The Father Beeker prayer park in Watuwawer. (Photo: Handrianus Atagoran/UCA News)
Larantuka Diocese in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province has designated a village where a Dutch missionary was killed 65 years ago as a place of pilgrimage.
Watuwawer, on the small island of Lembata, was where Divine Word Father Hendricus Coenradus Beeker was murdered in 1956. His grave site has now become a prayer park.
Bishop Fransiskus Kopong Kung of Larantuka led the blessing ceremony for the park on June 14. It was livestreamed and attended by the faithful and local government officials.
The prelate also declared Watuwawer a pilgrimage village.
"Build up this village so that anyone who comes to add strength of faith here feels that Watuwawer is cool, not only because of the weather but also because of its people," he said.
Bishop Kung said Father Beeker had become part of his diocese’s history. "From his blood, the result is that we are the people of today and the next generation," he said.
We consider his death as his martyrdom regardless of the Church's acknowledgment
Lembata deputy district chief Thomas Ola Langoday said the park will be an icon of the district's religious tourism.
The 44-year-old Father Beeker was murdered on April 19, 1956, by a young man named Bernadus Baha Luga, whom he had previously helped to take up a skills course.
The priest was killed after he reprimanded Luga for stealing items belonging to a missionary brother.
His death shocked the community and thousands turned out to pay their respects when his body was taken to Larantuka on Flores island for burial.
Because of people's love for Father Beeker, the priest's remains were returned to the village in 2005.
Father Beeker helped develop local people's skills and education and sent many young people to Larantuka to study carpentry at church-run workshops. He also established elementary schools.
To manage these schools, he sent some youngsters to teacher-training institutions. Later, they led efforts in carrying out the Church's mission in education and spreading Catholic values to locals, who at the time believed in animism and superstitions.
Sacred Heart Parish priest Father Pius Laba Buri said that although the Catholic Church had not yet declared Father Beeker a martyr, he and the local community had.
"We consider his death as his martyrdom regardless of the Church's acknowledgment," he said, adding that the anniversary of his death is always commemorated in the village and has become a special holiday.
Piter Ata Tukan, the parishioner who led the construction of the prayer park, said all the parishioners had lent a hand during its construction that began in 2018, assisted by donations from the local government and donors.
“This should not only be a place of pride but should be used for the sake of faith. That's what we want," he said.