By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published June 24, 2010
Iskandar Saputra stopped going to church for a few years. With his struggling English and a cultural gap between this native Indonesian and other English-speaking parishioners, he had a hard time fitting in.
But in 2006, the 48-year-old Saputra found the Indonesian Catholic community, and his faith has been revived.
“It is easy to talk to the people and easy to talk to the Indonesian priest,” said Saputra, with a large camera hanging on his neck, as his words were translated. Saputra, who lives in Atlanta, said the friendships he makes in the community are important also.
On June 6, the Indonesian Catholic community celebrated its 10th anniversary at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta. The festival had live music, games for youngsters and a candlelight prayer service commemorating May 1998 riots when more than 1,000 people were killed in the capital city of Jakarta. Mass and a gala fundraising dinner finished the day. Money raised at the celebration was going to an orphanage in Indonesia.
Tents filled the parking lot outside the parish center where vendors sold specialties like “Burong Puyuh Goring” (dried quail), chicken satay with rice cakes and chicken noodles with beef meatballs. Other vendors included an at-home baker, a photography studio and an Asian newspaper.
The celebration brought together Indonesians from across the region, not just Catholics. In fact, Catholics are a minority in the Muslim country. The association leaders invited other Christians and Muslims to the festival on purpose: to build bridges.
Johny Franslay, 29, of Dunwoody, said Indonesians enjoy the time to be together, no matter the faith.
“Being here feels like home,” said Franslay, who was the coordinator of the daylong event.
Wing Dinanto, 31, a software engineer, worshipped at St. Patrick Church, Norcross, when he heard about the Indonesian Catholic community, known by its initials in the Indonesian language as “KKI.”
“It’s really easy to talk with people. I know the culture,” he said.
The Indonesian Catholic community attracts a cross-section of South Asian natives. There are engineers, computer programmers, customer service workers, university graduate students. Folks rely on each other. Someone with strong English skills helps others who don’t know the language well.
There is no official tally of its membership rolls, but nearly 75 people a week come together to worship. Every week a native Indonesian priest studying somewhere in the United States flies into Atlanta to celebrate Mass; the community pays for the airplane ticket. After Mass, a potluck dinner is held.
Mass and a potluck have been part of the KKI since Deacon Antonius Anugerah helped start the organization.
The first Mass was hosted at St. Thomas More, Decatur, when about 200 people showed up.
“I remember sobbing in the back pew during Mass, thanking God. After Mass we gathered for lunch in the parish hall, and people wanted to have Mass in Indonesian at least once a month,” Deacon Anugerah wrote in an e-mail.
Once it looked like the group would stay together, they searched for a regular home and found it at Our Lady of the Assumption. The group has been there since June 2000.
There have been more than 100 baptisms, both adults and infants, along with more than two dozen weddings and funerals, said the deacon. Young people and adults alike perform service in the community, whether volunteering at Atlanta homeless shelters or helping newcomers settle in.
Deacon Anugerah said the community helps “each other in our struggles in the foreign country, trying to integrate to the local community, at the same time to be proud of our roots and heritage—and we do it through the guidance of our Catholic teachings.”
Dinanto drives past other churches to attend Mass at OLA.
“It’s friendship, helping people. You work five days a week. You need to find your purpose,” he said.
Yoshiko Santoso, 24, has lived in Duluth since moving here nine years ago with her family. She is now a doctoral student at Georgia State University studying chemistry.
For her, the Catholic community is a cultural celebration and a religious one.
“Every week I want to keep the Indonesian culture,” she said.
“We know everybody from Indonesia. It makes us one,” said Santoso, who was the longtime secretary of the organization.
Sofjan Handojo, 43, attended Christ the King Cathedral for Mass every week. But when the Indonesian community formed 10 years ago, he moved to worship with that group.
“I was just doing my duty as a Christian, as a Catholic. But when they had the Indonesian community here, my faith is growing more and more,” said Handojo, who recently took over as the community leader. He and his wife live in Alpharetta with their 3-year-old daughter.
At his first Mass with an Indonesian priest, a feeling was unleashed he hadn’t expected.
“I realized part of my life was missing,” he said.
The Indonesian Mass is celebrated Sundays at 1:30 p.m. at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, 1350 Hearst Drive, Atlanta.