Note: No pictures are contained in this post. When you have security checking your purse as you enter church grounds the last thing you want to do is whip out the camera and start snapping shots. Also, the cradle Catholic in me has a hard enough time clapping in church, let alone taking pictures, the nuns might be watching!
BACKSTORY: Religion is big in Indonesia. The first of five ideologic principles of the secular government is “Belief in the one and only God”. In a nation that is 90% Muslim one would think this means religious intolerance but it is actually the opposite. There are six recognized religions in Indonesia; Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Confucianism, Protestant, and Catholic. Of the 14 public holidays this year, 1 is government (Independence Day), 4 are New Years (January 1, Chinese New Year, Day of Silence/Hindu New Year, and Islamic New Year) and 9…yes 9 are religious holidays. Crazier still is that Christians actually get 3 of those (Christmas, Good Friday, and the Ascension of Christ.) Easter doesn’t need to be a public holiday since it always falls on a Sunday, which is traditionally a non-working day. By the way, in case you skimmed over it, look back at that list, Good Friday and the Ascension???? Some Christians in the U.S. are lucky to get off early on Good Friday and even Catholic schools are open on the Ascension, but here the entire country takes the day off.
– For those with curious minds, the other 6 holidays include Buddha’s birthday and 4 Muslim holidays that require 5 days. Idul Fitri gets 2 days and considering that it falls at the end of a month of fasting it is probably well deserved.
So we started our Easter celebration on Holy Thursday at the English speaking Mass. It was held at 2:00 pm. The church is located not far from Scott’s office on a busy street in an urban area. They had white sheeting woven in the fence next to the sidewalk to conceal the outdoor seating. The area between the fence and the church was covered in large tenting (like you would find at an outdoor wedding) and chairs were set up with television monitors to see the inside of the church. There was only one entrance from the street so that you can go through security, checking bags and waving metal detector wands. Unlike some of the cursory exams at the malls, these guys were pretty thorough in checking bags.
We were fortunate that day to score inside seats. There were many people that were also early and the church was full 30 minutes before Mass. As noted this was an English speaking Mass so I anticipated a lot of “Westerners”. However, more than half were Indonesian. The rest were truly a mix of cultures. There were Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indian, African, and a few of us “Westerners” thrown in the mix. Several people had traditional clothing on from their home country. One thing we noted was that several of the Indonesians around us removed their shoes once in the pews. Indonesian culture requires removing your shoes upon entering a house and the Muslims remove their shoes before going to the Mosque so maybe it is a cultural thing….interesting nonetheless.
On Good Friday the service was at 11:00 am. We arrived 45 minutes before and, after going through security again, were astonished to find the church already full and the overflow seats outside filling as well. We found seats outside that were halfway between the church and the street. At 15 minutes before the service the overflow was full and people were bringing out small plastic stools to sit upon. Basing my calculations on our section of seating (100 chairs) and the number of sections around the building there were probably about 1200 people there that day. Amazing! The service was good but the music had us longing for home. Maybe it was the sound system that was lacking.
The “You’re In Indonesia Now” moment came just before noon. Friday is the big prayer day for Muslims. Not only do they broadcast the call to prayer but a homily as well. So about 45 minutes into our service the call to prayer began. There were probably two Mosques close by so you had two different speakers going. Add to that the street noise with cars and the buses and the bike bell (think little kid’s tricycle bell) ringing at regular intervals as the bike vendor circled the block selling drinks from his bike. We were singing and venerating the cross. Welcome to Jakarta!
Easter Sunday came on Saturday for us. We were told the English speaking Mass on Sunday would spill into the streets so we chose Easter Vigil…on Saturday…at 1:00 pm. Nothing like the Service of Light with the new fire in the middle of the day. Anyway, we arrived an hour early on Saturday and were able to get seats inside. The Mass was very nice. Holding lit candles in a wood church that was packed with people with very few exits into the street was a little scary at times but the music was improved, the sermon was unique and interactive (we sang snippets of songs during it to help the priest make his points), and the fellowship of worship on our most Holy day was uplifting and a blessing. To top it all off we saw my dear friend and her family as we exited and I got to hear about dyeing eggs from a sweet 5 year old. Almost like home….almost.
No Easter celebration would be complete without food so on Easter Sunday we went to a nearby hotel for a Super Brunch. There were tables set up in every available space that could be found. We reserved a table in one of the bar areas that was less crowded. (We luckily made advance reservations as it was fully booked.) Over 120 different dishes were served and wine and champagne were free flowing. There was caviar and sushi, desserts to die for and carving stations for beef, turkey, and ham. Soups, salads, and international foods. Pasta stations and traditional Javanese food. If you could think of it, it was there.
All in all it was a great experience. Even though we could have gone away for the long weekend, I am glad we stayed and had Easter here. Unforgettable.