1999-02-11 00:00:00

Father Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya, a nationally awarded social worker, educator, novelist and architect, died from a heart attack during a seminar in Jakarta on Feb. 10 at the age of 70.

Father Mangunwijaya collapsed as the seminar on books, sciences and technology was about to break for lunch at Le Meridien Hotel in Central Jakarta, where the seminar was being held.

A doctor at the hotel pronounced him dead but advised seminar organizers to rush him to a nearby cardiac hospital.

The late Father Mangunwijaya was at the seminar to speak on the urgent need to consider faith and morality in publishing books.

Wahyu Susilo, a Catholic at Solidaritas Perempuan (women´s solidarity), told UCA News that the sudden death of Father Mangunwijaya is a loss not only for the Indonesian Catholic Church but for the whole society.

"We are losing a priest who was deeply concerned with the oppressed," said the layman, who, as a student in the 1980s, joined Father Mangunwijaya when the priest organized a protest against land appropriation for the World Bank-funded Kedung Ombo dam project in Central Java.

Kartini Nurdin, a Muslim on the staff of Obor Torch book foundation, which organized the seminar, told UCA News that the foundation has lost an inspirer.

Obor consulted the late priest for books deserving publication, and he often took part in nominating authors for the annual Obor award, Nurdin said.

Born in 1929 in Ambarawa, Central Java, Father Mangunwijaya went to technical high school and was active in the 1947-1948 war against the Dutch who sought to recolonize the newly independent Indonesia.

After being ordained a priest in 1959, he was sent by Semarang archdiocese to study architecture in Aachen, Germany.

Last year, to mark National Technology Awakening Day Aug. 10, President Bacharudin Jusuf Habibie awarded the Catholic priest the Kalyanakretya (superior work) Medal for his contribution to architectural technology. Earlier, the association of Indonesian architects awarded him twice.

In the 1970s Father Mangunwijaya was involved in a social work project initiated by the Java Protestant Church to help scavengers build simple, clean homes at the bank of the Code River in Yogyakarta.

The interreligious collaboration known as the Code River project earned the priest a human rights award in 1986 from the Jakarta-based Indonesian legal aid institute, and another award in 1995 from the Aga Khan international Islamic foundation based in Geneva.

The Aga Khan Award committee cited the priest for developing housing for poor Muslims in the predominantly Muslim country.

In the late 1980s when the Yogyakarta provincial government planned to demolish the river bank housing, Father Mangunwijaya launched a hunger strike protest. A Muslim leader from East Java came to join him, sparking wide sympathy, and the government backed down.

In the field of literature Father Mangunwijaya won Thailand´s Queen Sirikit Southeast Asia Literature Award in 1981 for his novel "Burung-burung Manyar" (weaver birds). He produced five novels besides essays on various issues ranging from religion to science and national life.

In 1996 he received the Netherlands-based Professor Teeuw Award in recognition of his contributions to Indonesian literature and culture.

His wide range of activities won him friends from various backgrounds. One of his close associates was Abdurrachman Wahid, the charismatic leader of the 32-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama (awakening of Islamic scholar), the largest Islamic organization in the country.

Within the Indonesian Catholic Church, Father Mangunwijaya was noted for his criticism of the Church´s association with the establishment. But he was also a staunch defender of the Church´s involvement in social apostolate.

In 1989 when a group of Muslim leaders in Yogyakarta presented the visiting Pope John Paul II with a book alleging forced conversion through the Catholic Church´s social apostolate, Father Mangunwijaya challenged them to prove it.


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