By Theresa Carson
During the pandemic lockdown this past year, Father Fransiskus Santoso SVD, practiced self-care by walking from his home in the Hyde Park neighborhood along the shoreline of Lake Michigan to Downtown Chicago. During that ten-mile hike, he calls five families per day and speaks with each one for about five minutes.
This practice is his way of keeping in touch with the people whom he met during his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in Paraguay.
When he arrived at Corazon de Jesus parish in Doctor Juan Leon Mallorquin, Paraguay, his new province did not have the funds to pay for more than three months of Spanish-language learning. His provincial encouraged him to practice his language skills by talking with the people.
“Walk and listen to the sadness of the people,” said Father Santoso as he echoed his former provincial’s advice.
Each day in Paraguay, Father Santoso walked on unpaved roads to go door-to-door to meet the people. He was the first person from the parish whom some of them had ever met.
“It was difficult for me to learn everyone’s name, but where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.
As was custom, he would clap at their front doors because few had doorbells. When they invited him to join them for Yerba maté tea, he immediately accepted.
If you don’t drink, then they do not consider you a part of their community, he said.
When Father Santoso met someone new, he would say the person’s name out loud. When he was invited to a family’s home, he would take a photo of the family, and as soon as he could, he would write their names.
To celebrate his perpetual vows, his Paraguayan friends sent a YouTube video with more than a hundred congratulatory messages.
“It was a wonderful gift that I will never forget—who I am in their eyes and how they love me,” he said.
Finding the positive in the middle of chaos is not new to him. At age 25, he migrated from Indonesia to New York City with only $500 in his pocket and no knowledge of the English language. He arrived in 2001 only a few weeks after 9/11.
With perseverance and faith, he worked his way into the catering business and thrived. A convert to Catholicism at age 16, he decided in his mid-30s to join the Society of the Divine Word.
Father Santoso is assigned to the Western Province and will serve as an associate pastor at Our Lady of The Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino, Calif.
To read more about Father Santoso's faith journey and first few years in the United States, go to: www.divineword.org/news/feature/fransiskus-santoso/