06/26/2020, 16.53
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Bishop Sunarka’s good relations with Muslim scholars

by Mathias Hariyadi

The bishop died today in Saint Elisabeth Semarang. It is relatively unknown that he has also found ways to find financial sources from foreign donors to help a Muslim scholar obtain a postgraduate diploma. Not only in Islamic studies but also in other social sciences.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - There is no need to become a specialist in Islamic studies to cultivate good relations with Muslim communities in the diocese of Purwokerto in Central Java.

Bishop Julianus Sunarka SJ invested himself personally to develop good relations with Muslims in his diocese of Purwokerto during his term as bishop (2000-2016).

He showed sympathy and compassion for Muslims

On every occasion when local Muslims organized events and initiatives he was content to introduce himself and to be there to show his strong commitment to cultivating good relations with them.

Indro Suprobo, a passionate writer from Yogyakarta, married to a local Muslim woman from Purwokerto, always remembers this of Bishop Sunarka. He never hesitated to pray with their Muslim friends and even entered a local mosque to pray for a deceased woman. "Surprised, someone wondered why a Catholic bishop would have the courage to pray with us inside the mosque for the deceased woman," writes Suprobo, recalling an extraordinary moment he personally saw in 2013.

The deceased was a close relative of a local pesantren (an educational college for children and teenagers under the leadership of a charismatic leader). And showing his closeness and compassion, Bishop Sunarka paid homage and consideration to the family of the deceased.

But this was not an isolated act. It is relatively unknown to most local Catholics that he also found ways to find financial sources from foreign donors to help a local Muslim scholar in Purwokerto obtain a postgraduate diploma. Not only in Islamic studies but also in other social sciences. This happened in Purwokerto in 2008 to Ulul Huda MA, a young Muslim cleric.

“Bishop Sunarka SJ was truly a charismatic Catholic leader with a strong passion for maintaining good relations with the Muslim community. He was also my foster parent," Ulul Huda reminds AsiaNews.

In 2008, Huda's mother was seriously ill and Bishop Sunarka provided funds to take care of the deceased mother. "As soon as my mother died, Bishop Sunarka provided me with the funds to motivate me to obtain the postgraduate study program at Unsoed University in Purwokerto. When I finally got my master's degree, he told me to get a doctorate in France. But I could go abroad because I also had a baby then." And a week ago, he said again, Bishop Sunarka contacted him to find out about his current family issues.

Speaking from Purwokerto, Dr. Kiai Hajj Moh. Roqib MA, an eminent Muslim figure and leader of a local pesantren, said his personal relationship with Bishop almost as "annoying". "He often made impromptu visits to my home and often also made a courtesy visit to the residential house," says this head of the State's Institute of Islamic Religion in Purwokerto, current head of the Banyumas Interfaith Forum.

In 2010 the bishop helped him to found his Mahasiswa An Najah Pesantren, also in Purwokerto.

“For me, his exceptional gestures were always authentic, they fueled friendship with everyone who met him. Not only did he know the Holy Scriptures, but he practiced the central message of the Bible in the way he spoke, moved and behaved. For us, this type of model in the Catholic Church is very special. He could treat everyone with great respect and love without preferential gestures based on ethnicity or religion. He was truly an excellent Catholic bishop."

This type of behavior was indicated by Bishop Sunarka to his seminarians. He ordered them to graduate after being ordained priests.

Promoting the studies of priests and seminarians

Fr. Handi Setyanto is a diocesan priest from the diocese of Purwokerto. He is also atealented puppeteer, thus Bishop Sunarka asked him to continue his postgraduate studies at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in Yogyakarta to deepen things related to Javanese and Indonesian cultures. At the moment, Fr. Setyanto is the most important "dalang" (the master of puppets) in the country and uses history and biblical figures to carry out catechesis.

Bishop Julianus Sunarka SJ died today in Saint Elisabeth Semar.

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