An Italian laywoman and a Dutch-born priest were among the winners of this year's Culture Awards, presented by the Indonesian government in recognition of their "outstanding contribution to strengthening the nation's character." Valeria Martano, a Community of Sant'Egidio
member, and Capuchin Father Leonardus Egidius Joosten Ginting Suka, a retired priest who has lived in North Sumatra province since 1971, received their awards from the Education and Culture Ministry on Sept. 26 during a ceremony in Jakarta. Martano, 62, was recognized for having promoted interreligious dialogue in Indonesia since 1990. This has included initiating talks with Indonesian Muslim leaders, helping organize international summits on religious harmony and peace in Jakarta and Rome, Italy, and contributing to the signing of an agreement between Sant'Egidio and Indonesia's second largest Islamic organization, Muhammadiyah
, to work together for the benefit of humanity. Father Joosten, 76, won an award for helping preserve the culture of both the Batak Toba and Batak Karo tribal people in North Sumatra. This included building museums to showcase their culture.
Capuchin Father Leonardus Egidius Joosten Ginting Suka holds his award. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)
They were among 51 recipients of the award, which have been given out since 2012 to individuals, communities and local administrations who have contributed in helping preserve, nurture, and develop national and regional cultural identities. "The award is important for the Community of Sant'Egidio. It's a motivation for young people to bring the message of peace to those who are marginalized and poor," Martano told ucanews.com. She said the community has been committed to promoting interreligious dialogue since 1986 when Pope St. John Paul II organized the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy. "He taught us that every religion in the world promotes peace. His teaching, inherited by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, gives us the spirit to bring peace to our brothers and sisters from different religious background," she said. She said she has a great admiration for Indonesia for its pluralistic principles. "Pluralism is the foundation of our Christian faith. Such a concept must be strengthened," she said. Father Joosten, who chose to serve as a missionary in North Sumatra
because of his admiration for the region's cultural richness, saw Indonesia's cultural diversity as something extraordinary. "They are all original and unique. It would be unfortunate if we fail to preserve them. That's why I want to do so," said the priest, who became an Indonesian citizen in 1994.
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