Cast and crew from the Indonesian Catholic community after a musical to cap KKIS’ silver jubilee celebrations on May 22. Photo by Andy Tan

SINCE 1996, JOSEPHINE Handojo has been religiously mailing out scripture reflections of daily Mass readings in Bahasa Indonesia to Indonesian Catholic domestic workers unable to attend Mass regularly. With her domestic helper, the 70-year-old takes two days to mail out booklets the size of Catholic Digest every two months.

The project began when an Indonesia-based Scheut Missions priest visited Singapore. He noted that there were Indonesian domestic workers unable to attend Mass, but hungry for spiritual food. While visiting Mrs Handojo’s home, he spotted a Living Faith booklet and suggested sending these booklets to domestic workers. Mrs Handojo agreed.

Living Faith provides brief daily Catholic devotions based on one of the daily Mass readings. It is published quarterly, and written by clergy, lay and religious men and women.

News of this initiative spread by word of mouth and, coupled with KKIS’ leaving copies in some parishes, the number of recipients grew from an initial six to 200 over the years.

Mrs Handojo relies on volunteers to bring in these booklets from Jakarta. Her husband, Augustine, travels regularly to Jakarta with his employer, among others, and returns with the 350 booklets weighing about 15 kilogrammes.

The booklets have helped quench the spiritual thirst of domestic workers unable to attend Sunday Mass, said Mrs Handojo. Two Indonesian domestic workers testified to this.

Catarina Heryati said the booklets’ scripture passages keep her in touch with her faith, while Sugiarti said that the reflections in Bahasa Indonesia help her better understand the Word of God preached at weekday Masses which she tries to attend twice weekly.

Sugiarti added: “For me, the booklets are important. Keep me near to Jesus. Helps grow my spirit and faith.”

But not all employers are enthused about their workers receiving the booklets, said Mrs Handojo, citing incidents when employers confiscated the booklets, threw them away, or tore them up before the domestic worker.

Domestic workers join KKIS celebrations

Come year-end, KKIS writes to over 200 domestic workers’ employers asking for their understanding and permission to allow their workers to attend the community’s Christmas celebrations. Printed on a KKIS letterhead, the letter is attached alongside the November/December booklets sent out in October.

For occasions such as Good Friday and Easter, or KKIS’ anniversary celebrations and events, Mrs Handojo would write to selected employers who might let their workers attend. In the letters, she encourages employers to grant permission as attending such events are helpful and meaningful to their workers, and enhances the employer-employee working relationship.

About 100 workers attend the Christmas celebrations, and some employers even fetch their workers to and fro the event. Good Friday and Easter celebrations see about 20 workers present, while just a few attend KKIS seminars and retreats.

“It’s always the usual crowd who get the day off who attend the events. Some will approach me to write the letter in order to obtain the employer’s permission,” said Mrs Handojo. “It’s very hard to get the permission… for those who don’t have a day off. Outside Sundays, it’s almost impossible.”

Monique Natahusada, KKIS’ Public Relations Officer, told CatholicNews that writing letters to employers is also practised by the Indonesian Embassy if they need domestic helpers to come out, and added that KKIS’ initiative reassures employers that their domestic help is indeed spending time in church.

Building bridges with ACMI and Indonesia Embassy

Over the years, KKIS has cooperated with the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) and the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore.

Mrs Natahusada was initially an ACMI volunteer but when KKIS started making inroads among Indonesian migrant workers, the commission started to work closely with the community in organising Masses for migrants.

Mrs Handojo, Mrs Natahusada and her husband Chris, have acted as interpreters between ACMI and Indonesian workers. They have also accompanied ACMI office bearers in sending workers to Batam for deportation or pregnancy reasons, or when visiting injured and hospitalised workers to comfort them in their mother tongue.

Workers are usually sent to the Batam Crisis Centre which looks after returning Indonesian workers from Malaysia and Singapore before they are repatriated to other parts of Indonesia.

Mrs Natahusada said that the commission provides official representation, connections, and know-how in dealing with migrant issues that KKIS volunteers lack.

Agnes Ong, Senior Executive Officer at ACMI, said the commission is grateful to KKIS for its active involvement in the migrant ministry, its continuous support for the commission’s annual migrants’ day celebrations, and in interpretation and network support in Indonesia for ACMI’s clients.

KKIS also works alongside the Indonesian Embassy in employer-employee mediation.

In a recent case, an Indonesian couple approached KKIS for help after their domestic worker felt abused and escaped to the embassy. According to Mrs Natahusada, the worker was new to the job, and the woman employer was feeling emotionally frustrated due to post-natal blues. This breakdown in communication led to unintentional physical hurt of the worker.

The couple regretted their actions and, with KKIS’ help, was able to reconcile with the worker in the presence of the Embassy Officer, who suggested the couple compensate the worker financially. After several meetings, the incident was legally resolved with both parties satisfied; the worker returned to Indonesia with sufficient compensation, and the couple was allowed to hire another domestic helper.

In the Indonesian ambassador’s congratulatory message to KKIS, Mr Wardana lauded the organisation for its efforts in ministering not only to Indonesian Catholics but also “supporting the Indonesian Embassy’s mission in creating harmony within the Indonesian society” in Singapore.

Stalwart since the start

Mrs Handojo has been involved with KKIS since its inception. She served as coordinator for 14 years consecutively, before being elected to serve for another two years after a break.

KKIS was formed when a few Indonesian ladies, all mothers, wanted to worship in Bahasa Indonesia as they could not understand English sermons at Mass. To help establish the community, they approached Mrs Handojo, then recovering from leg surgery. A week earlier, some Christian friends had visited her and told her that the Lord was going to use her in a strong way.

“I was either brave or stupid enough to say ‘yes’ and I got stuck with it,” Mrs Handojo said. “This is my lifeline. It is caring for each other and really going deeper into who Jesus is through growth sessions and events together.”

At the same time, Mrs Handojo hopes that young Indonesians would step up to serve the community. KKIS decided at its 2007 general election that half its committee members must be below the age of 40.

Mrs Handojo pointed out that the recent silver jubilee celebrations – a retreat, followed by mission outreach, community events, Mass on May 9, and a May 22 musical – were the efforts of younger community members.

“Hopefully it doesn’t just stay with projects, and that they can be in charge,” she said, but both she and Mrs Natahusada acknowledged that to oversee KKIS on a daily and faithful basis is difficult for young people who aspire to succeed in life.

History of KKIS

Father Alfred Chan, then Holy Family parish priest, first began celebrating Mass in Bahasa Indonesia there. The monthly Mass was attended by about 60 to 80 people comprising families, domestic workers and sailors.

When Father Chan transferred to St. Francis Xavier Major Seminar, the community uprooted itself to St. Bernadette parish where it flourished under the support of Fathers Joseph Tan, Patrick Goh and Eugene Chong. Its main activities are still concentrated there.

Masses in Bahasa Indonesia are celebrated at 3.30pm at St. Bernadette (second and fourth Sundays), Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (OLPS) (first Sundays), Church of St. Mary of the Angels (SMOTA) (third Sundays), and Blessed Sacrament Church (fifth Sundays).

There are four Legion of Mary groups, two in St. Bernadette, and one each in OLPS and SMOTA. RCIA in Bahasa Indonesia and marriage preparation is conducted at St. Bernadette.

Prayer groups exist within the community where Indonesians of all social classes and professions mingle together with ease in their various ministries and groups. Mrs Natahusada said that she has not seen any discrimination against anyone because of different working backgrounds.

KKIS estimates there are 1,500 Indonesian Catholics in Singapore. [email protected]