Priestly vocations dwindling in Europe
Published on: Tuesday, April 02, 2013
By: Mary Chin and James Sarda
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TODAY, candidates for the Catholic priesthood do not come from Europe.Retired Mill Hill Missionary (MHM) Father Theo M. Feldbrugge said neither do they come from America.

"Instead, they come from the Congo, they come from Cameroon, they come from Kenya, they come from Uganda, they come from India, they come from the Philippines and even some from Malaysia.

"So what they are saying is our society is changing colour, right?

First, it was always orang putih (White Men). But now it is orang (people) of all kinds of colours," he laughed.

Fr Feldbrugge was asked whether it is true that in much of the western world, youngsters are not interested in becoming priests.

Therefore, does it mean that one day in the Vatican, you will see somebody with a different colour?

"True, ya," he responded. "We have already one person, who is a Kenyan.

He is part of the headquarters, you know, of the top. But that's fine."

Said the former principal: "No problem if that is what is according to them. At least we grow, which we do. We had the time when more were dying than were coming in. Now it's opposite again.

More are coming in than are dying.

"So it's growing but it's different, totally different from when I started.

When I was ordained in 1954, you couldn't dream of that, that our future Mill Hill priests would be Africans.

"And now it is normal, so everything is evolution, right?

Everything evolves. But it's good, why not?"

DE: Becoming a priest was something that you had wanted to do all along?

Priest: Well, that's a long story. Let me see. When I was six years old, it is November, it is dark, it is raining, it is cold. We lived in a house at the crossroads. At the crossroads, there was only one light.

And into that one light, walked a priest who was wearing a black sultana, I mean, black raincoat and a black hat and a black payung (umbrella), big, black payung (umbrella). So the most unattractive sight you can think of and I said to my mother, that's what I want to be.

DE: Oh, at six years old?

Priest: Six years old. Oh dear and a year after that, I had an uncle, brother of my Dad, who was a Mill Hill priest. He was ordained in 1926, he was appointed to Kuching, he spent 10 years in Kuching and probably in kampungs around Kuching, you know. And he came home on the Eve and he visited us and he had stories about orang utans, crocodiles and headhunters, all this great stuff for a kid. I was seven years old, then I decided, I said to my mother, I also want to be a missionary.

I want to go to Sumatra to shoot tigers (laughs).

Seven years old, then my uncle 37 years, went back to Sarawak.

DE: To continue his work?

Priest: He was in Miri and then he became the parish priest of Marudi.

Then 41 came, the Japs and a Dutch fighter plane crashed in front of the Mission in the Baram River in Marudi. And they dragged out the three pilots, two were dead and one survived. The two that died, they buried in front of the church. I read that later on, much later. Sold out.

DE: What happened after that?

Priest: And then he (uncle) decided together with the Resident of Marudi, Mr Hudden and of a few other people, English people that in the eyes of the Japs, they were now collaborators with the enemy (with the Dutch), so they decided to go to Kalimantan. So they walked up to Baram and by boat and then walked all the way to Long Sang, Long Nakang and across the mountains down the riverside till finally they ended up in Long Nawang (a Dutch military outpost near the Sarawak border). And then Long Nawang, there was a commandant of Dutch Military and there were also refugees from Sibu who had come there, and then the refugees from the Baram.

Altogether 72 people, and that is, Long Nawang is at the very head of the Mahakam River (in Indonesia). The Mahakam River goes to Balikpapan, right? And they thought the Japs would never come. But the Japs were in Balikpapan and they were told (God knows to whom) that our Orang Putih (White Men) were there in Long Nawang. So they came, the Japanese Marines came up to Mahakam, little by little, little. And one of the Dayaks warned the captain in Long Nawang that the Japs were coming.

DE: Did he believe it?

Priest: Oh, he said, that's impossible, so they didn't pay attention.

And sure enough, the next day, the Japs surrounded Long Nawang and they took everybody prisoner. The day after they told all the Dayak people to leave Long Nawang and go into the forest. They were not allowed to see what was going to happen.

DE: So this was the Massacre of Long Nawang.

Priest: Then they took all the men and murdered them.

DE: When did it take place?

Priest: In 1942. And there was a Dayak teacher who had not or wanted not to hear the order to go to the forest. He stayed in his hut and he was the only witness there was, and he saw that my uncle in his white sultana, his red sashes he used to have, he was the last one to be killed.

And what they did, everybody had to dig his own grave and then they stuck a bayonet through the men and they fell into the grave.

DE: How many of them were massacred?

Priest: Seventy-two, then the women and children, were later on, they were also massacred. So altogether 72. The Massacre of Long Nawang.

DE: Why were the 71 others also massacred?

Priest: Some were Dutch military, some were Australian military, some were British.

And the rest were all Dutch people that had come together.

So when we heard that after the war, in 1945, then I decided that I would follow in his footsteps. And that's why I joined Mill Hill.

Can you see that? They sent me to Borneo.

DE: So it was their posting, not your wish.

Priest: Ya, so that's more or less the story why I got here.

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