In Indonesia, a teenager is grateful for construction of ‘real’ church

AS I WRITE these words, I feel gratitude for Jesus’ love and mercy. Every experience in my life has been extraordinary.

I am a member of a small, simple family. My father works at an automobile company, and my mother is a teacher at a Catholic high school in Jakarta, our capital city. She is active in our community and a great teacher; she has many Muslim friends and has joined a majority Muslim teacher organization.

I attend a local public school. Out of 40 students, I am the only Catholic teen, the only student who doesn’t wear a hijab. When I started there, I stood out.

But as time went on, I became more involved. I made close friends, and I joined an English club, because I love language—especially English—and I feel that I am good at it. I found friends through this club. Sometimes they ask me to hang out, to go to a birthday party, to have lunch. We do so much together. They come to my house, too, where we work on group projects. My mom says that I must be salt and light for them—that we are to be humble and serve one another.

My family is devoutly Catholic. As a child, I was brought to Mass on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings. Then, I didn’t know what a church was, because we didn’t have one. We held Mass in a small building. I sat on a school chair, because in front of that first church was a school. The building accommodated approximately 100 people, so many people were forced to stand outside.

Ajeng in front of her parish church under construction

And when I was slightly older, Mass was celebrated in a small place near the rice fields, hardly an improvement. The people who lived near the spot were disturbed by us, so we couldn’t stay long. Two years later, we moved to another building, where we were unable to hold Mass weekly. We did not own that building, so if we wanted to use it regularly, we would’ve had to pay rent.

When I was in junior high, we found an available home office. For us, it was a chapel. The pastor lived a short distance away. Up until recently, my family and I have been going there for Saturday Mass.

Now we are building a real church, the church that we’ve been missing for 17 years. This is the third year of its construction, and we are so grateful. My mom has been a member of the church choir for two years, and they travel from church to church to perform at liturgies. But I’m still sitting on a plastic chair in front of our temporary worship space, near a road closed due to crowds: the chapel cannot accommodate all the local faithful. There is still work to be done.

But I want to say thank you to our governor. He gave us the opportunity to build our own house of worship; my church was previously demolished because they thought we were breaking the rules, but the governor gave us the chance to continue. He had his picture taken at the cathedral twice and even visited the Vatican last year because of his deep commitment to religious tolerance—especially in Bekasi, the city I live in now. Thank God for his permission and cooperation as we build a very real church.

Gandhi Ajeng Anampiani Princess Elisabeth