The World

Giulio Mencuccini, the bishop who evangelized "on two wheels".

Giulio Mencuccini was the last foreign bishop to leave Indonesia after leaving the government of the diocese of Sanggau because of his age. Now in Italy, his dream is still to evangelize "on two wheels". 

Federico Piana-March 21, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes

A priest riding down dusty trails on a powerful dirt bike is not something you see every day. Who knows what must have been the look on their faces in Kalimantan when they first saw him speeding along in his billowing cassock sitting on a rough leather saddle and gripping a gleaming handlebar.

It was almost the middle of the 1970s and Passionist religious Giulio Mencuccini had just arrived in the Indonesian island region of Borneo, coming directly from Italy. "You have to know one thing: when I arrived there was only one paved road and to reach my confreres I traveled 500 kilometers by bus. It was a real adventure," he tells Omnes, with a touch of pride.

The first motorcycle

There, the man who would later be appointed bishop of the Sanggau diocese in the 1990s soon had to get used to the inconsistency of the roads and if he wanted to visit a village he had to walk. "And what a hike we had! Backpack on shoulder, I and the other missionaries would walk the so-called 'mice roads' to bring the people the Gospel and consolation."

It was in 1975 when Mencuccini, tired of spending hours and effort to reach urban agglomerations miles apart, decided, together with two of his brothers, to buy three trial motorcycles, considered capable of overcoming all kinds of obstacles.

Apostolate on two wheels

It was the impetuous beginning of a sweeping evangelization. "Yes, because with the motorcycles we could visit all the villages. In the evening we would celebrate mass in one and in the morning of the next day we would celebrate mass in another."

The motorcycle also gave another opportunity to the young Passionist missionary: "Being able to move around much more easily, I could afford to stay in the villages in the evenings. And the night was the right time to teach the rosary, do catechesis and hear confessions". The overnight stay of the missionaries in the villages was an added advantage, because after prayer, before going to bed, there were long talks in which the elders often participated. "In essence, staying overnight in the villages helped greatly in the expansion of the faith...".

Exponential growth

The figures prove Mencuccini right. In 32 years of pastoral government, his diocese has grown from 11 to 1,608 churches, 966 of which were blessed by the biker bishop himself. "They are all churches recognized by the Indonesian Ministry of Religion and were built also thanks to the help of the government," says the cleric, who explains why, even today, there is a special attention from the authorities towards the Church: "Catholic schools, present not only in the diocese but throughout the country, are highly appreciated because they welcome everyone, not only Catholics. And in our schools have studied many of those who, over time, have assumed positions of responsibility".

Msgr. Mencuccini
Msgr. Mencuccini with a group of bikers

Last foreign bishop

At the age of seventy-seven, in 2022, the biker bishop returned to Italy on November 30, handing over the government of the Sanggau diocese to Monsignor Valentinus Saeng, an Indonesian religious.

In fact, Mencuccini was the last foreign bishop to leave Indonesia, which fills him with joy because it is a clear sign that the local Church is in good health.

Also thanks to his apostolate carried out on motorcycles. "Today the baptized in my diocese are more than 370,000, almost 50% of the population. And now in Sanggau, in addition to the priests, the nuns also have motorcycles, 140 in all."

The dream: 10,000 bikers to the Pope

To think that Mencuccini, now that he has returned to Italy, will abandon his passion for motorcycles is a pious illusion.

His new big dream is to bring ten thousand motorcycle enthusiasts before Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square: after all, they too need catechesis. "I still get excited when I think of Masses celebrated outdoors before an expanse of motorcyclists next to their flaming two-wheelers. Hearing them honking their horns after my blessing almost brings tears to my eyes."

Meeting Valentino Rossi

In Mencuccini's account there is also space for a very personal memory that a motorcycle lover like him will find hard to erase: the meeting, in 2008, with the motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi. It was a party in his honor and on that occasion he signed many T-shirts for me to take back to Indonesia.

He used to spend his vacations very often in the Southeast Asian country. Once he came to see me and said, "Monsignor, be careful because your motorcycle has normal tires, they are not like racing tires, if you are not careful you can slip." His advice? I still follow it today when I get on a motorcycle.

The authorFederico Piana

 Journalist. He works for Vatican Radio and collaborates with L'Osservatore Romano.

In collaboration with
Do you want independent, truthful and relevant news?

Dear reader, Omnes reports with rigor and depth on religious news. We do a research work that allows the reader to acquire criteria on the events and stories that happen in the Catholic sphere and the Church. We have star signatures and correspondents in Rome who help us to make the background information stand out from the media noise, with ideological distance and independence.

We need you to face the new challenges of a changing media landscape and a reality that demands reflection, we need your support.

In collaboration with
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.