Muslims and Catholics together for the 50th anniversary of ‘Romo Carolus’s priesthood (photos)
by Mathias Hariyadi

Fr Charles Patrick Burrows, 76, an Irish missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has been working in Cilacap district since 1973. “Being among people, talking to and working with people regardless of their ethnic and religious background are Fr Carolus’s natural qualities.”


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Fr Charles ‘Carolus’ Patrick Burrows (picture 1), an Irish missionary with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), marked 50 years of priesthood with celebrations that lasted two days and drew thousands of people, Catholics and Muslims,

The 76-year-old clergyman served for the past 46 years in Cilacap, southwestern Central Java province. Since 1973, when he arrived in Kampung Laut, he led several successful humanitarian projects, which earned him the recognition and the deep affection of the local population. In 1983, he became an Indonesian citizen and in 2012 he received the Ma’arif Award.

The missionary's work brought considerable development to the area. Before his arrival, locals were employed mainly in fishing in marshy areas. Since then, their life has changed radically, and they are now rice producers.

The work of the Dublin-born priest did not stop at farming but also touched infrastructure (such as dams and roads), education, professional training, and local small and medium business development.

The priest’s fete last week began with a Mass in the chapel of the Omi minor seminary in Cilacap. Romo (Father) Carolus led the service with two confreres, Fr Tarcisius Eko Saktio, provincial superior of the order in Indonesia, and Fr Vincent Watun, involved in Yayasan Sosial Bina Sejahtera (YSBS), the foundation set up by the Irish missionary in the 1980s to eradicate poverty. Some 29 OMI priests came to Cilacap from all over Indonesia for the occasion.

In his homily, Fr Carolus urged those present to do good deeds and engage in humanitarian works for the benefit of others. "Entering paradise will be your main reward," he said.

For YSBS member Trias Dwi Nugroho, the clergyman’s words not only reflect his deep faith, but also his encouragement to “Christians to put religious teachings into practice and not limit themselves to the sacramental aspects.” For him, "Being among people, talking to and working with people regardless of their ethnic and religious background are Fr Carolus’s natural qualities.”

Over the 46 years he spent in the mission in Cilacap district, the missionary worked with local authorities and ordinary people: fishermen, peasants, street vendors and anyone who needed practical help to improve their economic situation. For this reason, the fête’s organising committee included Catholics and Muslims. Likewise, many religious leaders were also present, including Gus Shoim, an important local cleric, who was the guest of honour on Friday evening.

Ganang, a Muslim mathematics teacher at Yos Sudarso High School in Sidareja (50 km from Cilacap), was also in attendance. "My students and colleagues are 90 per cent Muslim, but we are very happy to work in the Catholic school founded by Fr Charles.”

William Kwan, from the Jakarta-based Indonesian Creative Economy Initiative (Bekraf), spoke with AsiaNews about Fr Carolus and had only good things to say. “My first real contact with Fr Carolus was in March 2019. With a small team from KUMKM (Credit Union, Micro, Small and Middle Enterprises Agency), we came to see him in Cilacap to learn from the priest’s best practices [. . .] for the last 46 years” in order how to set up businesses.

“He is a tough guy” and “a good communicator.” He is also a good example of “how a Catholic priest” can “cement interfaith cooperation in society”.