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Indonesian pioneer priest dies at 91

Father Gregorius Utomo launched social development projects and promoted Javanese culture

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Indonesian pioneer priest dies at 91

A Mass is held at the ‘temple’ in the compound of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish Church for Father Gregorius Utomo. (Photo courtesy of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Ganjuran)

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Diocesan Father Gregorius Utomo, who pioneered the Lenten Development Action (APP) movement and was a main driving force behind World Food Day celebrations within the Catholic Church in Indonesia, has died at the age of 91.

The Javanese cultural practitioner priest died after a short illness on Feb. 15 in a hospital in Yogyakarta. 

A funeral Mass led by Archbishop Robertus Rubiyatmoko of Semarang was celebrated on Feb. 17 at St. Paul Major Seminary's chapel in Kentungan of Sleman district, which was followed by a burial service in the seminary's cemetery.

Before his funeral, Father Utomo lay at a “temple” in the compound of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Ganjuran in Bantul district.

The priest served there for years and made the temple, which houses a statue of Jesus in Javanese clothes, a pilgrimage site through the introduction of a series of cultural activities.

Father Utomo was born in Bantul district on Feb. 17, 1929, and ordained a diocesan priest of Semarang Archdiocese in 1963.

He served as executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Socioeconomic Development, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Development and Social Research and chairman of the Cisarua-based Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Father Utomo also played a major part in building the Lenten Development Action movement following its establishment in Semarang Archdiocese in 1969.

He served as the archdiocese’s social representative to organize social development projects to help the poor during the Lenten season. The projects have continued since then. 

He also promoted Church World Food Day celebrations, which began in October 1990 when his Ganjuran parish church hosted an Asia-wide seminar for farmers to celebrate the international day.

The seminar resulted in the Declaration of Ganjuran, which encourages farmers to engage in sustainable farming that is ecologically sound, economically feasible, culturally adapted or rooted and socially just.

“He fought for food sovereignty by encouraging farmers to plant organic local rice by using compost instead of chemical fertilizer. The World Food Day celebrations [within the Catholic Church in Indonesia] are the fruits of his fight,” Archbishop Rubiyatmoko told UCA News.

The prelate said Father Utomo also strove to enliven Javanese cultural traditions. 

“He continued to develop his Ganjuran parish with a Javanese nuance. He made his parish’s temple ‘a monument of mission’ and a popular pilgrimage site in this country,” he said, adding that a Mass is held there on the first Friday of each month.

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