Indonesian pilgrims find answers at martyred priest's tomb
Killed during Indonesia's war of independence, his death remains a sensitive issue in the Muslim majority nation
Pilgrims visit in Central Java's Kerkof Cemetery, a final resting place for Jesuit priests including Father Richardus Kardis Sandjaja Muntilan. (Photo by Bernard D. Elwin)
Christina Palupi Dewi and her 2-year-old daughter, Gracia Nugraheni Putri Sitting sat in the corner of Kerkof Cemetery in Muntilan, Central Java.
They had come to the cemetery to express gratitude to Father Richardus Kardis Sandjaja, a martyred priest whose intercession they say answered their prayers.
Dewi believes that her daughter is a miracle. Unable to conceive after many years of marriage, Dewi called on Father Sandjaja in prayer.
"Our daughter, Gracia, is a grace from God, through the intercession of Father Sandjaja," Dewi said.
Dewi married Paulus Bima Arya in 2005. As the couple's desire for a child went unmet, they consulted doctors about their fertility. They also took herbal medicines, but with no result. Over time their hope for a child was nearly buried.
"We were frustrated," said Dewi.
One day they heard a story about another couple who had been married for nine years, and who conceived their first child after praying at Father Sanjaja's tomb. Dewi and her husband decided that they too would visit the priest's tomb to ask for a child.
"After 11 months, I felt a sign that I was pregnant," Dewi said. A doctor confirmed her pregnancy.
"We were so happy. It was a miracle," said Dewi. In honour of this, they decided to name their daughter Gracia, which means blessing from God. Every month the family visit Father Sanjaja's tomb to express their gratitude.
Diagnosed with cancer
Theresia Eka Sari gave another testimony. According to Sari, her mother, Yohana, was recently cured of stage-3 breast cancer. Doctors had diagnosed her mother two years before.
"In the beginning we were shocked," said Sari. She was worried about her mother, who refused to undergo the chemotherapy that doctors recommended.
One day at a local hospital in Yogyakarta, Sari came across a bulletin that mentioned the answered prayers attributed to Father Sandjaja.
Driven by faith and hope for her mother's recovery, Sari traveled from her home to the tomb each Sunday. After six months of prayers, change occurred.
"One day my mother had a dream. She saw someone dressed in white approaching her. When she woke up she was crying because she felt that the pain had gone," Sari recalled.
Sari took her mother to hospital to check if she had really been healed.
"Unbelievable. Doctors said her cancer was gone," she said.
The pilgrims who flock to Kerkof Cemetery have told many such miraculous stories to its caretaker, Paulus Mursid, 38.
"Many pilgrims have shared miracle stories, such as healing from serious illness after praying at Father Sandjaja's tomb," said Mursid.
Many pilgrims who have visited Kerkof Cemetery say that miracles have been performed through the intercession of Father Richardus Kardis Sandjaja. (Photo by Bernard D. Elwin)
A martyr's death
Father Sandjaja was born in Muntilan, Central Java, on May 20, 1914. His father, Willem Kromosendjojo, worked in a Jesuit-run hospital. His mother, Richarda Kasijah, was a homemaker.
Brilliant from childhood, he was called a 'walking dictionary.' He was also a man of prayer. Father Sandjaja entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in Muntilan on Jan. 13, 1943 — a year after the Japanese invasion.
During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945) Father Sandjaja faced many difficulties. In addition to the pressure from the occupation, he also suffered attacks from militant Muslims who were opposed to his mission work.
Several times his church was destroyed by alleged Muslim militants and rebuilt with the help of its parishioners.
As part of his work, he maintained good relationships with Dutch officials, leading other Indonesians to suspect him of collaborating with colonizers.
On Dec. 20, 1948, as punishment for alleged collaboration, a group of Indonesian independence militants kidnapped and murdered Father Sandjaja and Dutch Jesuit seminarian Herman Bouwens.
The next day their remains were found, and buried according to the Catholic rite. The local church regarded both Father Sandjaja and Father Bouwens as martyrs, and in August 1950 moved their remains to Kerkof Cemetery.
Don't talk about canonization
Macarius Martomo, a relative of Father Sandjaja, said that the priest was a smart, simple and prayerful man, who has inspired many Catholics to remain strong in their faith.
According to Martomo, in 1956 a process began for gathering miracle stories for Father Sandjaja's canonization. However, many years later, there is no more news on the process.
"Testimonies from pilgrims show that Father Sandjaja is a special person," said Father Father Fransiskus Xaverius Sukendar, administrator of Semarang Archdiocese. "But this does not necessarily lead to beatification or canonization."
According to the priest, Father Sandjaja's death remains a sensitive issue because it is related to interreligious harmony in Indonesia.
Canonization would "hurt other people, who are uncomfortable with it," Father Sukendar said.
His sentiments are similar to that of retired Jesuit Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta, who once said "let the sanctity and martyrdom of Father Sandjaja be kept inside the hearts of Catholics."
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