Indonesia, The Catholic Church in
INDONESIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Republic of Indonesia is located in Southeast Asia, straddling the equator along 5,110 kilometers between the coast of Southeast Asia and Australia, extending from 6 to 11 degrees northern latitude and from 95 to 141 degrees eastern longitude. Indonesia is the world's largest archipelago comprising over 13,000 islands (6,000 inhabited). Previously known as the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945 and was acknowledged as an independent republic by international treaty in 1949. Indonesia is also the fourth most populous country in the world, with a population exceeding 225 million. The official motto, "bhinneka tunggal ika" ("unity in diversity"), reflects a nation with some 350 languages and over 30 major cultural domains.
Early Christian Missions. Archaeological excavations in the 1990s confirm seafarers' accounts of a Christian community at Baros on the west coast of northern Sumatra in the 7th century. There is evidence of small Christian communities in Southeast Sumatra and East Java during the 9th to the 13th centuries. Franciscans traveling to China also visited Indonesian ports. J. de Monte Corvino visited the east coast of Sumatra in 1291, Odoric of Pordenone spent some months in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan (1312), and John de Marignolli also remained for a time in Palembang, Sumatra, in 1347. These small enclaves died out. Present day Christian churches date back to the early Catholic and Protestant missions of the 16th and 17th centuries and more particularly to the mission outreach of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jesuit and Dominican Missions. The Portuguese sailed through Indonesian waters in 1511 seeking sandalwood from Timor and spices from the Moluccas. The first baptisms were carried out by a lay Portuguese trader, Gonzalo Veloso, in Mamuia, Halmahera in 1534. Catholic communities were established in the Moluccas, Amboina and Ternate. From 1546 to 1547, the Jesuit missionary St. Francis xavier spent 14 months in Indonesia, visiting North Sulawesi and Ternate Island and founding a minor seminary. From their base at Ternate, the Jesuits worked in the Moluccas and Sulawesi until the Dutch expelled them in 1605. In the 1550s, Joao Soares, a layman formed a Catholic mission in Nusa Tenggara (comprising Timor, Alor, Flores, and Solor islands). In 1562, the dominicans from Malacca settled in Solor, the hub of the sandalwood trade, establishing a minor seminary in 1596. By 1599, there were more than 22,000 Catholics. As Dutch control expanded, the Dominicans moved from Solor to Larantuka in east Flores in 1613, then to Lifao c. 1650 on the coast of west Timor, and finally to Dili on the coast of east Timor c. 1771. At the beginning of the 17th century, there were some 50,000 Catholics in both the Moluccas and Nusa Tenggara.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the Portuguese directed their missions from Goa and Cochin in India, from Malacca on the Malay peninsula, and from Macao in China. Portuguese claim to east Nusa Tenggara was not made until 1702. Before that date, the Dominicans administered the territory, paying for military protection themselves. From 1581 to 1719, some 27 Dominicans were killed together with numerous Indonesian Catholics. Some were clearly martyrs for their faith (e.g., Agustinho da Magdalena, Joao Bautista and Simao de Madre Dos on Solor in 1621). Others were killed for commercial and political motives, because they were on the losing side of a trade war between the Catholic Portuguese and the Protestant Dutch, the latter supported by Muslim Sultanates such as that of Macassar. Often, the Dominicans led battles in Flores and Timor against the encroaching Dutch and Macassarese. In Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, the Discalced Carmelites Bionysius and Redemptus were killed in 1638.
In 1605 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) suppressed the Catholic mission because of their support of Portuguese trading rivals. Defeated in war, many Catholics either converted to Protestantism (as in the Moluccas and Timor), or to Islam (as along the coast of Solor and Flores). In 1605, the first Protestant Church was established in Ambon. The Portuguese mission survived in east Timor and east Flores. However it was almost totally neglected during the 18th century. During this period, a fascinating symbiosis developed between local culture and popular Catholicism. Annual Holy Week Processions were organised by the Confreria Reinha Rosario, a group of powerful laymen in Larantuka who placed themselves under the protection of Renha Rosari, the Queen of the Rosary. These traditions maintained a Catholic identity until Dutch Catholic priests arrived in 1860. A Marian vision on the eve of a battle for Larantuka led to the defeat of a band of marauding Macassarese in 1641.
Missionary Revival. In 1800, the VOC was suppressed and Indonesia became a Dutch colony. In 1808 the first Dutch Catholic priests landed in Java to minister to Dutch expatriates, Eurasians and later the urban Chinese-Indonesians. In 1841 the Vicariate Apostolic of Batavia was erected for the whole archipelago. Dutch jesuits arrived in 1858, and were gradually entrusted with the care of Catholics throughout the colony. Frequent conflicts erupted between the clergy and the colonial authorities because the Dutch governor general reserved to himself authority to appoint and transfer Protestant and Catholic clergy. Government regulations of 1853 (renewed in 1922)—the so-called "dubbele zending"—prohibited Protestant and Catholic missioners from working in the same district. Thus, Flores became Catholic and north Sumatra Protestant. As a result, even today, denominational allegiance largely follows ethnic and territorial lines. Missioners were also barred from regions considered strongly Muslim. Thus, there were no missions in west Java among the Sundanese and Banten people, or in Aceh on the north tip of Sumatra, or among the Malay and Lampong communities of Minangkabau in west Sumatra, or among the Macassarese and Bugese people of south Sulawesi, or indeed among the Hindus of Bali (where missioners first entered in the 1930s).
Francis van Lith SJ (1863–1926) came to Indonesia in 1896 and re-founded the Catholic Church in central Java among the indigenous population. The birth of the Catholic Church in Central Java can be dated to the baptism of four village heads on May 20, 1904, and more particularly to the baptism of 168 Javanese at the sacred spring of Sendangsono on December 15 by van Lith himself. Sendangsono eventually became the main pilgrimage centre for Javanese Catholics. F. van Lith lived in the villages, learned the Javanese language, and then established farming cooperatives. He founded a suburban high school at Muntilan and educated the first generation of Javanese clergy and nationalist politicians.
The 1859 Portuguese-Dutch treaty acceded Flores to the Dutch while the Portuguese retained the eastern half of Timor. A Dutch diocesan priest arrived in Flores a year later but was replaced by Jesuits in 1863. The latter began the long process of re-incorporating the popular Catholicism of Larantuka into the official Catholic Church. Growth was modest; by 1900 there were just 20,000 Catholics in east and central Flores. By 1914 the Jesuits had developed the two ancient Florenese communities of Larantuka and Sikka into flourishing congregations of about 30,000 adherents. In the 20th century, the Jesuits were complemented by other religious congregations—the capuchins in Kalimantan (1905) and Sumatra (1911), the Society of the Divine Word in Nusa Tenggara (1913), the Sacred Heart Missionaries in north Sulawesi
(1919). The Jesuits remained in central Java (from Yogyakarta to Semarang) and Batavia (present-day Jakarta). Most religious instruction in the villages was carried out by village catechists, the unsung heroes of the mass conversion of Flores from 1920 to 1950. In 1950 some 60 percent of Catholics lived in Nusa Tenggara; 50 years later, after growth elsewhere, over 30 percent still live in this region, the area with the most number of Catholics. In Central Java, Nusa Tengggara, the Moluccas and West Papua, missionary linguists wrote dictionaries and ethnologists recorded the cultures. A Catholic school system was established throughout the archipelago and all schools in Nusa Tenggara were entrusted to the church in 1913. Many of the first generation of national leaders were educated at these schools. Until Muslim revitalisation of the 1980s, many students became Christian while exposed to the dedication and example of teachers, both religious and lay. However, by the end of the 20th century, Catholic schools had largely lost this role and Muslims had developed their own educational system.
World War II. In March 1942 Japan invaded Indonesia and occupied the archipelago until August 1945. During this occupation most clergy were interned (the Germans in 1939, the Dutch in 1942). For both Catholics and Protestants the three-year occupation marked a short, sharp transition to adulthood. While the Protestant Churches already had indigenous elders and local synods in place, the Catholic Church was heavily dependent on European missionaries and its activities were severely inhibited when these missionaries were interned. During this period, village catechists and school teachers were entrusted with the running of parishes.
Independence. During the war of independence (1945–49), key nationalist figures were Christians: the Protestant Simatupang led the revolutionary army, the Catholic Adisucipto was in the top echelons of the air force while the provisional government was led for a time by the Protestant prime minister Sjarifoeddin. The Catholic Party was founded in 1923 and led for 32 years by Ignatius Josep Kasimo (1900–1986), a student of van Lith, with the firm support of the first Indonesian bishop, Albert Soegijapranata SJ of Semarang (1940–1963), another student of van Lith. Owing to the pivotal role of Catholics and Protestants during the independence struggle, both the Catholic and Protestant communities were accepted as an integral part of the independent state. The Catholic Church's slogan was "Pro Ecclesia et Patria," "100% Catholic, 100% Indonesian." The Indonesian hierarchy was established by john xxiii in 1961. The first plenary session of the Indonesian hierarchy took place in 1964. Since 1970 the conference has met regularly once a year in Jakarta.
Vatican II. vatican council ii was a turning point for the Indonesian Catholic Church. The use of the vernacular in the Mass and the liturgical reforms were enthusiastically implemented. Liturgical texts were quickly translated into local languages, and liturgical incul turation was promoted at the grassroots level in an ongoing effort to contextualize the Catholic Church in Indonesian soil. In 1974, the Catholic Church collaborated with Protestant churches to produce an ecumenical translation of the Bible in the national language, Bahasa Indonesia. The Indonesian Catholic Bishops' Conference enjoys good working relations with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), an umbrella organization of 70 Protestant Churches in Indonesia that was founded in 1960.
Education and Media. The Catholic Church has enjoyed high prestige in the Indonesian society for its educational and social contributions. There are ten Catholic Universities in Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Malang (Java); in Medan (Sumatra); in Makassar (Sulawesi) and Kupang (Timor). Both Catholics and Protestants play an important role in the mass media. The Catholic-owned Kompas-Gramedia group publishes Kompas, the largest daily newspaper in Jakarta, in addition to producing books, journals and videos. The afternoon daily Suara Pembaruan is Protestant-owned, as is the English language Jakarta Post.
Continued Growth. The Indonesian Catholic Church has been blessed with many vocations. To accommodate them, there are nine major seminaries in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Malang (Java); Pematang Siantar (Sumatra), Manado (Sulawesi), Ledalero (Flores), Kupang (Timor) and Abepura (Papua). The national seminary is in Yogyakarta, while one of the largest seminaries in the world is that of Ledalero in Flores. Over 200 Indonesian divine word missionaries are working in over 30 countries overseas. Locally, the continued heroic efforts of indigenous catechists and missionaries has resulted in a continuous growth, especially among the Dayaks (Kalimantan), Torajas (Sulawesi), Bataks (Sumatra) and Sumbanese (Sumba) as well as among the urban Chinese-Indonesians of Jakarta, Semarang and Surabaya. In 1923 the Catholic population came to just 275,000, half of whom were European or Eurasian. By 2000 the Catholic population had risen to almost 8 million.
The first National Catholic Congress was held in Yogyakarta in 1949 when bishops and lay people resolved to work for the newly independent state. Other lay-led National Congresses have been held in Semarang (1954) and Jakarta (1972, 1984, 1995). The 1984 Congress celebrated 450 years of the Catholic Church in Indonesia while the 1995 Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence. A Jubilee Congress was held in Caringin-Bogor, west Java in 2000 on the theme "Empowerment of Base Communities in a New Indonesia."
Wanita Katolik, a member of the World Union for Catholic Women's Organisations was founded for women by Mrs. Suyadi Darmoseputro Sasraningrat in 1924. PMKRI, the Indonesian Catholic Student Association founded in 1947, has joined with other student movements, Protestant (GMKI - Student Christian Movement) and Muslim (HMI - Muslim Students of Indonesia), in the fight for political reform, justice and human rights. Emasculated during the Soeharto regime, PMKRI struggled to regain its historical charism in the years after Soeharto's downfall.
An Uncertain Future. Indonesia was a democracy from 1950 to 1959, when Soekarno, the founding president, declared a Guiding Democracy, the first step towards authoritarian rule. In 1965 a failed coup attempt destabilized the government and Soeharto, a general in
the Indonesian army, was placed in control. The Soeharto dictatorship lasted for 32 years. In 1973 the government reduced the number of political parties to three, all of which were strictly government-controlled. Thus after 50 years the Catholic Party was dissolved. Nevertheless, Catholics were prominent in both Soeharto's economic think tank (CSIS) and in the cabinets of the 1970s and 1980s, in both financial and military portfolios. By 1997 systemic corruption and the centralization of both finance and political power was shaken by a monetary crisis. A popular student uprising forced Soeharto from power in May 1998. Many lay Catholics, supported by Catholic religious, were active in grassroots movements which led to the downfall of Soeharto. Inter-faith collaboration with Muslim activists, working for justice, democracy, and fact-finding on human rights abuses, augurs well for the future. However, the de facto collusion of many Catholics with the regime and the cooption of Catholic teachers and civil servants into Soeharto's Golkar Party has caused problems for the Church as an unstable Indonesia shuffles toward democracy. Regions that were exploited economically in the past have been either demanding independence (e.g, Aceh and Irian Jaya) or racked by interethnic and interreligious conflict (as in Ambon, where prolonged Christian-Muslism enmity shows no signs of abating). In the midst of social turmoil and religious extremism
with no light at the end of the tunnel, Indonesian Catholics face the challenge of witnessing bravely to reconciliation and bridgebuilding.
Bibliography: j. bank, Katholieken en de Indonesische Revolutie (Uitgeverij 1983), with extensive bibliography. th. van den end and j. weitjens, Ragi Carita: Sejarah Gereja di Indonesia (The Leaven of Love: History of the Church in Indonesia) 2 v. (Jakarta 1993–1996). a. heuken, sj, Ensiklopedi Gereja (Encyclopaedia of the Church) 5 v. (Jakarta 1991–94). m. muskens, ed., Sejarah Gereja Katolik Indonesia (History of the Catholic Church in Indonesia) 4 v. (Ende 1972–74) k. steenbrink, Catholics in Indonesia, 1808–1942: A Documented History, 2 v. (Leiden 2001–02), includes extensive primary sources.
[j. m. prior]