Albertus Vembrianto

Papua’s last Dutch pastors

Three Dutch Catholic priests arrived in Papua more than 50 years ago following the transfer of authority of western Papua from the Netherlands to the Indonesian government.

It was a dark time for Papuans as they experienced human rights abuses and many tragedies. The bitter memories of these abuses and tragedies are stamped on generations of Papuans.

Father Frans Lieshout arrived in Papua two weeks after the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) turned over authority of the region to Indonesia in 1963. Brother Jan Sjerp followed in 1969, at a time when the implementation of the “Act of Free Choice” was criticized due to the involvement of the Indonesian military. Finally, Father Lambertus H. Hagendoorn arrived in 1970.

The three belong to the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) and for the last five decades they have lived in Papua, living on the go in mountainous or coastal areas in order to perform their duties.

While handling church and religious affairs, they are also engaged in agriculture and education, managing children’s dormitories and other activities. It is therefore not surprising that the priests have ample knowledge about the manifold problems the Papuans have faced since the transfer of authority took place.

Since the transfer of authority, the main issue in Papua has always been the violation of human rights.In the beginning, the perpetrators were those who came from outside Papua but today, the Papuans themselves damage one another. There is a growing tendency toward abuse of power and corruption among indigenous civilian officials.

The three priests believe education is crucial to ending the seemingly endless crises in Papua.

Brother Jan Sjerp OFM: One of the three remaining Dutch Catholic priests who now lives in Sentani, Papua.

Father Lieshout with local people and children of Musatfak, Baliem Valley, Wamena, 1965. (Repro photograph from OFM archive).

Image of priest figure and Irian Jaya map. In the past Papua was called Irian Jaya. President Gus Dur, changed the name of Papua in 2000.

Before becoming a priest, Sjerp was conscripted for three years in Europe. After the war, he returned home and worked as a farmer in the tradition of his family, until one morning when a priest came to help the family with potato harvesting. This impressed Jan and made him desire joining the clergy.

In 1977 an event called the OPM (the Papuan Liberation Army),movement took place. When the OPM came to Akimuga where I lived, I was saving the community’s money. At that time the government was updating Rp. 1,000 of money. I would exchange the money when I went to Jayapura. OPM burned down the government office. Most people ran to the forest because they were afraid. Kelly Kwalik, head of the OPM in southern Papua, found records of money belonging to the community. A large nominal amount was recorded in the book. I know Kelly, he is one of the students who continued teacher education in Jayapura. Even so I’m worried. But Kelly kept the money notebook and didn’t do anything about the money I saved.

Father Frans Lieshout OFM delivers a sermon in Bilogai, now located in Intan Jaya regency. The church’s early entry into Papua was not smooth. A missionary school was burned by locals in Baliem Valley in 1961. (Repro photograph from OFM archive).

Meet the locals: Father Lieshout speaks with Papuans in the local language.

Baptism for the young: Father Lieshout once headed the Teachers Training School (SPG) in Jayapura. Entering retirement in 2007, he returned to Baliem Valley. While executing his pastoral duties, he wrote books, including Sejarah Gereja Katolik di Lembah Baliem (History of the Catholic Church in Baliem Valley).

Book written by Father Lieshout.

Father Lambertus H. Hagendoorn, OFM . For almost five decades, he has observed the failure of education in Papua because the quality measurements are arbitrary and inconsistent.

Father Lambertus’s identity card. These three Dutch priest have become Indonesian citizens.

A Dutch priest taught Papuan children in Akimuga, Papua in the 1950s. (Repro photograph form OFM archive).

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