On a mission to end poverty and suffering in Indonesia
Father Charles Patrick Edward Borrows thinks it was God’s plan to send him to Kampung Laut, a fishing area in Cilacap District, Central Java Province, to help the poor in the area overcome the abject poverty.
The 78-year-old Irish Oblate missionary, who became an Indonesian citizen in 1983, has helped cut the chain of poverty for thousands of fishermen in Kampung Laut.
The area is an estuarine lagoon system made up of many small islands covered with mangroves in a lagoon environment where most of the population fish. The small incomes earned by fishermen are not enough, so that most families live on the fringes of subsistence and in deep isolation.
For almost 50 years, Father Borrows served the region and its people and saw things change slowly but surely.
Parts of Kampung Laut have changed over the decades to become fertile rice fields and plantations, freeing many people from poverty, illiteracy and disease.
“If I come to an area, I think first of not building a church but of the welfare of the poor,” the priest told UCA News.
Over the years, Father Borrows has helped over 700,000 farmers and 16,000 fishermen in the district
In 1973 Father Borrows arrived in Indonesia and was assigned to St. Stephanus Parish in the Diocese of Purwokerto in Central Java. Kampung Laut is part of the parish territory.
The priest found residents of Kampung Laut living in floating houses. They were poor and illiterate, while many suffered from dengue fever and skin diseases. Their children suffered from malnutrition and diarrhea.
Born in Seville, Dublin, on April 8, 1943, 20 years later he joined the Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI) to strengthen his idea of ââhelping the poor, considering them all as images of God.
After being ordained a priest in 1969 in Dublin, he sought to serve in a poor country. His prayers were answered when his congregation sent him to Indonesia.
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In 1976, he started working on a project calling on the local people, the government and the Indonesian military to reclaim several small islands and swamps and turn them into fertile land.
The priest personally worked hard, carrying stones and dirt, to motivate the locals. The reclamation process lasted a decade with an area of ââapproximately 6,000 hectares, of which approximately 4,700 hectares were used as rice fields, made habitable for humans.
The fishermen began to work hard in the rice fields and quickly became farmers. They now produce around 30,000 tonnes of rice each year in a change that has done a lot to lift them out of poverty.
Some have become entrepreneurs by starting businesses, while others raise livestock like ducks, rabbits and goats to supplement their farm income.
Over the years, Father Borrows has helped over 700,000 farmers and 16,000 fishermen in the district. Most are now economically well off and send their children to school.
He built 25 schools from kindergarten to high school in addition to the Maritime Academy of Nusantara. About 8,000 students, mostly from farming and fishing families, study in these institutions.
Its schools have students of all faiths, mostly Muslims from neighboring villages.
I reject the death penalty because they [prisoners] are the image of God. It is torture. Usually I open the Bible and read it to Catholic inmates to repent.
Father Borrows is now focusing on building streets, bridges, dams, waterways and wells in villages across the district. However, radical Islamic groups accuse him of Christianization.
âMy schools and I have been accused of Christianizing,â he said, adding that âeducation is the right of all children. It frees people from poverty.
Dedi Sugiana, a Muslim resident, said the Catholic priest saved the poor and helped everyone, regardless of their background.
The 56-year-old father-of-three said he was helped by Father Borrows and now runs a restaurant. âI can send my kids to school,â Sugiana told UCA News.
Since 2015, Father Borrows began serving in the district’s prisons, including a maximum security facility on Nusakambangan Island for hardened felons facing the death penalty.
“I reject the death penalty because they [prisoners] are the image of God. It is torture, “he said.” Usually I open the Bible and read it to Catholic inmates so that they can repent. “
During the coronavirus pandemic, the priest continued to hold masses and spiritual speeches online for the benefit of inmates. His mission, as God planned, continues.
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