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Indonesia

PRIEST TELLS CATHOLICS TO REPENT FOR BACKING SOEHARTO REGIME

Updated: September 15, 1998 05:00 PM GMT
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A well-known priest has told Indonesian Catholics that they should atone for backing the repressive regime of former president Soeharto throughout his 32 years in power.

"It is time for Catholics to repent," Father Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya of Semarang archdiocese in northern central Java said at a seminar during a Catholic rally Sept. 6 in Jakarta marking 53 years of Indonesian independence.

Attended by some 10,000 Catholics from throughout Jakarta archdiocese, the rally, which began with a Mass, was jointly organized by a prayer group of Indonesian Catholic businessmen and the Promotio Humana foundation.

Father Mangunwijaya told the participants that about 80 percent of Indonesian Catholics voted for the ruling Golkar (Golongan Karya, "functional group"), Soeharto´s political machine during his New Order era.

Noting that Catholic politicians were the architects of Golkar, Father Mangunwijaya accused Catholics of backing Soeharto without reserve.

"It is regretful that Catholic politicians collaborated with Soeharto by supporting his invasion (of East Timor) and repressive measures that killed thousands of people in East Timor, Irian Jaya, Aceh, Lampung and Kalimantan," the 69-year-old priest said.

Catholic civil servants even berated the few priests who dared to criticize Soeharto´s repressive policies, he recalled, adding that Catholic politicians had followed the power holders rather than Gospel values.

He recounted that in the 1980s, when he and some 40 other priests from Yogyakarta sought to defend the rights of small farmers, "Catholic politicians condemned us, asking us to shut up and saying we did not understand politics."

The priests had petitioned the Central Java government to protect the farmers´ lands from inundation resulting from the Kedung Ombo Dam project funded by the World Bank.

Father Mangunwijaya noted that Catholics often argued that they had little choice but to support Soeharto because Catholics are a minority in Indonesia.

The strength of a minority, however, lies not in supporting the powerful but in upholding truth, countered the priest, who is known for his work among scavengers living along riverbanks in Yogyakarta in south central Java.

"If we are to be disciples of Christ, we should take the side of God and the truth. It is the truth that liberates us," Father Mangunwijaya stated.

"Let us not repeat supporting a repressive regime. Do not ever claim to defend Jesus Christ and the Church through conspiracy with Pontius Pilate," he warned.

Last Aug. 10, Father Mangunwijaya was one of two persons awarded the 1998 Kalyanakretya (superior work) 20-gram gold medal for his architectural designs, including those for the poor, by President B.J. Habibie. It was the Javanese priest´s sixth architecture award in 15 years.

A graduate of Rheinisch Westfaelische Technische Hochschule in Aachen, Germany, also Habibie´s alma mater, Father Mangunwijaya won the 1993 Southeast Asian Writer Award for his novel "Burung-burung Manyar" (weaver birds).

END

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