VINCENTIAN CHARISM & CULTURE OF HUMAN RIGHT’S PROMOTION: The Case of Formation in Context of Indonesia

Armada Riyanto, CM
[Paper published in “Formation for Mission” 2006]


My humble attempt in this paper is to deal with two main points: first dialogue between vincentian charism and culture of promotion of human right that has been culturally fostered in Indonesia; and secondly how such dialogue provides implications to be concretely inserted into formation programs. Almost all of recommendations produced in the formators’ meetings of Asia Pacific Region from 1995 at Manila, Prigen Indonesia on 1997 to February 2006 at Mysore (Southern India) suggest strongly that formation programs should be well grounded on the link of charism and culture. Charism is a heritage worth flowed from the holy Founder to be reinvented, whereas culture is somewhat a given situation in which we live. Both charism and culture are interconnected concretely in our lives. Culture reveals itself in ways how we manage our daily life in a certain place; charism is a spirit more universal that belongs to our congregation. The first can be ways of thinking, paradigms of life, concerns of living together, ideals of working; the second deals with dynamic spirituality.

One of the reasons why I am putting forward this topic is that the Church of Asia (as well as Pacific) recommends that formation programs must lead formandi to be man of justice (this is strongly mentioned in the Philippines and Indonesia). Formandi is to be guided in well-grounded programs insofar as he becomes a person with sense of solidarity, of bearing a prophetic witness, of promoting right and dignity of human beings.

Reinventing Vincentian Charism

What we call “vincentian charism” is the spirit sprung from the person of St. Vincent de Paul. The charism of Saint Vincent is to be reinvented; it is not just something fixed or given once for ever. Vincent himself never told his own charism; we, the followers, should reinvent it again and again along with the needs and challenges we face in our own contexts.

Vincentian charism has been declared as that of charitable works. What he did in the seventeenth century are the good works. He is called the patron saint of charitable apostolates of the universal Church; it was firstly declared by the great Pope Leo XIII.

Yet, as we study carefully the life of Saint Vincent and the way how he worked for the poor, a spirit of promoting rights of human person was strongly indicated. He did not merely give foods, cloths, shelters, or human basic needs. He also became a “bridge” between those who were rich and the poor people. He set up a new way that fitted to his time regarding promotion of human rights. The term “human rights” did not exist at that time; yet Vincent opened the eyes of those rich to involving themselves in doing something definitely significant to the poor. Collaborations he perseveringly cultivated with the lay people poor and noble as well as the leading clergy can be regarded as serious attempt of promoting rights.

When we look back at the exemplary works of the holy founder, Saint Vincent de Paul, we discover that in his own social and theological contexts he did something very similar to what we mean by promotion of human right. Voltaire, an anti-Catholic Church, praised Vincent de Paul as the genuine defender of the poor. Vincent was much appreciated even outside the Catholic Church simply because he promoted social justice. The term “social justice” itself did not exist yet at that time. But, as he founded the Confraternities of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity that did tirelessly missions and charitable works in country sides (maxime ruriculis), Vincent de Paul was best regarded as the defender of the rights of those who are abandoned. In social history of France of the 17th century, it is said that there were ten thousands priests at Paris; and they did nothing. There was none of priests who stayed and worked in poor countries outside Paris. Why? Paris was the only city in the world where life was lived fully. “Anywhere else,” says John de Jandun, “people only lived relatively.” Vincent de Paul was promoter of the rights of the poor, as he sent his missionaries (priest and lay people) to go to the missions in poor countries where none of sacramental and social services was set up.

Vincent would never be regarded “revolutionary” in a Marxian sense of terminology. Yet his bravery to send his members to dangerous areas of mission for those who are poor deserves revolutionary protagonist in his time even outside the Church. Differing with other promoters of human rights in philosophical and social fields, Vincent’s spirit was basically derived from the love and compassion of Christ to the poor. He considered the poor not just persons unfortunate; they represent the presence of Christ. The one, who does apostolates for the poor, needs to be a man with great sense of faith and prayer.

“Give me a person of prayer and that one will be ready for anything.” According to him, prayer is the living source of the spiritual life of a missionary, an apostle; through it he puts on Christ, becomes steeped in the teachings of the Gospel, discerns things and events through the eyes of God, and remains always in God’s love and mercy. In this way the Spirit of Christ will always make our works and actions effective.

Love and compassion to the poor is the necessary elements of life of the Vincentians. In his conference on the spirit of compassion, Saint Vincent says this: “Since the Son of God was unable to show his sentiments of compassion in the state of glory, which he enjoys from all eternity in heaven, he willed to become human and to be our High Priest to identify with our suffering. If we are to live with him in heaven, we should, like him, identify with the sufferings of our brothers and sisters. We are obligated to be filled with this spirit of compassion, since our state and vocation bind us to serve the most miserable, the most abandoned, and those burdened with spiritual and corporal oppression. In the first place, we should be touched and moved by the pain or our brothers and sisters. Secondly, just as Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem because of the calamities with which it was threatened, so too, our reactions ought to be tangible expressions of our identification with and compassion toward our brothers and sisters. Thirdly, we should speak compassionately, and in this way express our profound sharing in the interests and sufferings of our neighbor. Finally, people should be comforted and helped in their want and misery and we should strive to deliver them from their pain; for heart and hand should go together.” (Obras Completas de San Vicente de Paul, XI, 771).

What is this compassion? Compassion means to suffer with our brothers and sisters, to weep when they weep, to laugh when they laugh. Quite different from those who feel no sorrow for the afflicted or grief for the sufferings of the poor, compassion is that manifestation of love which enables us to enter into another’s heart and feelings. Saint Vincent says, “Ah, how loving was the Son of God! He is asked to see Lazarus … he goes. Magdalene rises up and goes to meet him, weeping; the Jews follow her, weeping also; all begin to weep. Jesus weeps with them. He is so loving and compassionate. His tender love was the reason he came down from heaven … we, too, should be compassionate towards our afflicted brothers and sisters and share their grief. And saint Paul! How sensitive you are in this respect. O Savior! You filled the apostle Paul with your spirit of tenderness; help us to say with him: Is there anyone sick among you? So am I.” (Conference “On Charity”, May 30, 1659. Obras Completas, XI, 560).

Solidarity based on love and compassion is the one of the central points of Vincent’s charism on human right promotion. Vincent took the way of the cross, being a person who shared solidarity with the poor before the example of Christ. Doing reflection on Christs’ solidarity upon his death on the cross, the late Pope John Paul II said: “Yes, this is a day of light, strength and hope, which makes the darkness menacing the earth recede. Darkness which also recently has cast a shadow over the whole human community: when a choice was made of aggression and the violation of international law; when it was presumed to solve the tensions between the peoples by war, the shower of death; when from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, and in other areas of the world, there rose in vain the voice of the peoples, yearning for respect for their own identity and their own history; when not everything was done to face the inexorable threat of famine which has afflicted whole peoples in Africa …” (Easter Message 1991).

Vincent de Paul can be regarded as promoter of human rights as he taught, lived, and shared compassionate solidarity with the poor as well as the abandoned. Vincentian charism on human right lies particularly in the spirit of solidarity.

Human Rights

a. General idea

Human rights are moral and legal norms that aspire to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to engage in political activity. These rights exist in morality and in law at the national and international levels. They are addressed primarily to governments, requiring compliance and enforcement.

Civil Rights. The term ‘civil rights’ refers to the struggle for equality of American blacks during the years of 1950 and 1960. The aim of that struggle was to secure the status of equal citizenship. Civil rights are the basic legal rights a person must possess in order to have such a status. They are the rights that constitute free and equal citizenship and include personal, political, and economic rights. Antidiscrimination principles are thus a common ground in civil rights.

I shall not discuss distinction between human and civil rights. I would prefer to deal with both altogether as our main concern. The main source of the contemporary conception of human and civil rights is often said to be the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations, 1948b). For Christians, there are documents of the social doctrine of the Church that have promoted human rights as well.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR; United Nations 1948) sets out a list of over two dozen specific human rights that countries should respect and protect. We may group these specific rights into six or more families:

  1. security rights that protect people against crimes such as murder, massacre, torture, and rape;
  2. liberty rights that protect freedoms in areas such as belief, expression, association, assembly, and movement;
  3. political rights that protect the liberty to participate in politics through actions such as communicating, assembling, protesting, voting, and serving in public office;
  4. due process rights that protect against abuses of the legal system such as imprisonment without trial, secret trials, and excessive punishments;
  5. equality rights that guarantee equal citizenship, equality before the law, and nondiscrimination; and
  6. welfare rights (or “economic and social rights”) that require provision of education to all children and protections against severe poverty and starvation.

Another family that might be included is group rights. The UDHR does not include group rights, but subsequent treaties do. Group rights include protections of ethnic groups against genocide and the ownership by countries of their national territories and resources.

Human rights exist as moral and/or legal rights. A human right can exist as a shared norm of actual human moralities, as a justified moral norm supported by strong reasons, as a legal right at the national level (here it might be referred to as a “civil” or “constitutional” right), or as a legal right within international law.

Human rights are numerous (several dozen) rather than few. At the 16th or 17th century Thomas Hobbes said the natural right (human right of the 16th philosophical language) is “the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.” (Leviathan, Chapter XIV). In short for Hobbes human right is the right to preservation of life. For John Locke, human right is that to life, liberty and property. To day, human rights address specific problems (e.g., guaranteeing fair trials, ending slavery, ensuring the availability of education, preventing genocide.) They protect people against abuses of fundamental human interests.

Human rights are minimal standards. They are concerned with avoiding the terrible rather than with achieving the best. Their focus is protecting minimally good lives for all people (Hobbes and Locke). Human rights concern the “lower limits on tolerable human conduct”. As minimal standards they leave most legal and policy matters open to democratic decision-making at the national and local levels. This allows them to accommodate a great deal of cultural and institutional variation.

Human rights are international norms covering all countries and all people living today. They are the sorts of norms that are appropriately recommended to all countries. International law plays a crucial role in giving human rights global reach. We can say that human rights are universal provided that we recognize that some rights, such as the right to vote, are held only by adult citizens; that some human rights documents focus on vulnerable groups such as children, women, and indigenous peoples; and that some rights, such as the right against genocide, are group rights. [1]

Human rights are high-priority norms. As Maurice Cranston put it “A…test of a human right…is the test of paramount importance.” “A human right is something of which no one may be deprived without a grave affront to justice” (Cranston, M. 1967. “Human Rights, Real and Supposed,” in D. D. Raphael, ed. Political Theory and the Rights of Man. London: Macmillan 1967). Robert Nozick says in his State, Anarchy and Utopia, “Human right is the very reason d’être of the existence of state.”

b. Social teachings of the Church

Using documents of the social teachings of the church, here are ten principles of Catholic social teaching, which could serve christian understanding of human rights. [2]

1. The Principle of Human Dignity

Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family.

Every person–regardless of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, employment or economic status, health, intelligence, achievement or any other differentiating characteristic–is worthy of respect. It is not what you do or what you have that gives you a claim on respect; it is simply being human that establishes your dignity. Given that dignity, the human person is, in the Catholic view, never a means, always an end.

The body of Catholic social teaching opens with the human person, but it does not close there. Individuals have dignity; individualism has no place in Catholic social thought. The principle of human dignity gives the human person a claim on membership in a community, the human family.

2. The Principle of Respect for Human Life

Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity.

Human life at every stage of development and decline is precious and therefore worthy of protection and respect. It is always wrong directly to attack innocent human life. The Catholic tradition sees the sacredness of human life as part of any moral vision for a just and good society.

The main fundamental rights connected to this principle (and other principles below) are as follows (See the Address of John Paul II to the 36th General Assembly of the United Nations, Oct. 2. 1979):

  • the right to life, liberty, and security of person,
  • the right to physical and moral integrity,
  • the right to sufficient and necessary means to live in a becoming manner (food, clothing, housing, rest, health care, social services),
  • the right to security in case of sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, unemployment, and any involuntary loss of the means of subsistence,
  • the right to due respect for one’s person and good name,
  • the right to religious freedom and to freedom of conscience and of thought,
  • the right to declare and defend one’s own ideas (freedom of expression),
  • the right to culture and access to objective information about public events,
  • the right to education and, in relation to it, freedom to teach,
  • the right to free choice of a state in life and the right to establish a family (marriage),
  • the right to work, to free choice of a position or profession, and to a just wage,
  • the right to private property, including ownership of the means of production,
  • the right of assembly and of association,
  • the right to form unions and to strike,
  • the right to choose one’s residence, to travel, and to emigrate,
  • the right to participate actively in public life,
  • the right to personal participation in attaining the common good,
  • the right to the legal protection of one’s rights,
  • the right to citizenship.

The rights above are fundamental and inalienable in a general way, but they are not absolute. They must be seen in the context of the common good. They can cease to apply in specific cases when the common good is at stake (for example: freedom of expression ceases to be a right if it is used to express in public something contrary to the welfare of others–calumny, inciting to crime, justification of crime, etc.

3. The Principle of Association

Our tradition proclaims that the person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society – in economics and politics, in law and policy – directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.

The centerpiece of society is the family; family stability must always be protected and never undermined. By association with others – in families and in other social institutions that foster growth, protect dignity and promote the common good – human persons achieve their fulfillment.

The Church has recalled the rights of the human person in connection with the family (Familiaris Consortio 46):

  • the right of every man to found a family and to obtain the resources needed,
  • the right to exercise one’s responsibility in the transmission of life,
  • the right to the intimacy of conjugal and family life,
  • the right to a marriage which is one and indissoluble,
  • the right to believe, profess, and propagate one’s faith,
  • the right to educate offspring in accord with one’s traditions, religious and cultural values, by means of the necessary instruments, methods, and institutions,
  • the right to the physical, social, political, and financial security of the family,
  • the right to housing which is adequate for a worthy family life,
  • the right of expression and of representation in dealing with public, economic, social, and cultural authorities and their subordinate agencies-both individually and in association,
  • the right to form associations with other families and institutions, more adequately to fulfill the mission of the family,
  • the right to protect minors, by means of appropriate institutions and laws, from dangerous drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc.:
  • the right to a just amount of leisure time in order to foster the values of the family,
  • the right of the elderly to live and to die in a worthy manner,
  • the right to emigrate as a family in order to seek better living conditions.

4. The Principle of Participation

We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Without participation, the benefits available to an individual through any social institution cannot be realized. The human person has a right not to be shut out from participating in those institutions that are necessary for human fulfillment.

This principle applies in a special way to conditions associated with work. “Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join unions, to private property, and to economic initiative”.

5. The Principle of Preferential Protection for the Poor and Vulnerable

In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the last judgment (Mt. 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.

Why is this so? The common good – the good of society as a whole – requires it. The opposite of rich and powerful is poor and powerless. If the good of all, the common good, is to prevail, preferential protection must move toward those affected adversely by the absence of power and the presence of privation. Otherwise the balance needed to keep society in one piece will be broken to the detriment of the whole.

6. The Principle of Solidarity

Catholic social teaching proclaims that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they live. We are one human family…. Learning to practice the virtue of solidarity means learning that ‘loving our neighbor’ has global dimensions in an interdependent world.

The principle of solidarity functions as a moral category that leads to choices that will promote and protect the common good.

7. The Principle of Stewardship

The Catholic tradition insists that we show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation.

The steward is a manager, not an owner. In an era of rising consciousness about our physical environment, our tradition is calling us to a sense of moral responsibility for the protection of the environment–croplands, grasslands, woodlands, air, water, minerals and other natural deposits. Stewardship responsibilities also look toward our use of our personal talents, our attention to personal health and our use of personal property.

8. The Principle of Subsidiarity

This principle deals chiefly with the responsibilities and limits of government, and the essential roles of voluntary associations.

The principle of subsidiarity puts a proper limit on government by insisting that no higher level of organization should perform any function that can be handled efficiently and effectively at a lower level of organization by human persons who, individually or in groups, are closer to the problems and closer to the ground. Oppressive governments are always in violation of the principle of subsidiarity; overactive governments frequently violate this principle.

9. The Principle of Human Equality

Equality of all persons comes from their essential dignity…. While differences in talents are a part of God’s plan, social and cultural discrimination in fundamental rights… are not compatible with God’s design.

Treating equals equally is one way of defining justice, also understood classically as rendering to each person his or her due. Underlying the notion of equality is the simple principle of fairness; one of the earliest ethical stirrings felt in the developing human person is a sense of what is fair and what is not.

10. The Principle of the Common Good

The common good is understood as the social conditions that allow people to reach their full human potential and to realize their human dignity.

The social conditions presuppose “respect for the person,” “the social well-being and development of the group” and the maintenance by public authority of “peace and security.” Today, “in an age of global interdependence,” the principle of the common good points to the “need for international structures that can promote the just development of the human family across regional and national lines.”

What constitutes the common good is always going to be a matter for debate. The absence of any concern for or sensitivity to the common good is a sure sign of a society in need of help. As a sense of community is eroded, concern for the common good declines. A proper communitarian concern is the antidote to unbridled individualism, which, like unrestrained selfishness in personal relations, can destroy balance, harmony and peace within and among groups, neighborhoods, regions and nations.

c. Problems of human rights promotion in Indonesia

Human rights promotion has currently been emblematic to social and political issue in Indonesia. There have been countless non-governmental organizations declaring themselves as defenders of human rights of the people oppressed by the regime, partisan groups as well as excluded by discriminating legal systems enforced. In the mean time, the current government affirms himself as the leading promoter of human rights as well.

Yet, there are somewhat “double faces” of human right promotion addressed practically by the Indonesian government. When saying “double”, I mean twofold in character, dual or ambiguous, marked by duplicity. It also suggests a subtle distinction in ethics as a kind of being deceitful, hypocritical or inconsistent. “Face” is used analogically to indicate real appearance or presence.

“Double faces” of human right are common phenomena occurred and presented in our daily global life. In Indonesian terminology, promotion of the so-called “democracy” is also being grasped as “demo” (slang abbreviation of “demonstration”) and “crazy”. In other word, democracy is at the same time a representative system of peaceful living together and a kind of performing crazy conducts toward others. In reality “democracy” changes almost easily to anarchy that does not only suggest chaotic conflict of men against one another but also invasion and manipulation of the strong toward the weak ones. Thus contents of democracy are “double” sacred freedom of human beings guaranteed on the one hand and – as Tacitus conceived – crafty and selfish stratagems, manipulations, intrigues, boasts and deceits on the other.

When I say that there are “double faces” of human right promotion done by the government, I mean there are ambiguous attitudes, i.e., promising acts to defend rights of the people suffered by injustice on the one side and unfair policies to hinder justice promoted on the other. There is somewhat “good” and “bad” existing altogether along with policies and actions implemented by the government to promotion of human rights.

For instance, in the case of unjust treatment to a small Islamic community, “Ahmadiyah”, due to the so-called heresy of faith declared, the government has an ambiguous attitude. Persecution to “Ahmadiyah” community is clear violence of human right; yet the government has done nothing to bring violators to court or to defend this suffering community from harmful conducts provoked by some other Islamic communities. The fact of “double faces” is not merely confusing idea; it is a hypocrisy. As it almost happens any time, “double faces” of promotion of human rights seems to be like a “culture” of unfairness.

In society the rich against the poor

Fundamental contents of human right are equality and antidiscrimination. Yet, in reality such kind of concept of human rights tends to turn society into grievous condition where the poor cannot afford their basic needs. In a complete freedom the rich dominates and easily manipulates others. Those who are poor change to poorer and rich become richer. This proves “double faces” of human rights. Equality and antidiscrimination – to some extent – need to be necessarily realized in just and fair rules in which the poor may be able to get a better life.

For instance, antidiscrimination should also be applied to defend the rights of migrant workers. Hundreds of thousands or even millions people migrate for work each year, and the money they send back to their own countries is critical to the country’s economy. These workers continue to endure abuses by labor agents and to confront corruption at every stage of the migration cycle. Women have usually comprised over 75 percent of migrant workers around the globe. Due to lack of protection and just treatment before law, they look suffered and are easily being oppressed.

Women domestic workers confront a wide range of human rights abuses during recruitment, pre-departure training, and return to their own countries. Labor recruiters often fail to provide complete information about job responsibilities, work conditions, or where the women can turn for help. Some girls and women seeking employment become victims of human trafficking, as they are deceived about type of work they will perform, fall into debt bondage, or are otherwise coerced into exploitative situations. Indonesia has taken some positive steps to address this issue, but new migrant workers legislation is deeply flawed and officials have not vigorously implemented necessary protections.

In politics the government against the subjects

Machiavellian principle as conceived in Il Principe, Chapter XV, promotes a utilitarian value of ethics: “… it would be most praiseworthy in a prince that … he need not make himself uneasy at incurring a reproach for those vices without which the state can only be saved with difficulty, for if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.” The common consequence of such principle has often been the fact that a government treats unjustly the subjects. In history of political society this unjust conducts of the government remain repetitively.

In the case of Indonesia, the regime of Suharto who governed for more than 30 years (1965 to 1998) proved such unjust principle. The government often oppressed its own people for utilitarian reasons to maintain and stabilize political power. In spite of providing Human Rights National Commission, the regime continued roughly and even systematically violence of the rights of people. This proves “double faces” of promotion of human rights.

Due to political intention of the government to maintain its power, human right remains to be poorly promoted. One of the reasons why human right is not promoted is that none of government wishes to be considered in bad reputation. Yet, instead of focusing victims and helping survivors in natural disasters, the current government is used to simply perform good impression which is expression of hypocrisy.

The current government also frequently failed to protect adequately the fundamental rights of children, women, disabled persons, religious minorities and indigenous people, farmers, fishermen, as well as the poor people especially those who are suffering due to the natural disasters. Indonesia has been tortured by the catastrophic condition (tsunami, earthquakes, landslides, floods, mud, and the like). But, it seems that the government has not been well managing effective assistance of the victims and survivors. The lesson from tsunami and other disasters in which there have been many corruptions indicates clearly sluggish policies from the part of the Government to defend the human rights and to promote social justice.

In religion the truthfulness against the falseness

It is true that peace of community life is unlikely unless there is that of religions. But, it is also true that peace in religion needs not only faithfulness to the sacred doctrines. Peace among the followers of religion needs unconditional respect and esteem of existence of other different communities. In other words, peace in religion needs promotion of human right that should not be based on simply dogmatic distinction between the truth and the false. Those who embrace the true dogmatic doctrines have often belittled and oppressed those who are viewed as “heretics”. In the past history of Christian religion such oppression was evident. Yet, in Indonesian context, it currently happens to Islamic religion. Some fundamentalists consider that their religion within their own perspective is the only truth, whereas others’ are all false so as to be destroyed. The community of Islamic Ahmadiyah has suffered a lot as it believes some misleading dogma with regard to the Prophet and else. The consequence is big pain for this community. Members of this community are displaced and alienated. It is indeed bitter when remembering that religious people oppressed others in reason of dogmatic falseness. Religion guides people to embrace God, the most loving one, but at the same time could provide some motives of cruelty. The truth expresses itself in love and kindness, otherwise it is only hypocrisy.

Regarding Christian Moslem relationship in Indonesia, there have been significant endeavors to maintain peaceful coexistence. But, being aware of being majority of the Indonesian population, Moslems fundamentalist have thought and struggled to promote Islamic ideology. This movement creates tensions and insane atmosphere of the people. Religious tolerance has often been unlikely. Aside from some Christian churches have been destroyed or closed by force, freedom for religion is being endangered.

As all previous Indonesian Governments, the current one is firmly committed to upholding religious freedom according to the Constitution. In the meantime, radical Muslim elements as well as some political parties in the government have demanded the introduction of syariah law for the Muslim community. The repeated assurance that the syariah is “safe for non-Muslims” is not convincing at all. In the opinion of many leading Moderate Moslem there is no chance of syariah being introduced at the present time. Nonetheless, there is still serious concern especially seeing the fact that not a single case of the vandalizing of churches has, to my knowledge, ever been brought to court. If religious buildings are attacked by mobs, security forces will, as a rule, stand by and do nothing while afterwards the rebuilding of the destroyed facilities may meet with bureaucratic obstacles. But it must be said, that this unwillingness or inability of the security forces shows wherever mobs are on the rampage. Thus while there can be no doubt about the commitment of the Government to religious freedom, its ability or willingness to guarantee this freedom on the level of everyday life against acts of violence cannot be taken for granted.[3]

The “double faces” of human right promoted in Indonesia, I believe as well as in other countries, happens concretely in reason of sluggish policies of the government to guarantee just law enforcement. Dealing with “religious majority” of the population, the government has often failed to enforce just law. Violence committed in reason of religion is unlikely brought to justice.

Implications for Formation

Formation program should be grounded on the contextual realities we live on the one side and on ideals of living out the vincentian charism on the other. What we mean by formation program is aims, targets, or objectives of formation to set up. Father Henry Jerome SJ says that “If your aim is low, you keep on shooting at your foot. In fact, creating an agenda is the essence of our formation. Practically and spiritually!” Surely we will not set up a low targets. Instead, each unit of formation should keep on reaching a “high” targets in the sense that they should fit to contextual needs of the Church, society, and the world in its own level. What I mean by “high targets” is not intellectually something high. Rather, high targets focus on objectives that touch formandi’s “heart, eyes, and mind” that must be culturally well-formated and inculturated.

In the last meeting of rectors of the Indonesian Schools of philosophy and theology at Yogyakarta, July 17-19, 2006 there has been strong recommendation that priestly formation must be in line with the needs of the contemporary contexts in which formandi live. The capacity of candidate must be contextualized and inculturated as well as set up in accordance with the cultural expectations of society.

a. Aims focused at each level of formation

The formators’ meeting at Tainan (Taiwan), February 9-19, 2003 produced something important concerning cultural aims to reach at each level of formation. The topic dealt with was “Asian-Pasific Faces of Vincentian Formation”. By level of formation we mean postulancy, internal seminary, academic phase, pastoral experience and on-going formation. The following are excerpts of the minutes of one of the meetings.

Postulancy. The mission focus in this phase is interiority. The formandi is expected to possess a certain openness to be accompanied by a mentor in his journey. Psycho-emotional face of a postulant: awareness and acceptance of his self identity in the face of his culture.

Internal Seminary. The mission focus is understanding and discernment. The formandi is expected to have an understanding of the Vincentian charism, a capacity for discerning and discovering God’s call as a gift, capacity to bond together into community, and a certain identity in the face of culture. Psycho-emotional face of a seminarian: ability to handle and process his life issues, problems, and challenges in a culturally appropriate way.

Academic. The mission focus is integration. The formandi is expected to be able to integrate faith and reason, prayerful life and service as a discerning disciple, love of truth or humility to accept the truth, lives the truth, and able to communicate the Good News. Psycho-emotional face of a student: nurtures healthy and mature relationship with others and intellectually well-equipped.

Pastoral. The mission focus is transformation and service. The formandi is expected to be creative and effective in his commitment to the mission. He is also expected to possess integration of prayer and action, mission and reflection. He should learn to listen to the needs of the Church and society in daily experiences. Psycho-emotional face: he becomes an integrated person for the mission.

On-going formation. The mission focus is growth. The confrere is expected to possess openness to personal and ministerial development and reverent love. He should not exclude himself from community as he is expected to involve actively in prayer and mission.

Regarding culturally appropriate criteria for the faces of formation, social communal face implies a servant-leader with responsibilities in community and in society, capacity to forgive, spirit of sacrifice, range of relationships (with family, confreres, the poor, laity, peers, friends, and so forth); he be able to community building, community life, teamwork, immersion to culture and social issues, preferential option for the poor; be able to communicate a common language, interreligious dialogue, the Word of God.

Spiritual-faith face of formation implies a vincentian with a sense of being called by God, of having basic knowledge of Christian doctrines, and of possessing directedness for interior life (Postulancy); Christ-centered life in, for, and with the poor, understanding vincentian charism and capacity to discern vocation in his spiritual journey (Internal Seminary); integration of faith and reason, life and service, becoming a discerning disciple who possesses basic understanding of other local religions and cultures (Academic); ability to integrate contemplation and action and living out the dynamism of mission-reflection-mission (Pastoral); openness to growth (Ongoing).

b. “High targets” of formation programs: new heart, new eyes, new mind

New heart. Formation programs should contextually bring formandi up to possession of new heart. It implies being with and for the poor. By “being with and for” the poor, I mean a concrete experience to be with them in their daily life. Formandi need to be used to mingle and work together with the persons who are poor. Poverty should not be something strange in formandi’s personal and spiritual experience. It is a necessary component of discernment. As often mentioned by Fr. Robert Maloney CM, the former Superior General, poverty is like a “school” in which all of formandi should register themselves in order to be genuine vincentian; the poor are teachers who teach us to live vincentian virtues. When we mingle with the poor there are worth lessons of virtues to be learnt. They are masters of having virtue of patience, forbearance, as well as fortitude to shoulder pains and sufferings. They know well how to express sincere gratitude for small things they receive from others’ generosity. Humility is their life. Meekness is their breath. Mortification is their way of life. Zeal is like their unending strength to survive.

In the case of formandi come from poor families, there has sometimes been a difficulty with regard to learning from poverty. Instead of having great sense of solidarity, they tend to avoid and reject it. Poverty is like an evil to be destroyed. Such formandi usually have some serious problem in connection with their vocation. They pretend to be good to the poor people, but their hearts are more attached to the rich ones. But, it does not mean that those from rich families do not have similar problems. New heart of formandi implies that from whatever origin they come they should have great sense of sensitivity to poverty and of deep appreciation to experiences of the sufferings.

Listening to the cry of those who suffer violence and are oppressed by unjust systems and structures, and hearing the appeal of a world that by its perversity contradicts the plan of its Creator, we have shared our awareness of the Church’s vocation to be present in the heart of the world by proclaiming the Good News to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and joy to the afflicted. The hopes and forces which are moving the world in its very foundations are not foreign to the dynamism of the Gospel, which through the power of the Holy Spirit frees people from personal sin and from its consequences in social life.

New eyes. What is poverty? What does look alike injustice? People would see poverty and injustice as merely lack of material goods. The sufferings of those who are poor have been regarded from material point of view. They are just people who are unable to afford basic needs. New eyes indicate new ways of seeing the reality of poverty as something against dignity of human being. Man was created intentionally not to live suffering and injustice. He/she was created and formatted by God in His own image. The creation of human being suggests something worth, divine dignity, as the Creator’s. Poverty as well as injustice is product of sin. People who live in poverty are those being oppressed by sinful structure of society. Poverty is not simply an unfortunate condition of life caused by laziness or idleness.

When formandi are brought up to reach new eyes, they should go further to learn social condition from the roots of social injustice. They must not consider that poverty is merely unlucky situation. Globalizations, free market, sinful structure of society are necessary components that produce poverty as well as injustice. In the midst of such cruel realities of the world, formandi should go further to open their eyes having new ways to respond those challenges and to bear prophetic witnesses. This sensitivity of formandi is to be included in the objective of formation programs.

“The world in which the Church lives and acts is held captive by a tremendous paradox. Never before have the forces working for bringing about a unified world society appeared so powerful and dynamic; they are rooted in the awareness of the full basic equality as well as of the human dignity of all. Since people are members of the same human family, they are indissolubly linked with one another in the one destiny of the whole world, in the responsibility for which they all share.” (Justice in the World, 7).

New mind (intellectual renewal) involves taking on new ways of understanding new paradigms of poverty and injustice that have emerged during these past many decades as well as concerns of the Church. For instance:[4]

  • The world – The global dimension has been increasingly emphasized with science, technology, communication media, and progress. And yet such immense of developments does not seem to give space to those who are poor. They remain abandoned and neglected.

  • Church – The Church, both universal and particular, is at the service of the Kingdom. This shift of emphasis (from a Church perceived as “self-serving” to a Church oriented towards the Kingdom) has redefined the Church, her mission and her relation to the world. And yet the Church has to be more opened to the poor.

  • Mission – The emphasis has been on a more holistic (integral) understanding. People who live in poverty or injustice are those voiceless. Mission to evangelize them should be like a “school” to listen to their voiceless cry. We must take more seriously concrete contexts and cultures that make such school of formation.

  • Communitythe poor are used to be more able to build community among themselves. In this sense the poor could be good example of being together as family. Apostolate toward the poor should not be done without involving them as subjects, as they have capacity to build togetherness.

The springboard for vincentian formation is the fact that Vincent discovered a call, the goodness of people, spiritual and corporal needs of them, his own poverty, God’s mercy, collaborators, poverty of priests, friends and mentors, and commitment to the Church.

“As formators in the Asia-Pacific region, we hold the following to be important in Vincent’s life and ministry: that he found God in the poor and in the events of daily life, that he sought a balance in everything, and that he was creative, inventive, and effective” (Concluding remarks of Formators’ meeting in Tainan, Taiwan on February 9-19, 2003).

c. Practical remarks

How do we put into practice our concern to victims and survivors of social injustice? These are some principles mostly inspired by Tzu Chi’s international relief work (an international organization first founded in Hualien, Taiwan). These are not exactly cited, rather used as inspiration to renew our spirit, mind, heart, and eyes to live more efficaciously our vincentian vocation. We too should dare to learn from others how to make our formation programs more effective, prompt and efficacious. We cannot remain the same. We should renew our way of accompanying formandi; we must renew our way of seeing, listening, thinking, and doing; we must renew ourselves. For the first principle, I put “man of prayer” as identity of every vincentian.

Person of prayer

Give me a person of prayer and he will be capable of everything; he can say with the Apostle: “I can do all things in him who sustains and comforts me” (Flp 3:14). The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul will exist as long as the exercise of prayer is faithfully carried out in it. Prayer is an impregnable rampart which will shield vincentians from all sorts of attacks. It is a mystical arsenal, not only for the purpose of defense but also of attacks, and for routing all the enemies of God and of the salvation of souls (Obras Completas, XI, 778).


Every experience of formandi must have “directness” toward God who lives in the poor. Spiritual as well as mystical experience cultivated in formation produces sensitivity and solidarity toward those who are poor. Apostolate done during formation provides major concerns of poverty and injustice. Mingling with the abandoned persons is materials of daily prayers. For this “directness” toward concern of poverty and injustice, basic doctrines of the social teaching of the Church should be primarily included to bring up formandi well-equipped. Not just documents, but also implementation of the documents to concrete actions should be seriously exercised. When hearing disasters, the teams are to be quickly created; they visit the victims or survivors, and study what the most needed to be given as possibly as they can in short term and long one. Relief supplies are distributed as soon as possible directly to the hands of the survivors or to channels that work directly for them.


Good help needs priority. There are so many sufferings, but priority will guide us to do something more effectively. We shall not do just what we can do. But, we shall do what we can do the best for victims and survivors. Formation programs should have priority. Formandi must not just go to the poor as a kind of escaping action from either personal problem or community’s conflict.

Respect and love

Respect is a human expression that renders service well-done. Each vincentian should promote respect to the persons assisted. Saint Vincent de Paul teaches us to see Christ in the poor people. In them we discover God who needs our hands. Besides, each vincentian must do his or her task with great love.


Whenever the disaster or violation occurs, the quick study should be done to collect necessary information. Then, in short time the information should be widely distributed and as well as relief supplies are given to the victims as soon as possible. Such “timeliness” becomes genuine concern toward the poor with good management. Formation programs also must have “timeliness” in the sense that primary aims must be well-defined and targeted.


No relief supplies or any kind of helps should be wasted. This is why the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul should be available to learn and collaborate with other institutions in rendering service to those who are endangered by negligence of the government. Advocacy to social justice and human right needs change in strategy of charitable works. There is no any institution that can work alone. We too should be more generous to work together with others to help more effectively victims and survivors. Formation programs need to be practical, not just ideal, providing something concrete to be achieved such as formandi’s skill of making collaboration with others.

Perseverance and renewal

When the result of help seems to be unclear, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul needs to be perseverant to continue rendering service to the poor. The Society should seek causes of failure and take courage to renew ways of helping in order to be more efficacious and effective.

These principles are necessary especially when we do apostolates to social justice and human right as follows:

  • Solid understanding on principles of Social Teachings of the Church
  • Borderless solidarity to the victims and survivors
  • Accompaniment to the neglected
  • Assistance to the victims to pursue justice
  • Continuous offer to survivors of the disasters
  • Solid collaboration and networking
  • Faithful contacts with the persons in need
  • More link to dissemination of information on oppression and violence

Questions for Reflection

  1. What human right abuses are now most concerned?
  2. What should we set up in formation programs to bring formandi up to be genuine vincentians and at the same time well-equipped promoters of human right?
  3. How do we create networking to put concerns of human right into practice? What can we offer to render service to the victims and survivors in practical ways?

[1] Ian Brownlie, Q.C. ed., Basic Documents on Human Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).

[2] Rodger Charless, S.J., The Social Teaching of Vatican II (Oxford: Plater Publication, 1982); George P. Morse, J.D. ed., Précis of Official Catholic Teaching on the Social Teaching of the Church (Washington: CCSP, 1993); Giorgio Filibeck, Human Rights in the Teaching of Church: from John XXIII to John Paul II (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994). Cf. William J. Byron, “Ten Building Blocks of Catholic Social Teaching”, America for October 31, 1998, in #reprint (accessed on February 25, 2006). Cf. Mary Ann Glendon, The Dawn of the Rights Idea (papers of lecture given to the Gregorian University, 1998).

[3] Cf. Franz Magnis-Suseno, “Religious Conflicts in Indonesia”, in (accessed on February 14, 2006).

[4] Cf. Sr. Julma Neo, DC, Revision to Revitalization (unpublished paper produced in connection with preparation for revision of the Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity).

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