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Testimony of Fr. Andrew Wong Sdb – 4 September 1999

It was 4th September 1999, 23 years ago, in East Timor, where we have our Provincial House, our vocational school, a boarding house for boys, in the capital city of Dili...

It was the month in which the last moment of the war between Indonesia and East Timor took place.

Many houses, schools and government buildings were destroyed. Several people were killed. Electricity was cut off. Our home became a place of refuge for our parishioners and other Timorese from other parishes and various parts of the capital. We were about 10,000 people inside our large compound.

That same morning of 4th September, a soldier from the Indonesian army came to me and told me that at night a group of army special forces would attack us and kill us all. The soldier was a friend of mine who sometimes met me to talk.

I asked him why we were going to be massacred? He said the reason was that we had several men in our house whom the soldiers were looking for because they were connected with the Timorese guerrillas.

His last words were: “Father, you must protect yourself by any means possible. This group of special forces is cruel and will kill you all." He left and I never saw him until now.

We called the heads of families to discuss how we could defend ourselves. The men said they had machetes and spears. But what could they do with soldiers who had heavy weapons and grenades? In the end we all agreed that we, priests, four Salesian priests and one coadjutor, would negotiate when the soldiers arrived. We would open our iron gate and talk to the soldiers.

The heads of families and their families were supposed to stand a bit away from us and watch what would happen. If they saw us standing and talking to the soldiers, they had to remain calm. If they saw us falling, that is, if we were being shot at, then they and their families had to run towards the wall of our house, climb the wall and run towards the nearby hills. Everyone agreed on this decision.

The whole afternoon was spent building ladders so that the elderly, children and women could easily climb the wall and run towards the hills in case the negotiations failed. At 6 pm, our community director gathered all the people together and gave the general absolution. There was no time for individual confession.

Everyone felt the tension in the house. We continued to assure people to be calm. Deep inside me, I was sure that we would die and that the negotiation would never happen. But I continued to assure people of our safety and that we had to continue to pray. We exposed the Blessed Sacrament for a while and then hid the Eucharist in a safe place in the convent.

Around midnight, the director and I were taking our turn waiting for the soldiers to arrive. The others were lying down somewhere. Suddenly, we heard military trucks coming and the soldiers jumped out of the trucks and ran towards our gate. The event was so fast. Before we could even open our iron gate according to plan, the soldiers started shooting at the gate.

The impact of the bullets hitting our iron gate was so strong that the Director and I fell to the ground without opening the gate. I thought I had been hit but when I touched my body, there was no blood. I was still alive. I looked at the warden. He was also down on the floor but there was no blood. We were both still alive.

Then a grenade was thrown from the other side. It fell right in front of my head. It didn't explode.

The other confreres and the people saw what happened to us. It was not according to our plan. The gate was closed. But we were on the ground so there was great confusion in the compound. The soldiers kept firing. Everyone was crying and no one could move or run because of the great fear and confusion. There was total chaos.

Suddenly, we all heard a woman's voice from the gate. It was a simple voice, loud enough for many of us who were standing near the gate to hear. She said, "Enough, enough. Go home!" Of course, the words were in the language of the soldiers, the Indonesian language. At that time, we all knew the Indonesian language.

Believe it or not, suddenly the chaos stopped. The soldiers stopped running towards our house. They couldn't open the gate. And then we heard the military trucks leave; the people stopped shouting and crying. There was suddenly an inexplicable calm and silence.

Standing on the ground, I looked at the director and told him: "Thank God, the Ursuline Sisters saved us and prevented the Indonesian soldiers from killing us."

The Ursuline sisters were Indonesian and stayed in their convent. They did not come to our place with the Timorese people. I told the director that we had to get up and go to their convent to thank them.

He told me it was better to wait until the next morning. We were all tired, scared, shocked and it was better to sleep until morning. It was three o'clock in the morning.

Around six o'clock that morning, 5th September, the director and I ran to the Ursuline Sisters' convent. When we opened our gate, we saw all the bullets on the ground. When we arrived at the convent, we wanted to speak to the nuns to thank them for saving us that night.

The nuns were so surprised and almost began to cry. One sister said, "Father, we were so afraid last night. So, we stayed in one room together. We also heard the voice. It wasn't our voice. It wasn't our voice."

The Director and I fell to our knees in tears and thanked God for the intervention of our heavenly Mother. We believed it was Our Lady who had stopped the soldiers and saved us from the massacre.

Fr. Andrew wong, Sdb


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