Fr. Bernard Hyacinth Arputhasamy, S.J., JRS-AP Regional Director; JRS- Asia Pacific Issue 75, PO Box 49, Sanampao Post Office, Bangkok 10406, Thailand
[Editor's note: At the time of writing, the Society of Jesus of East Timor was preparing for a memorial mass in Suai for Fr Dewanto on 8th September 2009 and on 11th September for Fr Karl at the grounds of Loyola Jesuit residence where he was killed].Adapted from friends of IRS — Fr. Mark Raper SJ, Fr. Steve Curtin SJ and Fr. Adrianus Suyadi.
Remembering Fr. Karl Albrecht Karim Arbie, S.J. and Fr. Tarcisius Dewanto, S.J.
During the recent 150 year celebrations of the Indonesian Province last July, the mother of Fr Tarcisius Dewanto came to meet the Jesuit Superior General Fr Adolfo Nicolas who was visiting Central Java. While she was waiting for Fr Nicolas to finish talking with the Indonesian novices, I was privileged to spend some minutes talking with her. Fr Dewanto, a 34 year old Jesuit ordained on 14th July 1999 and immediately missioned to East Timor, was one of over 200 people, among them were 3 priests, killed in a massacre in the parish church of Suai on 6 September 1999. Suai is a coastal town in the potentially fertile district of Cova-Lima, 140 kilometres South West of Dili.
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Thu Dewanto says she will not be strong enough to go to East Timor for the 10th anniversary (scheduled for the 8th of September 2009 in Suai) memorial for those who died that day in Suai, but she will not be left alone. Apart from visits of Jesuit friends, and the sisters in the nearby convent, Ibu Dewanto’s neighbours, Christian and Muslim, frequently come to pray with her. The Muslims have special reverence for a martyr, she explained to me, and she draws comfort from their visits. They want to touch something of his, a shirt or a piece of cloth. They believe a martyr is close to God. Their devotion and their kindness help me, she explains.
Fr Adrianus Suyadi SJ, JRS Indonesia CountryDirector writes, “When I heard that Fr Tarcisius Dewanto was killed in the church in Suai on 6th September 1999, my thoughts immediately returned to the time when we both celebrated the Eucharist together in the chapel of St Ignatius College, Yogjakarta. It was three days after our ordination to the priesthood, 14th July 1999 … it was a personal and intimate moment for the two of us newly ordained. We were sharing our experiences of how we felt when we received our new mission after ordination.
Fr Dewanto shared, ‘I honestly feel it difficult to leave for Suai…but no matter how I feel, I need to go. We will pray for each other Dri,’ as he asked me to support him with my prayers. The situation there was getting worse. At the same time he added that he still needs to adjust to the culture and life there even though he did his pastoral ministry there before ordination. I did not at all expect that Fr Dewanto will be killed as a martyr…. after hearing the sad news I realized that our time together at the Eucharist was an offering of Fr Dewanto … his ‘Yes’ to Our Lord…to the point of death…”
Fr Dewanto was not the only religious to give his life for the people of East Timor at that time, and not the only Jesuit. Two other priests, Fr Hilario Madeira, the pastor of Suai parish, and Fr Francisco Soares, died with him.
Two Canossian sisters were killed in Lospalos over those weeks: Sr Erminia Casaninga, an Italian, and Sr Celeste Carvalho, an East Timorese, as was a deacon Hernando.
Days after the Suai massacre, on Saturday 11th September 1999, around 9.45 pm, intruders entered the grounds of the Loyola Jesuit Residence at Taibesi, Dili, East Timor. Father Karl went out to investigate the situation and he was shot by them. Fr. Ageng was following just behind him and came to his assistance. Fr Ageng nursed Fr Karl in his arms and then organised to transport him to hospital, where he was dead on arrival. He died at the age of seventy, three days before his golden jubilee as a Jesuit.
Fr Karl Albrecht was born in Germany and after completing his formation was ordained in Germany 1957. He was missioned to work in Indonesia in 1959. In 1990 he moved to East Timor as the spiritual director in the Minor Seminary in Dili, then the rector of the Seminary as well as the Jesuit Superior of the region.
Upon return from a sabbatical year in Europe, he took up his former duties and was also appointed the first Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Country Director of East Timor.
Almost every day during the troubles following the referendum of 30 August 1999, he travelled around the outskirts of Dili transporting refugees and taking them food and medicines.
He witnessed the St. Cruz massacre and its aftermath on November 12, 1991. He did much to save the lives of children and young people who were the victims of military violence at that time. After the massacre, he was committed to the cause of the East Timorese people.
Fr Karl and Fr Dewanto were two among thousands of victims of the terror which gripped East Timor following its population’s vote for independence in the UN-sponsored referendum on 30 August 1999. An untold number perished at the hands of anti-independence Indonesian military and their local militia allies, and hundreds of thousands more fled or were forced to leave their homes.
“We cannot take care of everything. But we do what is possible under the circumstances,” Fr Karl had written on the day of his death to Fr Hendra Sutedja, his JRS counterpart in Indonesia.
In a fax written to Fr Hendra two days after the 30 August ballot, Fr Karl described what he was doing: “I had occasion to witness some action in the afternoon. The experience shook me almost as much as Santa Cruz. I had set out for Aileu, south of Dili, to help the Maryknoll Sisters who were in acute danger. I ran into a band of militiamen, all in army battle dress, with red and white bandanas around their heads, and modern weapons slung under their arms. On the way back, I passed a village which was totally on fire, the huts of the village dwellers standing like blazing torches around the compound. Barely a mile further, I came across the militia gang I had encountered on the way out. They were herding a straggly crowd of villagers, loaded with bedding and bundles, I don’t know to which evacuation point. It struck me right in the stomach, seeing those hapless people homeless on the road to nowhere.”
The Indonesian Provincial at the time, Fr Paul Wiryono, said: “Fr Karl’s whole heart was dedicated to the struggle for humanity in East Timor. His friendships were built as he fulfilled his commitment to take sides with the poor.”
Fr Dewanto’s body, and those of the two priests who died with him, was taken across the border to West Timor and buried there in a shallow grave. One of the Jesuits from Dili, Fr Ageng, managed to discover the place, brought his body back to Dili, and buried him alongside Fr Albrecht in the small garden of the Loyola Jesuit residence. Flowers are constantly renewed at these graves as people remember their sacrifice. Their silent ongoing witness is a constant encouragement to the small Jesuit community, who continue the service for which their two brothers gave their lives.
IRS returned to Dili in October 2007 in the aftermath of the April 2006 political crisis which led to the displacement of 100,000 people in Dili and the districts. It actively assisted, together with the non-/government and the religious congregations, in the return and relocation of the internally displaced people (IDP).
The work included regular and intensive visits to the displaced people and the communities to understand the situation, identify problems and mediate disputes towards peaceful co-existence. Some of the problems are related to illegal occupation of houses and/or land, land properties/titles, the degree of acceptance towards returning IDPs by host communities, etc. By September 2008, almost all the displaced people’s camps assisted by JRS were closed and the IDPs returned home.
JRS continues its regular and intense visits to the villages to help minimise tensions, fears and potential conflict associated with IDPs returning by providing programmatic support aimed to promote community cohesion and stability, ensure the durability of return
and resolve any outstanding disputes/ other obstacles to return. Particular attention is given to vulnerable groups (e.g. the elderly, widows, and people with disabilities) which lack basic needs, e.g. housing, water, etc. and are neglected by the government and other NGOs. Building relationships of trust and friendship through our approach of direct accompaniment places us in a good position to assist these groups.
As a local community commented, “…people had the impression that JRS is like other agencies who come and give them all kinds of things/materials…with big resources, but then they realized that this is not true. They come to help us in a different way…they come to be with us and to build our lives together…”