Outspoken Papuan prelate dies at 59

Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika will be remembered as a staunch defender of the rights of indigenous Papuans
Outspoken Papuan prelate dies at 59

Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika will be remembered as a staunch human rights defender. (Photo courtesy of Dokpen KWI)

Indonesian Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika known for his staunch commitment to upholding the rights of the indigenous people of Papua has died suddenly at the age of 59.

Bishop Saklil died on Aug. 3 a week after being appointed apostolic administrator of Merauke Archdiocese by the Vatican, following the dismissal of Sacred Heart Bishop Nicolaus Adi Seputra for alleged mismanagement.

Father Dominikus Hodo, head of the Timika diocesan priests said Bishop Saklil, who was known to suffer from diabetes, collapsed as he was about to head for a lunch appointment.

The bishop’s driver and a priest took him to the nearest hospital in Timika, in Papua’s Mimika Regency, where he died soon after, Father Hodo said.

The bishop had returned from Merauke Archdiocese two days previously where he had assumed the role as its apostolic administrator.

"I ask all Catholics and Papuans to continue his struggle to defend human rights,” Father Hodo said.

Bishop Saklil was known for speaking out against human rights abuses and government policies that adversely affected indigenous Papuans.

Last month, he condemned local authorities for withdrawing state teachers from private schools, which he said would harm the education of indigenous Papuan children.

He also often condemned the killings of Papuans by security forces, and repeatedly called on the indigenous community not to sell their ancestral lands to outsiders.

Ronny Nakiaya, 35, a parishioner from Timika said the people were deeply shocked by the prelate’s death.

"People loved him. He was a warrior for Papuans," he said.

"We find it hard to believe that he’s died. We’ve lost a figure who had a heart for Papuans. There are not many religious leaders like him,” he said.

Father John Djonga, a human rights activist called Bishop Saklil’s death a great loss amid the struggle against human rights violations in Indonesia’s poorest region region.

"Another Papuan leader has had to leave so quickly. This will be a challenge for the people of Papua,” he said.

Frits Ramandey, from the National Commission on Human Rights, said Bishop Saklil was a figure "always at the forefront of defending the rights of people marginalized economically and socially, and denied their rights to education and healthcare.”

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Bishop Saklil became the first bishop of Timika Diocese when it was formed in 2004, after being part of Jayapura Diocese.

He was a member of the bishops’ conference board representing the Papua region and chair of its socio-economic empowerment commission.

Between 2009-2015 he was chairman of the bishops’ youth commission, where he oversaw the first Indonesian Youth Day event in Sanggau, Kalimantan.

He will be buried on Aug. 7 in Timika Diocese’s cemetery, after a requiem Mass celebrated by bishops conference president, Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta.

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