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Last European missionary theologian dies in Indonesia

German-born Georg Ludwig Kirchberger devoted his life to teaching and forming students at SVD seminary in Flores

German theologian and Divine Word Missionary Father Georg Ludwig Kirchberger

German theologian and Divine Word Missionary Father Georg Ludwig Kirchberger (Photo supplied)

Published: June 06, 2023 11:46 AM GMT

Updated: June 06, 2023 12:28 PM GMT

A German-born theologian priest of the Divine Word Society who has been teaching theology at the largest seminary in Indonesia for nearly 50 years has passed away.

Georg Ludwig Kirchberger died at the age of 76 on June 5 at a local hospital in Maumere, Sikka Regency in the predominantly Catholic island of Flores.

His congregation reported that he had complications from hypertension and respiratory problems and had been in intensive care since the morning of June 4.

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The priest taught theology at the Ledalero Catholic Philosophy College which has now changed its name to the Ledalero Institute of Philosophy and Creative Technology (IFTK Ledalero) since 1976, a year after he arrived in Indonesia.

“He is the last European missionary to teach at IFTK Ledalero. We miss him very much,” Father Otto Gusti Madung, the campus rector told UCA News.

He said Kirchberger was an important figure for theological studies at the campus, which now has a master's program and other theology schools in Indonesia.

Kirchberger wrote a popular 739-page theology book, "Allah Menggugat" (God Sues), which became the handbook in seminaries and theological schools in Indonesia.

Madung recalled the priest as "a hard worker, diligent and very critical."

"He trained students to think critically and systematically and not just repeat what the lecturer says," he said.

Former students as well as Catholic laity who knew the priest remember him as a humble figure.

Robert Bala, a former student, said he remembered the priest's openness during discussions, even on subjects like the infallibility of the pope and the procedure for electing bishops in the Church.

“What was beautiful about him was that he raised and presented fundamental theological themes in very clear language," he said.

Bala referred to the priest and John Manford Prior, another European missionary teaching at Ledalero who died last year, as "foreigners who came and lived in Ledalero and wanted to be people who were much more Indonesianist than I am Indonesian."

Venansisu Haryanto, a former student who is currently studying doctoral studies at the University of Bonn, Germany, said he was very grateful to have been at Ledalero during Kirchberger’s four years of academic service.

“Farewell to the realm of immortals. You will always be remembered," he said.

Yakobus Jano, the layman who pioneered the Maumere-based Pintur Air Cooperative, which now has 300,000 members, mentioned the priest as one of the figures who from the start supported them by becoming a member in 2011.

“Many people joined after seeing him. He was a German priest from a rich country but still wanted to be a member of the cooperative," he said.

Kirchberger was born in Castle, Bavaria, Germany on May 27, 1947.

He joined the SVDs in 1967 and was ordained a priest in 1975 after studies at the Staatlich Anerkante Philosophisch-Theologische Hochshule St. Gabriel, Modling, Austria.


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