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Priest's tomb in Indonesia now a tourist site

Project seen as an opportunity to unite rather than divide Christians and Muslims

Markus Makur, Mbay

Markus Makur, Mbay

Updated: January 07, 2019 05:20 AM GMT
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Priest's tomb in Indonesia now a tourist site

Archbishop Vinsentius Sensi Potokota of Ende blesses the tomb of Father Hieronimo Mascarenhas on Dec. 26 in Tonggo village on Flores Island. (Photo by Markus Makur/ucanews.com)

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Christians and Muslims in Tonggo village in Indonesia's Catholic majority Flores Island consider Dec. 26, 2018, as a day of great historic significance.

For it was then that Archbishop Vinsentius Sensi Potokota of Ende inaugurated the reconstructed tomb of Dominican missionary Father Hieronimo Mascarenhas.

Father Mascarenhas was a Portuguese missionary martyred circa 1601-2 in Tonggo where the majority of inhabitants are now Muslims.

The tomb's location is about 300 meters from a mosque, hence the inaugural ceremony on Dec. 26 became an opportunity for Catholics and Muslims to learn from each other and strive for peace and tolerance.

The archdiocese is promoting the reconstructed tomb as a pilgrimage and tourism destination.

Archbishop Potokota said this would enhance the martyrdom of Father Mascarenhas as a source of inspiration for Catholics. "He left his home in Portugal and came to our place but was eventually murdered as he spread the good news," the prelate added.

Divine Word Father Philippus Tule, an anthropologist and rector of the Catholic University of Widya Mandira Kupang, who accompanied Archbishop Potokota, said he had studied the martyrdom of Father Mascarenhas.

The missionary priest was killed by people from South Sulawesi on an expedition to eastern Indonesia, including Solor and Flores. The expedition was attacking Portuguese soldiers in the area, where there were Dominican missionaries until 1750.

Mascarenhas was buried in Tonggo village, which is now home to many Muslim fishermen. "But it was not Muslims that killed the priest because there was no Muslims in the area during that time," Father Tule said.

He said inauguration of the reconstructed tomb was made possible by collaboration between Catholics and Muslims who wanted to foster ties and build a better future. "Making it a religious tourism site will certainly benefit both Christians and Muslims," said Father Tule.

A number of facilities will be also be built such lodgings and restaurants. "This will unite people of different faiths," Father Tule said.

Catholics of Christ the King parish head to the tomb of Father Hieronimo Mascarenhas in Tonggo village on Dec. 26. (Photo by Markus Makur/ucanews.com)


Anwar Pua Geno, a Muslim leader and chairman of the East Nusa Tenggara provincial council, asked Catholics to maintain the site as a sacred place. "Make it a comfortable place for pilgrims who visit," he said.

He also called on fellow Muslims to help maintain the tomb.

After blessing the tomb, Geno invited Archbishop Potokota, priests, nuns and hundreds of Catholic participants to enjoy food offered by Muslims at the Baiturrahman Mosque of Tonggo.

He also promised to encourage the leaders of Nagekeo district to promote the site so that it could attract more tourists. "Hence it will benefit local people," he said.

Another Muslim community leader, Ibrahim Yusuf, said that the site would play an important role not only as a tourist destination but also an icon of fraternity among religious believers both locally and nationally.

"As Indonesian society is facing the increasing phenomenon of radicalism, we have to continuously show tolerance and collaborate to achieve the common good," he said.

Flores-born Gregorius "Gories" Mere, a high-ranking police official and former head of the anti-terrorism squad, reminded people of different faiths on the island to maintain attitudes of brotherhood and tolerance passed from generation to generation.

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