06/02/2006, 00.00
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Quake: Indonesia's mourning

The account of a priest who visited areas struck by the earthquake in the three days right after the tragedy. He talks about the damage suffered by the Catholic community in Java, survivors' desperation, beggars on the road and children crying for scraps of food.

Yogyakarta (AsiaNews) – "Everything happened in the early morning of 27 May, when I was at the altar and it was beyond anything I could have imagined." With these words, Fr John Pujasumarta of Semarang Archdiocese, started to recount his experience of the earthquake that destroyed the region south of Yogyakarta, central Java, last Saturday. The priest told AsiaNews about the initial terror and consequent devastation across the region, which he visited in the three days following the disaster. He spoke especially about the enormous damage suffered by the local Catholic community.

"I was still at the altar, saying mass at the chapel of Baby Jesus in Kekancan Mukti diocese of Semarang, when I felt a strong swaying movement. I immediately thought: this must be earthquake. What took place next was beyond anything I could have imagined. Everything started to rumble and to collapse. I was worried because the phone connection and electricity supply went off.

Shortly after, together with my bishop, Mgr Ignatius Suharyo, I went to visit the most devastated areas: Klaten and Bantul regencies south of Yogyakarta.

In Klaten, some parts of the church were damaged and the recently constructed parking lot in front of Kebonarum chapel was destroyed. The parish of Gondang and its refectory were severely damaged and many residents sought shelter in the church complex.

The Church of St Peter and Paul, a parish in Kalasan, suffered heavy damage so local parishioners can no longer use it as a place of worship. Mass is being held outside, and the church compound is being used to shelter thousands of displaced people and patients of the Panti Rini Hospital, run by Carolus Borromeus Sisters.

In Yogyakarta, the Christ the Lord Church of Baciro also suffered heavy damage. Its roof fell and the bell tower collapsed, killing a man in the rectory. Masses are being held outside.

No masses will be held in St Joseph Church either, although it was only slightly damaged. People are now terrified of being enclosed within four walls with a roof over their heads. The orphanage of the Good Shepherd Sisters was so badly damaged that children are spending the night outdoors, in a reception centre.

The hardest hit was the Church of the Sacred Heart in Bantul. Three people died here, and a nearby orphanage was badly damaged, although the hospital of St Elizabeth, also run by Carolus Borromeus Sisters, was spared. I attended mass there on 27 May; it was held outdoors and no more than 10 people attended.

Meanwhile, no hope is held out for the parish of St Jacob in Bantul, which was too severely damaged.

On May 28, I went to Wedi in Klaten Regency, where we celebrated a memorial service for local Catholic victims, including the parents of Fr Paulus Suparno SJ, the rector of the most popular university run by the Jesuits in Yogyakarta. In Klaten too, Catholic compounds still in one piece are being used to shelter many displaced people.

The chapel of Ndalem in Panggil also suffered heavy damage. The church compound and high school complex are being used as shelters for displaced people.

At the seminary of St Paul in Yogyakarta, a meeting took place between the Archbishop of Semarang, representatives of Caritas Germany and the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, to organise aid efforts. At the end of the meeting, we went to the region of Ganjuran and Caben to visit victims.

On 29 May, on the road to Wonosari, I saw a sight that tore at my heart: the area around Prambanan has been thoroughly destroyed and along the road, I saw youth who have become beggars, pleading for something to eat or to drink.

The parish of Quasi-Bandung, in Wonosari, was not damaged as badly as the parish of St Peter in Canisius. Alas, however, the tremor seriously damaged the complex of the Sisters of the Servants of Christ community. Some sisters sought shelter in Ngawen and others have returned to their villages of origin.

On the way back to Semarang, I wanted to go to Wedi again, the hardest hit area in Klaten regency; here I met the former local parish priest, Fr Saryanto, to discuss aid intervention.

Now that the trip is over, I cannot get the cries of survivors, begging God to stop their tears, out of my head: babies cry, because they are hungry, and adults cannot do anything. After the tsunami in 2004, Indonesia is once more in mourning, and continues to weep…"

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See also
Quake: How to help the Indonesian Church
Indonesian Church: more than 100,000 dollars for Java quake survivors
Java quake: call for orthopedic supplies as death toll exceeds 5,800
Thousands killed and wounded in Java quake
Java quake: rescue work tough; army mobilizes