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Catholic Widow Has Spent 25 Years ´Drying Tears´
- July 02 2007
A Catholic widows´ association that started 25 years ago with nine women now has 10,000 members across the country.
Angela Maria Rena Karim, now 81, founded Perhimpunan Warakawuri Katolik Santa Monika (PWK Santa Monika, St. Monica union of Catholic widows) on June 12, 1982, in her St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Tebet, South Jakarta.
Its Jakarta archdiocese branch now has 40 parish-based units. Other branches operate in Makassar, Medan, Pontianak, Palembang, Samarinda and Semarang archdioceses, and Bandung, Banjarmasin, Bogor, Denpasar, Malang, Manado, Purwokerto, Surabaya and Tanjungkarang dioceses.
Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo, is regarded as a patron saint of widows. The union named after her offers spiritual and material support for its widowed members.
Karim, a mother of three whose husband died in 1975, recently spoke to UCA News on how she founded the union and the difference it has made in the lives of its members. She said she responded to the needs of many widows, who faced challenges such as having to bring up children on their own while dealing with loneliness and gossip. Karim said she has received support from the Church.
UCA News spoke with her in the hall of Jakarta´s Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral on June 16, a day before PWK Santa Monika celebrated its silver jubilee there.
UCA News: What drove you to set up PWK Santa Monika 25 years ago?
ANGELA MARIA RENA KARIM: Many other widows came to meet me to share their joys and sorrows, their sighs and complaints. Hearing them, I had the idea at the beginning of 1982 to establish a union for widows. I thought it was a good way to repay the great love I received from God.
At the end of 1981, I attended a 10-day retreat on spiritual healing with other laypeople, Religious and clergy. It encouraged me to pursue my idea to make a difference for widows who suffer loneliness, by helping them face their challenges and temptations with faith, hope and love of God.
Then I surrendered the idea to God by praying for 100 days, with the support of some parishioners, including married men and women, a priest and a nun.
After that, we had a meeting of nine widows in May 1982 at my house. We decided to set up the union with Saint Monica as patron on June 12, 1982. With the blessing of the late Jesuit Archbishop Leo Soekoto of Jakarta, we set up PWK Santa Monika in my house. Capuchin Father Wilhelmus Schepens blessed the first board.
What is the situation 25 years later?
The silver jubilee of PWK Santa Monika is a happy and historical day for us. We want to thank God because the mustard seed planted with faith, hope and love in Tebet has grown to be a big tree with branches in dioceses in Java, Bali, Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, and with about 10,000 members. We thank God because the union has helped Catholic widows free themselves from sadness and fill their emptiness with useful activities and prayer.
What is your role in the union now?
I am not involved in its organizational affairs but rather its service in Christian love. We open ourselves to all the needy, especially widows of course. Those in need may come to me. Thanks be to God, many people are being healed. I have comforted many who have suffered, and people call me the "dryer of tears."
What impresses you most about the union?
I am most impressed that PWK Santa Monika has really become a shelter for our big family, not only the widows but also their children and grandchildren. And that other Catholics now accept and love the widows, and the widows do not isolate themselves but open themselves to others.
As widows, they live as single parents who must find their own livelihood and educate their children without a supporting husband. People´s gossip about them doubles their suffering.
Union members pray especially for their late husbands, the Church and priests. All people ask for their prayers. Many widows who left the Church because of loneliness, frustration and hurt feelings come closer again through the union.
What services does PWK Santa Monika provide?
Firstly PWK Santa Monika strengthens members´ faith, because we believe those with strong faith will be able to face their challenges.
Secondly it gives spiritual and material support. We help widows with their material needs. We offer heart-to-heart-talks about their difficulties. We offer prayers not only for Catholics but also non-Catholics who ask for our prayers.
Now Catholic widows work with fellow parishioners to serve others by praying for them, caring for them, giving moral support and even offering financial support. We can all dry the tears of the suffering. God´s loving hand has healed many hearts through this union.
So far PWK Santa Monika has not asked for financial support from any organization. All our activities and services are financed by members.
There are still many widows who have not joined PWK Santa Monika.
You are right. Usually young widows are reluctant to join such an association, maybe because they still hope to remarry. But this is not a problem. Widows may remarry. Some of us have remarried.
However, many widows do not know this union. Yesterday, for example, a caller from Sukabumi, a town in West Java, said: "Madam, I just came to know about your union yesterday when I read about it in a Catholic magazine. It is a pity that I did not join earlier."
There are certain people who reject our presence. But I will not sigh, because I know God blesses and completes everything. I will go around the country to establish branches.
Do the bishops support you?
For sure. All bishops accept this union. In a Nov. 8, 1986 letter, the late Carmelite Bishop Franciscus Xaverius Hadisumarto of Manokwari-Sorong, at that time chairman of the Catholic bishops´ conference in Indonesia, recognized this union on behalf of the conference.
Since 1990, as a member of the bishops´ commission for family, PWK Santa Monika has always joined in the opening of the bishops´ annual meeting.
For how long will you continue as union chairperson?
We will have a national meeting July 20-22 to elect a new central board for the next five years. Members have said I must fulfill the promise I uttered during the establishment of the union. At that time members asked me whether I want to be chairperson for life, and without thinking I replied "yes."
Actually now I want give a chance for others to replace me. But if they re-elect me, I am also ready. I will work for the union as long as I live. I will serve in whatever position they give me, because it is a union I set up. I do not have the phrase "turning back" in my vocabulary.
(Accompanying photos available at here)