06/12/2010, 00.00
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Muslim award goes to Catholic priest for his work in favour of peace and the environment

by Mathias Hariyadi
Fr Vincentius Kirjito’s mission focuses on dialogue between Christianity and Islam and the preservation of the ecosystem of the Mount Merapi volcano. He and a Muslim involved in finances were selected for this year Ma’arif Award. “Faith is performed through deeds,” he said.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Fr Vincentius Kirjito has been made a recipient of the Ma’arif Award for his many years of work in favour of peace, inter-faith dialogue, environmental conservation and interpersonal harmony among people of different religions. “Frankly, I would have never thought that I would become a Ma’arif Award laureate,” Fr Vincentius said. Nevertheless, the 56-year-old priest is grateful. “Faith is performed through deeds and not just only through words or speeches,” he said.

Yesterday, in Jakarta, he and Habib Ali al-Habsy, head of the Consortium of Shariah Economy Societies and founder of four Sharia-based micro-finance companies, received the award, which is named after a Muslim leader, Ahmad Syafii Ma’arif, a former chairman of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organisation.

Fr Vincentius Kirjito Pr (pictured with Card Jean-Louis Tauran) was born on 18 November 1953 in Kulon Progo Regency, Yogyakarta province. He was ordained on 25 January 1984 and began his mission as a parish priest in a farming region. For five years now, he has promoted basic education about the environment and culture of Mount Merapi, one of the most active and dangerous volcanoes in Central Java.

In Javanese society, Mount Merapi is seen both as a curse and a blessing. From the top of its 2,698 metres, the volcano has wiped out hundreds of lives and dozens of villages. In the past century, it has erupted on several occasions with devastating consequences, most notably in 1930, 1994, 1998, 2001 and 2003. At the same time, the volcano has been a source of popular legends and myths, and one of the island’s best-known tourist attractions, as well as a source of a valuable material, volcanic sand.

For ages, locals have dug its slopes using traditional methods. However, in the last decade multinationals have tried to muscle their way in, changing the traditional balance with increasingly big sand-mining projects.

In the past 12 years, Fr Kirjito’s presence has been a blessing for the residents of the mountain slopes, Muslim and Christians alike. He has helped them better defend their rights and taught them how to adopt a sustainable development strategy for their territory. He has done all this whilst promoting evangelisation, inter-faith dialogue and peace.

His work is appreciated by Muslims as well. Last year, when he celebrated 25 years of priesthood, leaders of other religious groups took part in the festivities, held in the diocese of Semaramng. On that occasion, Muslim Rebana songs and music were played by Asyiqin Nasyid under the direction of Sodiq Asnawi.

“Truth be told, I never thought I would get the Ma’arif Prize,” Fr Kirjito told AsiaNews. “Still, I thank everyone” for the award.

“Being a churchman with a mission in rural areas,” he said, means, “becoming an effective communicator with everyone.” Indeed, “Faith is performed through deeds and not just only through words or speeches.”

Hermawan Kertajaya, a marketing expert and president of World Marketing Associations, said that after he met Fr Kirjito he found ways to launch initiatives in cooperation with locals.

For him, the priest has done excellent pastoral work, promoting peace, a sense of tolerance and compassion, regardless of religious affiliation.

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