When Indonesian-born Fr Boni Buahendri SVD was assigned to Australia as a missionary priest, he dreamed of working with indigenous people in a remote location. Instead, he found himself first in parish ministry and now working in formation of young missionaries, and says he could not be happier.
“I love working with these young people,” he says, ahead of World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated on October 19.
PICTURED: Fr Boni (far left, front row), with three young students after they were ordained to the diaconate earlier this year. Also pictured is Bishop Paul Bird CSsR, the ordaining bishop.
“In our society today, only a few people want to become missionary brothers and priests, so to see these young people so enthusiastic to become missionaries makes my day.
“It tells me that God is still there. The Holy Spirit is still at work. God still calls.”
Fr Boni was born in Flores, a predominantly Catholic Indonesian island, and says he was inspired to become a missionary by his parish priest, who was a Divine Word Missionary (SVD). After finishing high school in the minor seminary boarding school, Boni applied to join the Divine Word Missionaries, and was accepted.
He undertook his studies in Philosophy and Theology in Flores, making his final vows in 1997 and being ordained a priest in 1998. He gave Mexico, North America and Australia as his three choices for missionary assignment.
“The Superior General appointed me to Australia and I was hoping to work with the Aboriginal people here. Instead, I ended up working in very Anglo-Australian parish, at Our Lady Star of the Sea, Terrigal, in the Diocese of Broken Bay.
“That’s the thing about being a missionary,” he says. “You take your assignment according to the need of the Province. So I didn’t get what I wanted, but I was happy. I loved it there.”
Fr Boni’s next placement was at Mary Mother of the Church parish at Macquarie Fields in Wollongong Diocese, a very multicultural, working class parish, an experience he also loved.
In 2007, he was asked to move to Melbourne for two years further study to prepare himself for working in formation for the SVD AUS Province.
Fr Boni is now in his second term as Director of Formation for the SVD AUS Province and says his own ministry in Australia has helped prepare him for his work with young missionaries here.
“I’ve had some hard experiences,” he says. “I’m far away from home, I’ve been homesick, I have English as a second language, the way of living is so different from my home. There is a real challenge of cross-cultural living and ministry.
“I’ve come to learn that I’m always Indonesian, but I have to cross over to the other culture I’m in and respect that culture. I can’t become Australian, but the more I understand my identity as an Indonesian, the more I can respect the Australian culture.”
Fr Boni says he has found the Australian community to be really welcoming and he endeavours to return that open relationship.
He says that whereas in the past, missionaries were sent to countries to proclaim the Gospel to those who had not heard it before, nowadays, mission is understood to be more about listening.
“Being a missionary is not so much about proclaiming the Kingdom of God, but about listening the Kingdom of God,” he says.
“It’s not about bringing Jesus to the Australian people. Jesus was already here before I arrived. But it’s about getting to know Jesus more and more through the culture of Australia and through listening to the mystery of God that is here.”
Fr Boni says that when he sees his students taking final vows or being ordained to the priesthood, he often feels emotional.
“I imagine it feels a little bit like how a mother or father might feel when one of their children gets married. To see this fresh energy for God’s mission in our young people makes me believe that God is still at work in our Church and in our society.”
Visit Catholic Mission to learn more about World Mission Sunday and World Mission Month.