Kosmas Balembang, a parking attendant at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, is seen here shortly after he was injured in a suicide bomb attack on March 28. (Photo supplied)
Kosmas Balembang, 51, was still recovering in hospital when fellow Catholics at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, capital of Indonesia's South Sulawesi province, attended worship during Holy Week.
However, his heroism was remembered and gave people the courage to go to the church, which was the target of suicide bombers on March 28.
Parishioners remained enthusiastic about attending Mass during Holy Week at the cathedral, which had its capacity limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic amid tight security.
Bonifacius Brillian Armando, head of the Cathedral Parish Easter Celebration Committee, said that what happened to Balembang was an experience of faith for them so that they still have the courage to worship.
"His story strengthens the belief among Catholics here that God will protect us from evil things," he said.
The bomb attack on Palm Sunday by a newlywed couple belonging to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terror network could have resulted in many lives lost had Balembang not stopped them when they were about to enter the church compound on their motorbike.
Balembang, a parking attendant, sensed something was wrong and stopped them, which forced the terrorists to detonate the bomb. He suffered serious burns in the blast which killed the two bombers.
Thanks to his heroic actions, Catholics still in the church and others who were leaving after the service ended were saved. Some 21 devotees were injured.
Balembang has since been hailed for his quick thinking.
Father Joni Payuk, vicar general of Makassar Archdiocese, was amazed the parking attendant only suffered burns. “He was standing less than two meters from the bombers," he said.
Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas said that without Balembang "there would have been more victims.”
"But thank God there was our friend who prevented the bombers from getting inside," he said.
National police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo has offered to give Balembang’s son a scholarship to become a police officer
“I was shown clearly how God's power and miracles really work," said Armando, the parish committee chief. "Just imagine, the bombers destroyed while he miraculously survived. Do not ever doubt the Lord Jesus … because miracles are not myths but are real."
Angeline Theresa, 24, said Balembang’s heroism gave her strength as the attack made her think twice about attending Mass at the cathedral on Good Friday.
"His experience made me believe that we are still protected by God," she said. “We saw Lord Jesus really take care of us. That's why my faith is growing and we are more and more confident after the attack."
Archbishop John Liku Ada of Makassar said Holy Week services went ahead as usual after he received guarantees security would be provided.
South Sulawesi police deployed 1,600 officers to guard 170 churches in the provincial capital.
Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, and several high-ranking police officers visited the cathedral on Good Friday.
Archbishop Johannes Liku Ada said he felt empowered by the words of the religious affairs minister, who met him on March 29. Quomas said not to be afraid and that "to stop worshiping indicates fear."
"These words are very reassuring to us Catholics," the archbishop said.
He said he was touched by the persistence of Catholics despite the attack and said “they feel that they have truly experienced a miracle and the protection of Jesus who loves them without limits.”
“They believe Jesus protected them from this act of terror," he added.
Meanwhile, support for Catholics in Makassar continued to flow from interfaith and other groups, who sent people to the cathedral on Easter Sunday to show solidarity.
Archbishop Liku Ada said such support will make them stay strong. "Hopefully such an incident will not happen again and we remain united as a nation," he said.