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Church Channels Clean Water For Mosque, Villagers


April 09 2007

Just before noon on March 11, Latifudin, 43, and his son Ma´ruf headed for the mushola, a small Muslim prayer room, in the town´s Wanasri hamlet. In front of the mushola, he turned on a water tap so he could perform wudhu, a ritual ablution before praying.

Since February, there has been no need for Muslims in the hamlet in Cilacap district, Central Java, to perform wudhu with water bailed from a 14-meter-deep well in front of Al Nabasy Mushola, or from their homes, when that well turns dusty during the dry season.

"This water is coming down from an artesian well in the hill. It is being channeled by the pipes contributed by Father Carolus," the imam (prayer leader) told UCA News after wudhu, as he prepared to enter the mushola following Ma´ruf´s azan (call to prayer) over a loudspeaker.

Oblate Father Charles Burrows, known locally as Father Carolus, is director and owner of the Social Foundation for Welfare Promotion (YSBS, Indonesian acronym), which handles irrigation, public housing, road building and other labor-intensive projects. He is also pastor of St. Stephanus Church of Cilacap, 290 kilometers southeast of Jakarta.

Since September, YSBS has installed about 500 meters of pipe from artesian wells. It also built a big basin, through which water spreads through smaller pipes to homes. Now, 35 families in the hilly and stony hamlet, along with the mushola, enjoy clean water. Wanasri has 400 families, all Muslim except for two Protestant families.

The project began one day in the 2006 dry season, when Latifudin climbed a hill to look for water. "I ran into Father Burrows, and asked him about pipes to channel the water," he told UCA News after prayer.

YSBS was involved with a road project, at the time, the priest said, but YSBS decided to help him after Latifudin described the significance of wudhu for Muslims.

"A Muslim must clean or wash himself before praying. It is a sin if he has looked at a pretty girl and become roused with eagerness for her. He must clean his eyes. He must wash his leg because it stepped wrongly. He must wash his ears for hearing bad stories," the priest recounted Latifudin´s reasoning.

"If I want to meet the village head, I wear good clothes. How is it possible to worship God when I am dirty with sins?" Latifudin continued.

At first, the priest said, Latifudin inquired about water only for wudhu, but eventually decided to share it with all villagers, most of who are farmers.

In the beginning people rejected the project, Father Carolus recalled Latifudin telling him, because they would not use any water contributed by a "pagan." But after Latifudin showed them a photo of the priest with a kiai (religious teacher) who directs a traditional Islamic education and training center in Cilacap, they changed their minds.

The Irish missioner provided money to buy 125 pipes. Before installation, Latifudin explained the plan to the villagers.

"The pipes were contributed by my father," he remembered telling the mushola. He called the priest his "father" because they have worked together for seven years, first in constructing the Oblate-pioneered National Maritime Academy in Cilacap in 1985, and now at Yos Sudarso Catholic Senior High School.

He also told people at the mushola: "Let us live in harmony. Not only you and I want to have God´s reward, but also the priest." The villagers then worked together to install the pipes. They built the basin by collecting money for cement and iron, Father Carolus told UCA News on March 8. YSBS provided stones, bricks and sand and assisted them in the project.

The labor-intensive project was funded by Misereor, the German Catholic bishops´ agency for development aid, the priest said. "It is simple, but also an interesting water project that creates interreligious harmony."

Latifudin, meanwhile, plans to build a second basin to help another 30 families. However, he will not seek financial aid from Father Carolus.

"I will have the villagers collect money. If they come up short, then I will ask the priest´s help," he explained.