They are Catholics from the most populous Muslim country in the world. Like Irish, Italian or Slavic immigrants of the 19th and 20th centuries, Indonesian Catholics in Oregon have banded together in an association for spiritual, social and cultural activities.
Komunitas Katolik Indonesia di Oregon aims to promote Indonesian culture and values in Oregon — organizers call their ways “soft and warm.”
Activities range from Friday young adult dinner and prayer at members’ houses to a spring badminton tournament. A family rosary group meets monthly at various homes. A choir sings at an Indonesian Mass, held at 2 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month at St. Michael Parish in downtown Portland. Between 50 and 100 Indonesian Catholics attend.
“I would like to see the community grow,” says Tissa Jauri, the 28-year-old hotel administrative aide who is president of the association.
Tissa is married to Andrew, 32, who plays guitar every week for the choir at St. Michael’s.
Tissa, from a small town in eastern Indonesia, came to Portland in 2006. Andrew is from Jakarta, the bustling capital.
Wed for three years after meeting via the Oregon group, the couple is expecting their first child and want to pass on their unique Indonesian Catholic tradition.
“We are a mix of generations — babies and young adults and older people,” Andrew says. “We all get along really well together.”
The next step is religious education for children and more family outings, like a recent trip to the zoo.
“We feel really blessed that we have a parish, a home,” says Andrew. In addition to his music, he and other Indonesians take part in packing food boxes for the poor and in liturgical ministries like reading scripture and giving Communion.
Worshipers come from all over, as far afield as Corvallis.
Paul Harsono, 60, is semi-retired from a production management job at Hewlett-Packard. He attends Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton on weekends when there is no Indonesian Mass. The liturgy in their native tongue gives older Indonesians a lot of comfort and a sense of community, Harsono says.
As for the younger Indonesian immigrants, the association is keeping more of them Catholic. The prayer, community and food are a great combination, Harsono explains with a gentle chuckle.
“It grows, slowly but surely,” Harsono says of the group. His hope is that some day an Indonesian priest will come to Portland.
In Indonesian culture, no gathering is complete without food. After the monthly Mass at St. Michael’s, worshipers and guests go to the parish hall for island fare.
“It’s like family,” Tissa says.
Indonesian Catholics in the U.S. have watched as some of their members have been recruited into Indonesian Protestant churches. The Catholic association in Portland is one way to reverse that.
“We want to have this organization not for the purpose of competing with other Christian groups, but to give a way to keep the Catholic faith together,” Kim Oey told the Sentinel in 2002, the year the association was founded.
Oey, one of the earliest Indonesian immigrants to Oregon, is an active Knight of Columbus who has served as leader of the state Knights.
“They are really a bright group,” says Father James Mayo, pastor of St. Michael’s. “Lots of doctorates and IT workers — very, very talented people. They have been very helpful in the parish. Anything you ask them, they do. They seem very full of faith and family oriented.”
“They have gifts of strong faith, active faith, smiles, laughter and a good sense of community,” says Deacon Chuck Amsberry, who serves at St. Michael’s.
Deacon Amsberry has spoken to many of the Indonesians about their faith lives.
“They come from a place where Catholicism isn’t easy street,” he says, adding that when they pray, they pray reverently and when they laugh, they laugh hard.