This 1950 magazine cover depicts Indonesia as a paradise on earth with terraced rice fields, waving palms, ripe grapes and golden stalks of corn. The Javanese dancers symbolize the Indonesian people and the golden chalice represents the Catholic faith and mission in Indonesia. The cover design was made by the Dutch artist Toon Noyons.
Berichten van Java (Messages from Java) was the magazine of the Sint Claverbond foundation in Nijmegen, which was established to support the Dutch Jesuit mission in Java. The articles in the magazine are about daily life at the mission posts, the history and culture of Java and the local developments at the time, such as the ‘danger of emerging communism’ and the relationship between Christianity, Islam and other religions.
Martyrs of Magelang
There is also a lot of attention in the magazine for the missionaries who were killed in the aftermath from WWII. In 1945 eight missionaries were kidnapped in Magelang and murdered on All Saints Day. Three years later, two other missionaries in Magelang, including an indigenous priest, were violently killed by Indonesian independence fighters. The murdered missionaries are honored in the articles as ‘martyrs who made the ultimate sacrifice’.
Naturally, the magazine also had a promotional function. The mission mainly focused on education and health care and established many Catholic schools and hospitals in Java. Readers in the Netherlands are being called upon to donate money to rebuild the destroyed mission posts and to build new schools and hospitals. The stories reveal a great uncertainty though about how to proceed with the mission in independent Indonesia. An editor writes at the beginning of 1950:
With the New Year, we see a Javanese people who are aware of their independence and who proudly see themselves in the ranks of the free nations. In that people forces work, based on groups of persons and parties, in particular the Islam and communism, who try to obtain leadership positions. The communists will of course, as always and everywhere, create unrest and disorder in order to take advantage of that turbulent situation for themselves. The Mohammedans will of course propagandize this is the time to make Indonesia an Islamic state. Between those and other groups stands the Catholic mission, a small community of over 50,000 Catholics, with a Javanese bishop and a handful of Dutch and Javanese priests. Now we stand for the troubling question whether this small chosen people can forge their way and develop further between those large groups.
That many missionaries were still hopeful for the future, is evident from an article by Sister Laurentia. She writes to the people in Holland:
The Indonesian people respect us missionaries. (…) Personally, I have experienced nothing like goodwill, even extreme courtesy. I always had to travel alone, but everywhere and always on the train, bus, boat or plane, the same helpfulness. I have never had to stand in the crowded buses. I have never been overcharged. I simply clung to a fellow traveling officer from the T.R.I. and asked for help and everything was taken care of. The coolie who was supposed to carry my luggage was made clear that he had to be satisfied with whatever I gave. Fruit for the road was offered to me with a polite bow and once I was startled from a nap when at a stop suddenly six djeruks (oranges) were thrown into my lap.
Once in Yogyakarta I unexpectedly bumped into a former student. ‘But Joe, what are you doing here, they told me you were killed.’ We had a chat. ‘Oh’, Joe said, how wonderful to see you again and that our school is being rebuilt. Yes, a lot has happened between the Dutch and us, but we all still love you, sister…’ More memories flashed through my mind… What a wonderful opportunity the mission now has, what a special task the sisters could fulfill. Everyone is convinced that we have never been involved in politics and that we never will. (…) They know that the sisters come only to help the people. They accept our social work in education and nursing the sick. And precisely in that area there is a great shortage of labor force.
The Indonesians know very well that we want to give them the gift of our faith. Some say they do not need it. Later when they are able to do so, the work of the sisters will have to be taken over by the state. But they forget that the very strength necessary to do this selfless work lies in our faith in Christ, who taught us to love our neighbor to the extent that we love ourselves.
The Sint Claverbond Foundation in Nijmegen still exists and still supports the work of the Jesuits in Indonesia. Today 7 million Indonesians are Catholic; about 3 percent of the population. About 86 percent is Muslim. The rest of the Indonesian population professes Protestantism (7 percent), Hinduism (3 percent), Buddhism (1 percent) or animism. Sadly, religious tolerance in Indonesia is declining and churches are frequently the target of attacks by Muslim terrorists.