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Indonesia: An unexpected Adventure – An interview with Fr Kees Böhm MSC

9/30/2010 Indonesia (ACN News) – Kees Böhm, Missionary of the Sacred Heart-family, born in the Netherlands arrived at Jakarta, Indonesia on the 11th of December 1966. A few weeks later he started as a parish priest in the parish of Waur-Watuar on the island of Kei-Besar. It was the beginning of an unexpected adventure.

On the 4th September 2010 Father Böhm celebrated his 50th anniversary of priesthood. In an Interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he looks back and gives a deep impression of catholic life in Indonesia over decades.

Q) You also witnessed the terrible years of violence on the Moluccas. Can you describe what happened?

A) It started with a minor incident on January 19th, 1999 between an Ambonese young Christian and a South Celebes Muslim. The indigenous Ambonese among the Moluccans had to choose between their ethnic brothers and their adherence to the Islam. They spontaneously chose the latter. The conflict took a death-toll of about 12.000 people. 62 Catholic churches and facilities were destroyed. Refugees numbered hundreds of thousands. The Pastoral Centre of which I happened to be its chairman, immediately stopped most of its activities and erected a Crisis Centre of nine people. I was mainly entrusted to spread trustworthy information in English. Many subscribed to this information which often daily was sent out all over the world by a constantly growing mailing list, and was trusted as being neutral and true. I gathered the informated from various daily publications, both in Ambon and elsewhere, by TV, radio, personal witnessing by members of the Crisis Centre and mostly from the internet. Thus I sent out 513 reports, up to the year 2006 (the last part reporting on aftermath, refugees etc.). They are still available on internet, for instance on

Q) How is the current situation?

A) The current situation is most conducive. However, both sides still live largely apart and are aware that a little spark is enough to set fire to the whole Moluccas again. For instance: almost two years ago there was a Christian teacher of religion (female) who taught her pupils that polygamy was wrong. The Local Muslim community (in Masohi, South Ceram) immediately reacted furiously by burning down sixty Christian houses. Thank God, the police forces took appropriate measures then; only the Masohi police commander was slow in reacting and was immediately fired from his job. Thus everybody is on his “qui vive”: anything can happen due to a quarrel or something done or said by a drunkard.

Q) What do you think is the future of Christianity in Indonesia?

A) Concerning the future of Christianity in Indonesia: especially in Java there is much interest in the various forms of Christianity, recently many feel attracted to Evangelism / Pentecostals. Muslims usually don’t readily agree to the erection of a church, especially in cities like Jakarta and Bogor. They do not hesitate to burn down a church that – according to them – is being erected illegally. I have the impression that the Catholics, though growing in numbers, get weaker in living the Gospel, lacking sincerity of faith, looking upon the religion as a way of obtaining all kinds of blessings from Above. The Chinese often compete whose religion is most favourable for having economic success. Especially in Java catholics are zealous in attending daily Mass, but I am not sure what is their deepest motivation. In the Moluccas, on the contrary, on weekdays, the church is almost empty. The young local priests in the Moluccas are much distrusted by the faithful in matters of attitude towards women and in matters of finance. However, in the Moluccas vocations to the priesthood and to religious life, are abundant. It is only a small number that leave the priesthood. I never learned or heard of misbehaviour by local priests towards children.

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