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Grand pilgrimage to Batavia

On Sunday, 8 November 2009, a pilgrimage took place to Batavia, organized by Bisdom of Paramaribo. Organization moved the prayers to the village Boskamp located on Coppername river. After a short prayer said by Monsignor de Bekker, a large barge left for Batavia on Coppername River. People prayed and sang along the way, as an expression of commitment and gratitude. After a pleasant boat trip the group walked the Way of the Cross, prayed and sang together. The participants carried away a profound impression of the whole day. They were deeply impressed by the lighting of candles in the place of Peerke Donders’ original grave.

Blessed Peter Donders, Priest

Petrus Donders was lovingly known by Tilburgers as Peerke Donders. He desired from his early childhood to be a priest, but he had to begin life as a worker in a factory. He afterwards became a servant in a college where he learned a little. Later a benefactor enabled him to pursue his theological studies in the College of Herlaar.

A chance reading of the “Annals of the Propagation of the Faith” determined his vocation for foreign missions. He was accepted in 1839 for the then colony of Dutch Guiana (now Suriname republic) as a missionary, ordained priest the following year, and in 1842 arrived at Paramaribo to begin his long apostolic career. He laboured with success among the blacks in the plantations, and by 1850 had instructed and baptized 1200.

Before he was convalescent he not only resumed his work among the blacks, but extended it to the Indians of Saramacca. In 1855 he took up his residence in Batavia where for nearly thirty-two years he ministered to 600 lepers. He left them only to visit the blacks and Indians.

In 1865 the whole colony was confided to the Redemptorist Fathers by the Holy See and the Dutch King. Father Donders at once asked to be of their number and was received in Paramaribo, in 1867, by Monsignor Swinkels, the first Redemptorist vicar Apostolic. After this he went back to his charge. He studied music to cheer his afflicted children, and though given an assistant he laboured till his death on 14 January 1887.
He has been beatified by the Congregation of Sacred Rites. His feast day is January 14.

Peter Donders was born in Tilburg in Holland n October 27, 1809. From his youth he felt himself called to the priesthood, but, because of the poverty of his family, his schooling was cut short so he could take up the weaver’s trade of his father. This did not prevent him from teaching catechism to children in his free time. And he had a good influence on young people his same age. At the age of 22, with the help of his parish priest, he enter the minor seminary of St. Michael-Gestel as a seminarian and part time worker, thus paying for his room and board. He was ordained a priest on June 5, 1841. He was thus able to follow his missionary vocation, setting out for Suriname, which was then a Dutch colony.

For the next 14 years his base of ministry was in the city of Paramaribo where he dedicated himself to some 2,000 resident Catholics and regularly visiting the slaves of the plantations (around 8,000 of then in the Paramaribo area of some 40,000 in all of Suriname) as well as the military garrisons and the native Indians and negroes along the rivers. In 1856, he offered himself as a volunteer for the government leprosarium of Batavia, where he remained, with the exception of a few short intervals, for the next 28 years, caring for them bodily and spiritually. He left them, only for a few months, in 1866, when he asked to join the Redemptorists to whom Pope Pius IX had confided the apostolic vicariate of Suriname. He was invested with the religious habit on November 1st of that year and professed his vows on June 24, 1867.

Religious profession, in associating him with a missionary congregation, gave him a more vivid sense of the apostolic life in community, allowing him to leave Batavia more often to give himself to the conversion of the native Indians and negroes. But the name of Donders remained bound to the leprosarium of Batavia. He died among his lepers, poor among the poor, on January 14, 1887, mourned as their benefactor and invoked as a saint. Pope John Paul II beatified him in St. Peters May 23, 1982 during the 250th jubilee year of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

Ertugrul Kilic — 8 November 2009, 12:00

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