stories about their longing to receive the sacraments. I can not do anything since, I realize that in that region, they have not enough priest to reach out and celebrate the mass for them in that place. One thing I can do is to encourage the young people to consider how to give their lives for God as a priest or religious life. For me, what is unique about “the missio ad gentes” within the evangelizing mission of the Church is that it relates to reaching those who have not yet encountered Jesus Christ and his Gospel, places where the Christian faith is absent and not yet able to renew the culture, and women and men whose religions and nations still yearn for salvation from sin and death in the here and now of human history. Pope Francis highlighted the important for the church to reach out to the periphery and I am sure what Pope Francis remind and encourage us to do “the missio ad gentes.”
The challenges that always remain as missionary is how to understand their culture. The culture is not only about how they think, behave or act, social, or their local religion but more that it is about all their lives. I have to acknowledge that the difference in languages and cultures sometimes are challenging for a missionary and how to understand the people's mind. However, to grow the and maintain the virtues are significantly important in the mission place, such as humility, simplicity, meekness, mortification, and zeal for souls.