Betawi People & the Church: Jakarta, Indonesia

Look at any country in the world and its culture, you will find how Christianity has played an influential role in the development somewhere down the line. It’s true that in a lot of cases Christianity has destroyed some of the most beautiful and ancient cultures and traditions.

But, how did Christianity fair in a dominantly Islamic nation such as Indonesia?. Naturally, in the 1800’s the front of influence was based in the old capital, Batavia and its residents, the Betawi people. Here is a little history of just how great a part and influence Christianity had in the Dutch colony at that time.

Church’s role throughout Betawi history

Most stories and histories of the Betawi people, who are native to Jakarta, are devoted entirely to aspects of Chinese and Islamic culture.

However, in a village in Pondok Gede, Christianity has entered into almost every facet of the lives of the Betawi.

In 1851, Dutch priest Meester Anthing brought Christianity to Jatinegara, East Jakarta, and its surrounding areas.

A local kyai, who had converted to Christianity, Ibrahim Tunggul Wulung, served as Anthing’s assistant. They began preaching the Gospel in places as far afield as Kampung Sawah in Pondok Gede and Gunung Putri in Bogor.

The following is the history of Christianity in Kampung Sawah and its surrounding areas:

In 1892, a Protestant church, led by local teachers Natanael and Matias, was built in Pondok Melati, not far from Pondok Gede.

Three years later, however, the parishioners split into three groups. The group under Natanael chose Catholicism over Protestantism.

On Oct. 6, 1896, the Reverend Bernardus Schweitz baptized 18 natives of Kampung Sawah. At that time, six people had already been baptized by Schweitz: Nathanael, Tarub Noron, Markus Ibrahim Kaiin, Yosef Baiin and Sem Napiun.

When the church’s membership grew to 57 a year later, the Reverend Bernardus, who lived in Jatinegara, bought a small house for worship. Engku (Betawi for teacher) Natanael and Markus Ibrahim Kaiin led the congregation.

The congregation had grown even bigger by the early 1900s.

In 1921, Methodism spread to Kampung Sawah, and the churches in this small kampong began to compete for followers.

In 1922, the Reverend Yoanes van der Loo, who led the congregation, built a small church in the village.

In 1935, Father Oscar Cremers became the first priest to live in Kampung Sawah. He built a health clinic called Melania, which still operates today.

On Oct. 23, 1936, Cremers opened a school, Rooms Katholieke Vervolgschool. In the same year, Batavia’s apostolic vicar, Monseigneur Petrus Willekens, established the fifth parochial church in Kampung Sawah under the name of St. Antonio from Padua.

Over the years, many parochial churches were founded in Jakarta, including the Jakarta Cathedral (1808), Matraman church (1909), Kramat church (1920) and Theresia church (1930).

Father Cremers introduced the tradition of celebrating the Harvest Festival to the parish. Until now, Sedekah Bumi, or the Bounty of the Earth festival, is celebrated every May 13.

World War II had an immediate impact on the European community in Jakarta. The priests, who were nearly all non-nationals, returned to their home countries, where they were obliged to perform military service, leaving their congregations behind.

In 1942, the remaining Dutch and local priests were arrested by Japanese soldiers. Indonesians Poesposoepadma and Benjamin Kadiman then took over the leadership of the churches.

Weeks after Indonesia proclaimed its independence on Aug. 17, 1945, the churches, which were associated with the Dutch, were burned down on Oct. 7, 1945.

At the end of 1946, 90 people came together in Kampung Sawah to rebuild their churches.

After almost 20 years (1951-1970) without a permanent priest, in 1971 the archbishop of Jakarta, Monseigneur Leo Soekoto, ordained a teacher and former religious brother, Marius Mariaatmaja, who became a priest at the age of 60. He died a year after he was ordained.

After Marius‘ death, the church lost its parochial status from 1972-1993.

In 1998, Aloysius Yus Noron became Kampung Sawah’s first parish priest. The year after Father Rudolf Kurris took charge of the congregation in 1993, the church decided to change its patron saint to St. Servatius, a missionary from Armenia. A new Roman Catholic church was also built that year.

On Sept. 30, 1996, a relic of the saint was brought to Kampung Sawah by three priests from St. Servatius in Maastricht, the Netherlands. A week later, Cardinal Darmaatmadja blessed the church.

Source: Jakarta Post