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Oblate Highlights: Fr. Charles Burrows, OMI

 Abril Villarreal-Medina
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Father Charles Patrick Burrows, OMI was born and raised in Ireland.  The missionary priest moved to Indonesia nearly 45 years ago in hopes to alleviate the extreme poverty in Central Java province’s Cilacap Regency.  Since that time he has made an incredible difference in the lives of countless people.

Much of Fr. Burrows’ work focuses on the poverty-stricken people of the area.  In 1976 he founded the Social Foundation for Welfare Promotion, a program meant to construct irrigation, housing, roads and other labor-intensive projects.  In 1983 he set up Yayasan Sosial Bina Sejahtera, a non-governmental organization that has helped over 25 schools.  He has set up training centers and taught the people of his community how to preserve fish and grow vegetables.

In 2012 he was selected to receive the Maafif Award, an honor for individuals who distinguish themselves in promoting development and community integration in Indonesia.  He was only the third Catholic priest to receive the prestigious award.

But one of Fr. Burrows’ ministries has proven that he will do anything and go anywhere for people in need:  he offers counsel to inmates on death row.

His prison ministry began by visiting Catholic inmates and simply offering an open mind and heart to the prisoners.  But he didn’t stop there – he offered counsel to any prisoner, no matter their religious beliefs.  “I’m a Catholic,” he said, “but I feel honored to counsel people from other religions.”

Indonesia strictly enforces executions of convicted drug offenders, despite prevalent criticism.  And Fr. Burrows, who opposes the death penalty, has spent much of his time campaigning against the policy.  He testified against the law before the Constitutional Court in Jakarta, claiming the firing-squad executions were a form of torture.  Despite his efforts, his protests have fallen on deaf ears.

Father Burrows refuses to let the inmates on death row feel alone.  “They can’t choose how they die, but at least let them die in dignity,” he said.  He spends the hours before the executions talking to the inmates and offering comfort to them.

He has witnessed first hand the pain and suffering of these men and women, describing the moans and cries of the convicted before they take their last breaths.  “The first time, it was seven to eight minutes, and then there were some of the other times it was 15 minutes…” he said.  But today, because of the protests and criticism, religious leaders are no longer allowed to accompany the inmates to the “shooting place.”

Father Burrows won’t give up.  He will continue to offer his support to the inmates on death row while fighting to bring them justice.  “The injustice already done cannot be reversed,” he said.  “But there is still hope that it won’t be compounded.”

Original story & images provided by Mike Viola at Missionary Associates of Mary Immaculate.