World Travels and Christianity in the World

By Theresa Carson, Chicago

Superior General Reflects on World Travels and Christianity in the World

“People welcome the missionaries, show understanding and are patient,” said Father General Paulus Budi Kleden SVD, superior general of the Society of the Divine Word, during a recent visit to Chicago.

Kids-Standing-Around-Smiling.jpg“It is not easy being a missionary, but they [the people] animate our members,” said Father General Kleden, who served in Switzerland and Indonesia before his election to the General Council in Rome in 2012.

This trip marks his fourth time in the American Midwest in the 12 years since he has been in the general administration of the Society of the Divine Word. His world travels are an opportunity to meet members of the Society of the Divine Word and the people whom they serve.

When asked about the greatest needs around the world, he said, “In general, everywhere, people need to be respected. The concrete forms that respect takes can be different, but the need is the same. The Society of the Divine Word shows respect by providing education and social services when communities express the need.”

For example, last summer, he spent time in Cuba and said that the Cuban people realize that the missionaries could be elsewhere in better living conditions, but they stay.

Child-grabbing-free-gift.jpg“It is a very difficult situation there. The people struggle to get food and medicine. I was touched to see how SVDs and Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters stay there to show solidarity with the people. That mission of presence speaks volumes,” he said.

Father General Kleden stressed that the context and culture of each place and its people inform the work that the Divine Word Missionaries take into consideration.

“Once a country becomes developed then we, as a Church, can move towards advocacy—defending and helping people understanding their rights,” he said. “For example, we advocate for protection of the environment in places like Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines.”

Father-Washing-Feet.jpgFather General Kleden, the 12th superior general in the Society of the Divine Word’s 148-year history, was born in Indonesia, joined the religious congregation in 1985, professed vows in 1987 and was ordained a priest in 1993.

He studied theology in St. Gabriel Mission House in Maria Enzersdorf, Austria, a small city southwest of Vienna, and pursued his doctorate in Freiburg, Germany. In 2001, he returned to Ledalero, Indonesia, as a professor of theology. After six years as a general councilor, he was elected to a six-year term as superior general in 2018.

“As Christians, we are doing a lot in this world. In many places, education and healthcare cannot be thought of without the Church,” he said and gave the islands of Timor and Flores in Indonesia as examples.

“Without the Church, these two places would be very different. Now, the government is in a position to do many things, but before that, it was the Church that fulfilled basic human needs.”

Father General Kleden’s visit coincided with Advent. He said, “Advent is a time when we reflect a lot on light and hope. For me, that is the message—hope and to not let ourselves be devoid of hope. Continue to keep the hope…. Name the dark side but do not fix our attention on that. See the light in us, through us and through others.”

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