12 September 2015

Catholic Church in East Java



By Karel Steenbrink
Professor Emeritus in Intercultural Theology at Utrecht University, The Netherlands.



With 5 million inhabitants (census of 2005), Surabaya was by far the second largest city of Indonesia (before Bandung with 2.7 and Medan with 2.3 million). The city has the greatest harbour and is the gate to East Indonesia.

The diocese of Surabaya is larger in territory than Malang, but in both regions during the pre-independence period most attention by the clergy was given to European and Eurasian Catholics. The excellent schools were all using the Dutch language and only very few schools for the Javanese population were established. During the Japanese administration there were only two Javanese priests in the diocese of Surabaya, sent from Central Java by Bishop Soegijapranata.

In 1948 still 90% of the Catholics were considered as ‘European’ but this declined to 5% in 1960. In the same period the number of Catholics rose from 2,500 to 20,000. In 2004 this number had risen to 150,000. This is still a modest number equating to some 0.6% of the population. There are many Chinese Catholics, a good number from East Indonesia (Kai, Tanimbar and many from Flores), besides Javanese Catholics.

In 1971 the diocese of Surabaya cooperated with its neighbour of Malang to open a major seminary or theological school in Malang. However, in August 2009 a major seminary Providentia Dei was opened as part of the Catholic University Widya Mandala in Surabaya, because the energetic Bishop Vincentius Sutikno Wisaksono wanted to train future priests in an institution of his own diocese

In the 1930s a place of pilgrimage has been created in Puh Sarang near Kediri. Architect Henry Maclaine Pont designed it, partly imitating the 13th century architecture of the Kingdom of Majapahit. There was a small church, a meeting hall, an open air theatre, a Way of the Cross. In 1997 a great restoration and extension started. A meeting hall was constructed in the same style as the former one, but ten times bigger.

There was a new Lourdes grotto, a building with images of the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, a camping ground for young pilgrims and also a columbarium for cinerary urns. After the Catholic ban on cremation was lifted in 1963, many Chinese Catholics wanted to cremate their deceased. This new facility gives Chinese and others a new way to deposit the ashes of their beloved in a religious way. The small old Way of the Cross has been supplemented by another one, a full size copy in bronze statues of the large monument in Lourdes. The renewed compound was inaugurated in 2000.

The north coast of East Java is home to many of the largest Muslim boarding schools or pesantren of the country. In this region several riots took place that can be considered as the first in a series that preceded the fall of Soeharto in 1998 and the Moluccan and Poso conflicts between Muslims and Christian of 1999-2003. On 10 October 1996, 24 churches in East Java, were set on fire or destroyed, with the city of Situbondo as the main centre of the riots.

In Situbondo also some Catholic and Protestant schools and the Court of Justice were set on fire. The latter building was one of the centres of agitation, because a lunatic, who had made blasphemous assertions concerning the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’ān, had been sentenced only to five years imprisonment, while an angry mob demanded the death penalty. The riots, however, were so well organized, with trucks carrying youngsters, using petroleum for deliberate arson in the buildings, that most observers concluded that deliberate planning must have been the cause of the riots.

Not the Christians were the real target of the conspiracy, but the powerful Muslim leaders, who were to be blamed and charged by some army leaders, who prepared for a good position in ‘Suharto's end-game’, because President Suharto was believed to be at the end of his political career.

As a different reason for these riots the more aggressive propaganda of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians has also been mentioned, as well as the fact that most Christians were of Chinese descent and were middle class or even rich, while the majority of the population in East Java, especially on the northern coast, is Muslim, poor, and of Madurese descent.

As in many other events of this kind, it was not a long history of Muslim-Christian conflicts that caused these riots, but rather a general sentiment of uncertainty and discontent with the corrupt government of the period which caused these explosions.

A very special sign of reconciliation and harmony between Islam and Christianity was created with the construction of the parish church of the Holy Sacrament next to a grandiose new central mosque in Surabaya, both inaugurated on the same day, 10 November 2000, by President Abdurrahman Wahid, himself a Muslim leader and member of the pesantren community.

Dioces of Malang

The dioceses of Surabaya and Malang have been closely connected since the 1920s. Surabaya was entrusted to the Lazarists or CM, Congregatio Missionis and Malang to one of the branches of the Carmelites. The division was not absolute, especially not after 1960. One of the most impressive persons for the period 1950-2010 was a Lazarist priest, Paul Janssen CM (born 1922) who established a secular institute ALMA, as well as a training college for catechists in Malang.

Janssen was also active in development work, Bhakti Luhur. Another person with national fame is a leader of the Catholic Charismatic movement, Dr. Ioannes Indrakusuma, who established a new branch of the Carmelite religious family and a spiritual centre in West Java, Cikanyere.

Malang was in the colonial times the centre of a vast region of plantations. European planters had houses in this cool town with its good facilities. They sent their children to schools in Malang that was also a centre for Chinese traders. There were many sisters and brothers serving the Dutch-language education in that period. The schools have continued and are still prestigious institutes for education.

The theological school has become an important centre of learning for East Indonesia: several dioceses of Kalimantan have sent their students to this place. SVD candidates from Java and Bali study here. More numerous are the sisters and brothers who have come here for study of theology and spirituality.

This may have been the reason why the diocese of Malang is probably one of the most rich in clergy. Dioceses in the Outer Islands have a ratio of 1 priest serving 3,435 (Pontianak), 3,092 (Ruteng) or even as much as one priest for 6,174 faithful (Sanggau). But Malang had 142 priests or one priest for 621 faithful in 2004.

In the same period there were 441 sisters and 340 religious brothers in the diocese. Some people called the compound of the theological school with its many religious houses therefore the ‘Little Vatican’, a nickname also given to Padang in a former period.

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