Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman worked for the poor and the environment. (Photo supplied)
Just hours before he died on Dec. 15, Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman still had time to comment on a WhatsApp group for Indonesian religious, where he asked them "not to keep money in banks that are indicated to be actively financing forest destruction, mining and palm oil."
"If religious people are serious, do not seek or accept grant assistance from a similar business," he wrote, replying to the group’s discussion on concrete steps that Indonesian religious should take in responding to Pope Francis’ Special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year from May 24 this year to May 24, 2021.
Father Alsis Goa Wonga, director of Indonesia’s Franciscan Commission on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), told UCA News that it was proof of the deceased priest’s serious attention to social justice, including ecological issues, which had always been a concern in his pastoral work.
“Even until the end of his life, he was still talking about it. His comments seem to give a message and testament that is both profound and challenging to the Indonesian Catholic Church and religious people,” he said.
He said Father Aman was a figure who was "critical of various problems related to issues of justice, peace and ecology and firmly voiced them."
The 58-year-old priest died in Yogyakarta on Dec. 15 after suffering a stroke in February. He had also resigned his post as a moral theology lecturer at the Jakarta-based Driyarkara School of Philosophy.
He was suspected of being infected with Covid-19 and his body was cremated. The official funeral ceremony for the priest will be held on Dec. 18 at a Franciscan cemetery in West Java
During his 29 years as a priest, Father Aman spent a lot of time working in the Franciscans' JPIC, where he was involved in supporting communities advocating against mining and forestry destruction of their environment. He led the movement at grassroots level as well as voicing problems directly to public officials.
When he was supporting locals in their fights against manganese mining companies in Manggarai district of East Nusa Tenggara province in 2008, he conducted hearings with local officials and officials in Jakarta.
When last year the central government was about to build a hotel in a Komodo dragons' habitat, he and activists met with Siti Nurbaya, the minister of environment and forestry, in an attempt to stop the development.
Divine Word Father Steph Tupeng Within, who had worked with him in the fight against a gold mining company in Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara province, from 2006-08, called Father Aman “a teacher in advocacy.”
"The people in Kedang and Leragere villages in Lembata will never forget Father Peter Aman's intervention when they went against district government and local lawmakers who saw mining as the solution for people’s welfare," he said.
Benediktus Jebabun, a young Catholic in Ruteng Diocese, described Father Aman “as a father figure who has inspired them.”
"He effectively motivated us to move with excitement,” said Jebabun, who is part of the Anti-Mining Community Association group initiated by Father Aman.
Fransiskus Borgias, a lecturer at Parahyangan University in Bandung, said Father Aman "really experienced and felt the cries of Mother Earth and the cries of the poor.”
"This is also what caused Father Peter Aman to speak out very loudly against the exploitation of nature wherever it happens," he said.
The priest wrote extensively in the media, including in JPIC-OFM's Gita Sang Surya magazine since it was launched in 2008. In each edition, he wrote commentaries on the Church's social teaching, from Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum to documents released by Pope Francis and how they are relevant to Indonesia.
Because of his broad insight, he was an observer for the Indonesian bishops' conference annual meetings, where he was also a member of one of the final document drafting teams.
Bishop Paskalis Bruno Syukur of Bogor, his classmate since their minor seminary years, said Father Aman "embodied the spirit of fighting for the rights of the poor, refugees and the sick and homeless."
“Advocating for justice and mining issues is a tireless pastoral work that he carried out throughout his life,” he told UCA News.
Meanwhile, Father Yohanes Kristoforus Tara, who once lived in the same convent as Father Aman, said he was loyal to living out his Franciscan spirituality, including the simplest things.
"He not only wants to do big things but also simple things in the community, like washing dishes and clearing the dining table," he said.