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Respected Indonesian Catholic writer dead at 70

Arswendo has been praised as an outstanding literary figure and journalist

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Respected Indonesian Catholic writer dead at 70

Jesuit Father Franciscus Xaverius Mudji Sutrisno (left) and another two priests lead a requiem Mass in St. Matthew the Evangelist church for writer and journalist Paulus Arswendo Atmowiloto on July 19. (Photo by F.X. Ismanto)

Indonesia has lost a well-known literary figure and senior journalist who was once jailed under former President Suharto for publishing a controversial poll said to have been insulting to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

Paulus Arswendo Atmowiloto, a Catholic, began his career in literature in 1971 when he published a short story titled “Sleko” — the name of a street near Tawang Railway Station in Semarang, capital of Central Java province — in the weekly magazine Bahari.

He wrote more than 50 short stories, poems and books, including Keluarga Cemara, which translates as Cemara’s Family.

The book highlighting the love of a humble family propelled him to fame as it was adapted into a television series that ran between 1990 and 2000.

His received the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Award for Culture, Communications and Literary Works in 1987.

And Arswendo served as chief editor of the weekly Monitor newspaper until its publishing license was revoked in 1990 by the then government of President Suharto after the tabloid published a poll on people most admired.

It rated Prophet Muhammad 11th among 50 names, which led him to him being sentenced to five-years imprisonment for insulting Islam.

Arswendo died of prostate cancer on July 19 in his residence in South Jakarta and was buried on July 20 following a requiem Mass.

Albertus Wibisono, his oldest son, told ucanews.com that his father was diagnosed with cancer in September 2018 and had undergone radiological treatment.

He was not able to communicate during his final two weeks of home treatment.

"But we all believed that he could feel our presence as he looked so happy when we played old songs … and, of course, Harta Berharga (Valuable Treasure), the soundtrack of Keluarga Cemara," Wibisono said.

"What my sisters and I keep in mind is a message which was always said by our father: 'be thankful for everything'."

Jesuit Father Franciscus Xaverius Mudji Sutrisno, who co-led the requiem Mass for Arswendo, said he pursued a "journalism of love and humanity".

"Family is the most valuable treasure and the most beautiful poem. When I listened to the lyrics of the soundtrack (of Keluarga Cemara) sung by teenagers during the requiem Mass, it was very touching," he told ucanews.com.

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