The Diaspora Church in Indonesia: Mangunwijaya on Nationalism, Humanism, and Catholic Praxis *

By Mujiburrahman | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

The Diaspora Church in Indonesia: Mangunwijaya on Nationalism, Humanism, and Catholic Praxis *


Mujiburrahman, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Introduction

On February 10, 1999, Indonesians were shocked by the sudden death of a well-known and respected man, Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya. Popularly called Romo Mangun, he was known as a man of several sides: a Catholic priest, a writer of several novels, an architect, a social activist who dedicated his life to the poor and weak, and a social thinker whose ideas on politics and culture have attracted many Indonesian intellectuals and university students. The distinguished position of Y. B. Mangunwijaya (hereafter referred to as Mangun) can be discerned by the fact that President B. J. Habibie made a visit of condolence to Cathedral Church where his body was placed before the funeral procession. (1) Following the day of Mangun's death, several articles appeared in newspapers in his memory by several major intellectuals, including Abdurrahman Wahid, a respected Muslim leader of the country who was appointed president of Indonesia in 1999. (2)

Several scholarly studies have been done on Mangun's works, mostly on his literary works. For example, Michael H. Bodden, Pamella Allen, Ward Keeler, Neils Mulder, and others have written studies of Mangun's novels and their Indonesian cultural and political context. (3) A study of Mangun by Karel A. Steenbrink provides an overview of the whole of his works of literature, his political essays, and his idea of a diaspora church. (4)

Unlike previous studies, the present essay is based on only Mangun's ssays and concentrates on his understanding of nationalism and its relation to the Catholic Church in Indonesia. It has been enriched by the new books of Mangun published several days after his death, some of which are compilations of his essays and articles written in response to the new political era in Indonesia, the "Reformation Era," which followed the fall of Suharto on May 21, 1998. Mangun's reflections on the future of Indonesia in these essays are significant for enabling us to understand the progress of his idea of nationalism.

Personal Experience (5)

Mangun's understanding of nationalism is primarily a reflection of his personal experience. As one of the generation born in the earlier part of the twentieth century (May 6, 1929), he experienced critical events that were strongly connected to the formation of the Indonesian state. As a child, he experienced the condition of the country under Dutch colonial control. He received his elementary education at Holland-Inlandse School, where his father, Yulianus Semadi, a Catholic convert baptized by a Jesuit missionary, taught. (6) Mangun finished his elementary education in 1943, about a year into the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. Mangun told how, as a child, he was attracted by the Japanese when he first saw the Japanese soldiers with their worn-out clothing (as opposed to the neat clothing of the Dutch army) come to the villages with guns too big for the size of their bodies, in order to show a propaganda film about Japan as brothers from Asia who had come to save Indonesians from the European colonialists . (7)

Mangun continued his secondary education in Yogyakarta at Technical School and Senior High School, where he experienced how school activities did not work properly because of Japanese intervention; that is, students were trained and prepared to face the war against the allies. He remembered how one of his teachers at the school, Moh. Sadli, who was later to become a minister of trade in the era of Suharto, explained to his students that they should prepare themselves for the war of independence because opportunities were gradually opening. (8)

On August 17, 1945, following the explosion of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta proclaimed Indonesian independence. Then the war began, not against the Japanese, but against the Dutch who tried to return to their former colony. Mangun was involved in the guerilla war as one of the Tentara Keamanan Rakyat (People's Security Army). …

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