Indonesia: Earthquake and good relations

Yogyakarta EarthquakeIt is a pity we need disasters to help us to respond honorably to our world.The earthquake around Yogyakarta put into the right perspective Australian relationships with Indonesia. Instead of accepting the artificial and destructive political context within which the Australian Government had located them, we can for a while recognise that they are better based in empathy common to our shared humanity. We recognise that, like us, Indonesians are fathers, mothers and children who are vulnerable, who cry out for help, and who cannot control the shape of life and death.


For many Australians, the earthquake became personal because it touched familiar people and places. So it affected the Jesuit brotherhood. Two Australian Jesuits were studying in Manila with Fr. Clemens Budiarta, parish priest of Wonosari, south of Yogyakarta. He awoke to hear that two of his three churches had been totally destroyed, as was the town market place. He then waited to learn how many people had been killed. In Yogyakarta itself, the Jesuit theological college was damaged, and its former Rector lost his mother and father.


Yogyakarta EarthquakeNews from Australians in Yogyakarta demonstrates the solidarity in hurt, bewildered and generous humanity that forms the natural basis for good relationships. A friend wrote: 


'The shake woke us up at around 6 am this morning, and we ran out onto the street with the rest of the residents on our street. I have been trying to contact people all day, but have had limited success, as I imagine everyone here is trying to do the same thing. A Timorese friend has a possible broken leg, but we don’t know yet as the hospital facilities are stretched to the max, and there are many people in much worse condition. The hospital we went to see him in was so full that you had to step over bloodied bodies lined up on the sides of the hallways. I have seen so much death today, and that is only in one hospital. The patients were even out in the gardens and car park. Those that got a bed or a bench to lie on were the lucky ones. Made me wish I had a medical degree so I could do something to help, but as there were already hordes of volunteers handing out water and biscuits all over the place, we gave blood and left.'


The scale of disasters like the earthquake demands that governments and agencies first address technical questions of how to provide food, shelter, medical care and support for many people. In the face of the technical and managerial language necessary to coordinate such complex tasks, it is hard to hold in mind the simple and confused human reality of such disasters. It always includes unavoidable harm and the gratuitous pain caused by rumours and panics. At every point, the poor are most vulnerable. The account continues:


'There was a scare this morning with everyone fearing a tsunami, and heading north in hordes. The roads were completely congested for a few hours with everyone panicking and looking behind them for the wall of water they were sure was coming. It’s been a difficult day to say the least, and we are among the lucky ones. For those of you that pray, people here sure need it. It seems that the worst hit were the poor that had unstable houses that collapsed on them.'


The solidarity, empathy and practical humanity evident in responses like these to the earthquake come at the end of a week in which the Australian Government intervened to inflict unmerited pain on David Wainggai. It denied him asylum to send a message about good relations. The contrast between building good relations by caring for people, as opposed to using people needs no comment.


Jesuit Mission has opened a fund to help those affected by the earthquake. Go to:            




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