OPINION: Christmas in Surabaya

Karim Raslan -- Ceritalah ASEAN

Posted at Dec 26 2018 04:57 PM

Merry Christmas! Selamat Hari Natal from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city. With a population – including suburbs of well over eight million – Surabaya is a vital business centre. It’s an industrious place, crammed with factories, warehouses and shopping malls. However, this time around, the X'mas celebrations may well be a little more solemn.

Six months ago, Surabaya was rocked by a series of suicide bombings. Three churches and a police station were attacked. A bomb also exploded in an apartment complex in nearby Sidoarjo during a police raid. All in all, 28 people died and 50 were injured.

So, as the city prepares for Christmas – there are carolers in the centrally-located Tunjungan Plaza, team Ceritalah caught up with the 52-year-old Pak Agustinus Dono Chrismiandi (better known as Pak Andi), whose family were injured in the attacks.

Only 4% of Surabaya’s 3 million residence follow the Catholic faith. However, the practice of tolerance and interfaith relations are common. Fully Syafi/Ceritalah

On the 13th of every month, the Santa Maria Tak Bercela Church holds a memorial with the victims’ families and leaders from various religions in attendance. Bayu Mahardika/Ceritalah

Every Christmas, Pak Andi and his family present gifts to their neighbours, a majority of whom are Muslims. On Idul Fitri, his neighbours reciprocate the gesture. Bayu Mahardika/Ceritalah

His father and two of his children were hit by the blast as they were on their way to church. Bayu Mahardika/Ceritalah

This Christmas, Pak Andi hopes that people from different religions continue to engage each other so that a harmonious and tolerant community can be built. Bayu Mahardika/Ceritalah

Due to the bombing, Pak Andi’s father is now deaf and needs hearing aid. Bayu Mahardika/Ceritalah

Pak Andi, a 52-year-old Surabayan native, recalls the 13 May bombing incident that injured his family. Bayu Mahardika/Ceritalah

Pak Andi is a Roman Catholic and father of two. The Surabaya native is barely a meter-and-a-half tall, but his firm build and prominent cheekbones speak to his poise and charm.

On 13 May, his family were at the Santa Maria Tak Bercela Church on Jalan Ngagel – in downtown Surabaya. The attack on the church was orchestrated by Islamic State-linked Jamaah Anshar Daulah, but was carried out by two teenage brothers, Yusuf and Firman Oepriarto, aged 17 and 15. Their parents – Puji Kuswati and Dita – along with their two sisters, detonated explosives at two other churches, taking their own lives in the process.
“My family and I were headed for Sunday Mass to the Santa Maria Church, for the second service at 7.30 AM, as usual. They went ahead of me in a Grab car, along with my father and arrived at 7.10 AM, which was when the bomb at the church went off,” Pak Andi recalls.

“When I arrived at the church, I thought to myself: ‘Why are all these motorcycles stopping on the road? Why is there smoke?’ After someone told me a bomb had gone off, I panicked and immediately looked for my family.”

His 17-year-old son, Vincentius, remembers the horrifying moments well: “I got out of the car to open the door for my grandfather. As soon as I shut the door, I heard an explosion from behind me and the sheer force slammed me into the car. I blacked out for a bit, I couldn’t see anything – I ended up with a scar below my left eye and my grandfather sustained injuries to his head and chest. He also needs a hearing aid now from the magnitude of the blast.”

Thankfully, all of Pak Andi’s family members survived but many other families will be celebrating Christmas with empty seats surrounding the dinner table. This attack, the first in Indonesia to be carried out by young children, has left the city of Surabaya visibly scarred.

This year, Xmas celebrations are subdued – partly due to pressure from FPI (Islamic Defenders Front) to not go overboard with the festivities.

Moreover, as Pak Andi explains, “I’m still traumatised from that day – from what happened to my family. Every time I see a Grab car, in particular, a white Toyota Innova, I’ll remember what happened to my children. But I’m no longer afraid, as long as I keep my faith strong and close.”

“I’m looking forward to Christmas. Everyone will be together at my youngest brother’s house.”

Indeed, it would appear that Surabayans (of which 9.1 percent are Christian) have managed to put the attacks behind them and move on. The well-known Mayor, Ibu Tri Risma, has done a great deal to ease the tension and restore public confidence. 

“Every thirteenth day of the month we gather together with other members of the community and the victims’ families at the Church to remember those we’ve lost. But I don’t feel the need for revenge. I’ve forgiven them, because revenge is like poison. My hope now is that people from different religions continue to engage each other so that we can be harmonious and tolerant – and love each other. It’s something I strive to teach my children.”

As the world looks to the New Year, the task of forgiving and restarting will be a much harder task for the families of those affected – an aberration from the typical Christmas celebration.

Surabaya was dealt a heavy blow but its people – resilient and kind – will rebound, stronger than ever.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.