Cosmas Balalembang is a 53-year-old Catholic layman who serves as a sacristan at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, capital of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province.
On Palm Sunday morning, April 28, 2021, he prevented two suicide bombers—newlyweds linked to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah network, which is affiliated with ISIS—from entering the cathedral’s compound.
The assailants blew themselves up, injuring 20 people. The sacristan Cosmas spoke with Aid to the Church in Need:
“I was helping a team of car and motorbike parking attendants when the incident occurred. I sensed something was wrong.
“I saw two people—a man and a woman who wore a veil—riding a motorbike back and forth in front of the cathedral. The woman was carrying a backpack. Then they quickly approached the cathedral.
“I stopped them when they tried to enter the cathedral’s main gate. I stood before them, only three feet away. Suddenly, there was an explosion.
“Before they rode a motorbike toward the cathedral’s compound, I saw them sitting on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral. I just thought they were resting.
“They left not long after the second Palm Sunday Mass had finished. I could not tell where they had gone.
“Some parishioners came in and out of the cathedral before the explosion. Those who were supposed to attend the third Mass stood six feet away from the cathedral’s main gate in observance of health protocols.”
“Usually, there are people from different religious backgrounds, including Muslims, who help protect the cathedral during Holy Week celebrations. But what made me curious was that the woman wore a veil. All I had to do was to prevent the couple from entering the cathedral’s compound.
“I suffered from burn wounds on my face, chest, hands, and legs because of the powerful explosion. I did not know what had hit me. I just felt something was burning. It was very hot. And blood poured out of my wounds.
“Yet, I still could stand. My heart said: ‘God, please help me. I am burning.’ My nephew quickly took me to the rectory. There he used coffee powder to cover my burns and stop the bleeding.
“I was then taken by police to Stella Maris Hospital, which is located close to the cathedral. After being cleaned up, doctors took an x-ray. Thanks be to God, there was no internal problem. There was only some internal swelling, which was not too serious.
“In the afternoon, I was admitted to Bhayangkara Hospital for further treatment. I had a minor operation to heal my burns. I was treated there for 19 days. I still need to undergo a medical check-up at least once a week, though. I hope that God will heal me soon so that I can re-start serving as a sacristan.
“I believe this is a miracle. I could have been devastated because of the powerful explosion. I thank God for his grace. The incident, in fact, increased my faith in God.”