JAKARTA, Indonesia — Bishop John Saklil of Timika, Indonesia, known for his staunch commitment to upholding the rights of the indigenous people of Papua and New Guinea died suddenly Aug. 3 at the age of 59.
Saklil’s death occurred a week after Pope Francis appointed him as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Merauke, Indonesia, following the dismissal of Bishop Nicolaus Seputra for alleged mismanagement, ucanews.com reported.
Father Dominikus Hodo, head of priests for the Timika Diocese said Saklil, who was known to suffer from diabetes, collapsed as he was about to leave for a lunch appointment.
The bishop’s driver and a priest took him to the nearest hospital in Timika, where he died soon after, Hodo said.
The bishop had returned from the Merauke Archdiocese two days previously where he had assumed the role as its apostolic administrator.
“I ask all Catholics and Papuans to continue his struggle to defend human rights,” Hodo said.
Saklil was known for speaking out against human rights abuses and government policies that adversely affected indigenous Papuans in eastern Indonesia.
In July he disapproved of a decision by local authorities to withdraw state teachers from private schools, saying the move would harm the education of indigenous Papuan children.
He also often condemned the killings of Papuans by security forces, and repeatedly called on the indigenous community not to sell their ancestral lands to outsiders.
Ronny Nakiaya, 35, a parishioner from Timika, told ucanews.com that people were shocked by the prelate’s death.
“People loved him. He was a warrior for Papuans,” he said.
“We find it hard to believe that he’s died. We’ve lost a figure who had a heart for Papuans. There are not many religious leaders like him,” he added.
Father John Djonga, a human rights activist and a priest in neighboring Jayapura Diocese, called Saklil’s death a loss amid the struggle against human rights violations in Indonesia’s poorest region.
“Another Papuan leader has had to leave so quickly. This will be a challenge for the people of Papua,” he said.
Frits Ramandey of the National Commission on Human Rights of Papua, said Saklil was a figure “always at the forefront of defending the rights of people marginalized economically and socially, and denied their rights to education and health care.”
Saklil became the first bishop of Timika Diocese when it was formed in 2004 from the Diocese of Jayapura.
He was a member of the bishops’ conference board representing the Papua region and chair of its socio-economic empowerment commission.
Between 2009 and 2015 he was chairman of the bishops’ youth commission, where he oversaw the first Indonesian Youth Day event in Sanggau, Kalimantan.
A funeral Mass is set for Aug. 7 with Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta, president of the Indonesian bishops’ conference, presiding.
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