Indonesian priest leads crusade against climate change

Father Hasan speaking to farmers in East Nusa Tenggara. Photo: UCAN/supplied

The bitter experience of dealing with a broken generator when working in St. Damian Parish in Bea Muring, a remote area in the Diocese of Ruteng in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, persuaded Father Marselus Hasan to find a new source of electricity.

“Almost every night I was with the staff at the rectory busy taking care of the generator,” he recounted. 

In 2011, many people in the province still used gas or kerosene lamps in addition to generators as a source of lighting at night.

Frustrated with the situation, Father Hasan sought information on alternative electrical energy sources. The 38-year-old priest then contacted Budi Yuwono, a hydroelectric expert in Java who agreed to go to Flores to conduct a survey.

After the survey was conducted, the priest and the local community agreed to start a hydroelectric project using a nearby river as a power source. Father Hasan then sought the approval of Bishop Hubertus Leteng, the local bishop. 

“After explaining our intentions, the bishop agreed and declared that I would be responsible for the work,” explained.

The process began with self-help from the community and assistance from a credit cooperative to finance the project that involved the construction of a small dam and power plant as well as the installation of electrical cables to residents’ homes.

Four months later, in October 2012, the work was completed and inaugurated by Bishop Leteng. Hydroelectricity turned out to be a blessing for people in three villages as it significantly cut their power costs. 

“When using generators, a family spends an average of 900,000 rupiah ($510) a month, but with hydroelectricity they only pay 30,000 rupiah ($17) per month,” Father Hasan said, adding that their ears were also spared the loud noise that generators make. 

The success of the project spurred his colleagues to ask for his help in doing the same in their parishes.

As of today, there are five hydropower units in Ruteng providing electricity for at least 1,200 households or around 7,000 people.

Well-known Indonesian director and actor, Nicholas Saputra, learned of Father Hasan’s endeavours and decided to include the priest’s activities into a documentary called Semesta (Universe). 

The film screened in cinemas on January 30 and tells the story of seven people from different religious and cultural backgrounds trying to battle climate change. Saputra said their stories would inspire people. 

“Whatever your religious background, culture, profession or place of residence, we have to do something to save our planet, which is currently in crisis,” he said. 

People-centred priesthood

Ordained as a priest in 2009, Father Hasan always wanted to work with as many people as possible for a better world, “like Jesus who lived a life by walking with his disciples.” He said that in order to help his 8,000 parishioners, mostly poor farmers, he could not work alone, so he established a network of contacts who had their own set of skills which would help people.

“I want to help solve the problems of the people I serve by guiding them to find a better life,” he said. Hydroelectricity was one of the many projects he has planned to improve lives and over the past few years, he has looked at various ways of empowering people. 

In 2015, in association with the United Nations Development Programme, the Ministry of Environment and local authorities, he began focusing on strengthening sustainable food sources using environmentally friendly methods.

People in Father Hasan’s parish were given livestock and learned new ways of farming, coffee processing and ways to grow specific commodities for certain areas. The cattle’s waste is being used to produce organic fertiliser, 50 tons of which has been sold for 2,500 rupiah ($1.42) per kilogramme.

“Proceeds from the sale were used to finance parish services and also to renovate the parish church,” said the priest, who is currently working on providing clean water for several villages.

Appreciation

In 2016, Father Hasan won the Energy Award from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources’ for his hydroelectric power initiative. 

He said that what he is doing is simply addressing the universal Church’s concerns about the environment, highlighted in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home,  by taking into account the basic rights of the poor. Within the framework of this mission, it is important for a priest to be creative, open to existing advances and to find new ways of service, he says.

“We adopt methods that benefit society and the environment,” he said while admitting that such work presents challenges. He said the impact of climate change is being increasingly felt.

“Even now, hydroelectricity is under threat because of water shortages, so other ways need to be looked at so that we can move forward,” he said. 

UCAN/La Croix

Author: SundayExam