11/09/2020, 15.26
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A bishop and three priests die of COVID-19 in the Diocese of Sibolga, Sumatra

by Mathias Hariyadi

Archbishop Anicetus Bongsu Sinaga OFMCap, 79, is the first Indonesian prelate to die in the pandemic. He was the first bishop of the Diocese of Sibolga, ordained in Rome by John Paul II on 6 January 1981.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – COVID-19 has devastated the Diocese of Sibolga, North Sumatra province, causing the death of an archbishop and three priests in October and November.

Bishop Anicetus Bongsu Sinaga OFMCap, 79, is COVID-19’s latest casualty. He is the first Indonesian prelate to die in the pandemic. On 20 October, it was reported that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The prelate, a Capuchin, was the Archbishop Emeritus of Medan and the current apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Sibolga, both in North Sumatra province.

He died Saturday night at the Saint Elisabeth hospital in Medan after two weeks of hospitalisation for COVID-19.

He was the first bishop of the Diocese of Sibolga, ordained in Rome by John Paul II on 6 January 1981.

From Sibolga to Medan

His mandate in the Diocese of Sibolga ended in 2004 when he was chosen as coadjutor bishop of the Archdiocese of Medan, where he became archbishop in 2009, replacing Archbishop Alfred Gonti Pius Datubara OFMCap who had reached the mandatory retirement age.

Archbishop Sinaga himself resigned due to age, which Pope Francis approved on 8 December 2018.

A few weeks later, Bishop Ludovicus Simanullang OFMCap of Sibolga died of a heart attack and the Holy See appointed Sinaga as apostolic administrator to his former diocese.

Archbishop Sinaga is the author a book on the Toba spirituality, published by the Catholic University of Leuven titled The Toba-Batak High God: Transcendence and Immanence.

Sinaga’s successor, Archbishop Kornelius Sipayung OFMCap, will celebrate a Requiem Mass in Medan cathedral.

His final resting place will be in Sibolga, 10 hours from Medan, where he will be buried next Tuesday, on the grounds of the Aek Tolang minor seminary, after local Catholics will have had the opportunity to pay tribute to this charismatic leader.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Hermawi Taslim, a Catholic lawyer turned politician in Jakarta and a native of the tiny island of Tello, South Nias, Diocese of Sibolga, said that the late archbishop was concerned about two main things: “The quality of education among local teachers, which he had always promoted, and the quality of the Church's infrastructure serving the people”.

Three other priests

Last Friday, a day before the archbishop’s death, Fr Barnabas Johan Winkler OFMCap (picture 2) also died from COVID-19 in the same hospital at the age of 89.

The German-born Capuchin missionary was administrator of the Diocese of Sibolga from 2003 to 2007; and years earlier he had been the Capuchin provincial for the custody of Sibolga.

Another Capuchin priest died of COVID-19 on 29 October. Fr Theophile Odenthal OFMCap (picture 3) passed away in the same hospital due to COVID-19. He was 86.

Both priests were buried in the Aek Tolang minor seminary in Sibolga.

On 10 October, Fr Servatius Sihotang OFMCap (picture 4) died of COVID-19 at the age of 47.

The current archbishop of Medan, Kornelius Sipayung OFMCap, is the first Indonesian prelate to have successfully recovered from COVID-19. He tested positive for the coronavirus in July but recovered very quickly due to his young age (50).

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