By: Frans Obon
ENDE, Indonesia (UCAN) -- News of the recent murder of a Divine Word priest in the Philippines has shocked Catholics in Flores, eastern Indonesia.
"The death of Father Fransiskus Madhu has brought deep sorrow not only for the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), but also for the whole Church and all Catholics on Flores Island," Brother Edel Atalema, a member of the Divine Word's Ende provincial council, told UCA News on April 3. "All missioners sent from Flores bring the name and reflect the richness of the Church of Flores."
Father Madhu was shot dead while preparing for Palm Sunday Mass on April 1. According to Father Jerome Adriatico, superior of the Philippine Northern Province of the Society of the Divine Word, Father Madhu was gunned down at 5:30 p.m. in Mabongtot Elementary School in Lubuagan, Kalinga province. Masses are held in the public school because there is no church in that community, about 320 kilometers north of Manila.
Father Madhu was born on May 13, 1976, to a Catholic family in Wewolaci hamlet of Lengkosambi village. The area, 1,600 kilometers east of Jakarta, is in Ngada district, part of Ende archdiocese. The youngest of five children of Rafael Ranggo and Mathilde Mandi, he was ordained a Divine Word priest on August 8, 2004, and sent as a missioner to the Philippines in 2005.
Brother Atalema said that Ende province, the home of the slain priest, has disseminated news about Father Madhu's murder to all Divine Word communities and diocesan centers on Flores and Timor islands. "We ask all to offer special Holy Masses for the late Father Madhu," he said.
The murder shocked local Catholics because it is the first among Florinese and Timorese missioners working overseas. About 20 Divine Word priests from Flores and neighboring Timor work or study in the Philippines. Seven are serving in the Philippine Northern Province of the Society of the Divine Word.
Local media highlighted the assassination, while the Ende chapter of state-owned Radio Republik Indonesia broadcast reports across Flores Island.
Brother Atalema told UCA News he found groups of people crowding the house in Wewolaci hamlet where Father Madhu's parents live. "When we arrived, they all were mourning and praying," he said. Brother Atalema and Divine Word Father Maxi Seno, who is from Lengkosambi village, visited the family on April 2 officially to inform the family about the tragic death of the priest.
"Rafael Ranggo, Father Madhu's 70-year-old father, came out of his zinc-roofed, bamboo-walled house to welcome us," Brother Atalema recalled. "He looked strong and resolved. After starring at us in silence for several seconds, he told us, 'Perhaps it is his time to die.'"
After Brother Atalema spoke with the family, they canceled their plan to send two members to attend the funeral in the Philippines. Instead, they asked that Father Madhu's body be returned to Indonesia for burial in Ende or at St. Paul Major Seminary in Ledalero, Flores, so as to visit his tomb easily.
"I told them that our Ende province will pay the expenses for two of them to visit the Philippines," Brother Atalema said, "but in line with our rules, the province will not allow Father Madhu's body to be returned to Indonesia. Instead, he will be buried in the SVD cemetery in the place where he worked." The brother cited the precedent of European missioners dying in Indonesia but not being returned to their native countries.
According to Brother Atalema, "the incident will not change Ende province's policy and commitment to continue sending missionaries to the Philippines." Dominikus Lopi, a Catholic layman in Ende, told UCA News on April 3, "In my view, Father Fransiskus Madhu has become a Florinese martyr because he was killed while proclaiming the love of Christ."
"I remember him in my prayers, and may he resurrect together with Christ," said Lopi, who is also from Ngadha district.
This tragey, Lopi added, should make Catholics in Flores aware of the importance of giving their continuous prayer support for missioners overseas, especially those working in conflict areas.