Indonesians celebrate Independence Day with Mass
08:32 AM PDT on Monday, August 18, 2008
By DAVID OLSON
Inland Indonesian Catholics on Sunday celebrated their native country's independence day with a special Mass, traditional games and plenty of Indonesian food.
About 125 Indonesians sat in St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Loma Linda as the red and white Indonesian flag was brought to the altar to stand near the U.S. and Vatican flags. Later, five young girls approached the altar with red and white streamers.
San Bernardino County has one of the largest Indonesian communities in the country, said Anwar Agusti, consul for information at the Indonesian Consulate in Los Angeles.
Sharon Johannes, 6, left, and sister Charissa, 8, walk down the aisle of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Loma Linda on Sunday during a Mass to celebrate Indonesian Independence Day.
St. Joseph the Worker holds Indonesian-language Masses twice a month. Sunday's Mass was partly in English, because -- in honor of Independence Day -- it was celebrated by the Rev. Romeo Seleccion, the diocese's Episcopal vicar for San Bernardino County. He does not speak Indonesian.
"Viva Indonesia!" Seleccion said at the beginning of the Mass, mixing an exclamation common in Latin America and Seleccion's native Philippines into a service filled with Indonesian-language songs.
Two members of the church youth group who carried the Communion wine and wafers wore traditional Indonesian clothing, one donning a modern Indonesian fashion accessory: a pair of white Nikes.
Indonesia declared its independence 63 years ago from the Netherlands.
Most Inland Indonesians did not arrive here until the early 1990s -- when changes in immigration law allowed more Indonesians to come to the U.S. -- or the late 1990s, when chaos and violence surrounding the push to overthrow authoritarian leader Suharto caused many Indonesians to flee, said Densy Chandra, of Highland, a consultant for the Indonesian community for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Although Christians comprise only 9 percent of Indonesia's population -- most Indonesians are Muslim -- a large majority of Indonesians in San Bernardino County are Christian, Agusti and Chandra said.
That is partly because Muslim-Christian tensions have increased in recent years, Chandra said.
Muhamad Ali, an assistant professor of religious studies at UC Riverside and a native of Indonesia, said Muslims and Christians have generally lived in harmony over the past several centuries, although some Christians and ethnically Chinese Indonesians have suffered discrimination. The 1998 fall of Suharto led to increased political and economic competition, leading to greater tension in parts of the country between Christians and Muslims, he said.
According to a U.S. State Department report, although the Indonesian government and public generally respect religious freedom, in recent years extremist Muslim groups have used violence and intimidation against Christian churches and against mosques of the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam, which some Muslims view as heretical.
Some Christians have also attacked Muslims, the report said. In addition, people from the six religions not officially recognized face discrimination.
The 2000 U.S. census lists 3,301 Indonesians in San Bernardino County and 5,626 in Los Angeles County, although it showed that the Indonesian population doubled in San Bernardino County between 1990 and 2000 and fell 13 percent in Los Angeles County.
Chandra said the census underestimates the population because Indonesians must write in their nationalities on census forms and many do not do so.
Many Indonesian Christians are Seventh-day Adventists who settled in the Loma Linda area because of the large Seventh-day Adventist presence there, Chandra said.
About 20 members of the Indonesian Seventh-day Adventist Church of Loma Linda traveled to Los Angeles on Sunday for an Independence Day celebration at the Indonesian Consulate there, said the Rev. Albert Pardede, pastor of the church. About 700 people attend services at the church each Saturday, he said.
After the Mass at St. Joseph the Worker, celebrants filled the church hall to feast on dishes such as gado gado -- cabbage, eggs and bean sprouts topped with a spicy peanut sauce -- and woku chicken, with onions, lemon grass and spices.
Outside, children played the traditional Indonesian game of makan krupuk. Tapioca-starch chips hung from string and, at the count of three, children with hands behind their backs furiously tried to be the first to finish the chips.
Alice Wiraatmadja, 33, of Rialto, said she looked forward to the twice-monthly Indonesian Mass and social hour.
"It's a time to get together with our Indonesian people and talk and share experiences in America," Wiraatmadja said. "It's like family here."
Reach David Olson at 951-368-9462 or dolson@PE.com