01/29/2020, 14.02
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Indonesia officially invites Pope Francis to visit the country

by Mathias Hariyadi

Rumours were flying around the country about a possible papal visit in September 2020. An unofficial letter of invitation has been circulating on social media signed by Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Many people want to know as soon as possible when the solemn Eucharistic celebration led by the pontiff will take place.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – After days of uncertainty, the Indonesian government has officially invited Pope Francis to visit the Southeast Asian country.

“Yesterday, 28 January 2020, I personally delivered a letter of invitation to Card Piero Parolin at the Vatican Secretariat of State” (pictured), Indonesian Ambassador to the Holy See HE Antonius Agus Sriyono told AsiaNews.

In the note, Indonesia expresses its wish to host the pontiff during his apostolic journey next September.

Rumours have been flying around the country about a possible papal visit, fuelled by some remarks made on 20 January by Yahya Cholil Staquf, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), the largest moderate Islamic organisation in the country and the world.

Yahya met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on 15 January along with other religious leaders to discuss the importance of social activism in dealing with interfaith conflict.

The high-ranking NU official spoke to Indonesian media saying that the pontiff had told him that he planned to make an apostolic visit to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor (Timor Leste) in September.

Following Yahya's statement, an unofficial letter of invitation began circulating on social media signed by Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.

Contacted by AsiaNews at the time, Ambassador Sriyono had said that “discussions are underway but the matter is still confidential.”

After eagerly waiting for days, Indonesian Catholics obtained confirmation this morning. Although no official date has been set, they will be able to welcome Pope Francis in the near future.

The enthusiasm among men and women religious as well as the faithful has found an outlet on Sesawi.net, a Catholic news portal.

Reacting to the announcement, many want to know as soon as possible when the solemn Eucharistic celebration led by the pontiff and the leaders of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia (KWI) will take place.

“We strongly hope that everything will run smoothly and well planned,” said Fr August Surianto Himawan, KWI human services director.

In the world’s most populous Muslim country, Catholics are a small minority. According to government statistics, they number around 7.5 million or just under 3 per cent of the population.

Still, the Indonesian Church is very active thanks to its leaders and the great participation of its members to religious activities.

Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Indonesia after Paul VI in 1970 and Saint John Paul II in 1989.

In Jakarta, the Polish pope celebrated Mass with over 110,000 people in the Istora Senayan Stadium. He also led a service in an open airfield in Yogyakarta that belonged to the Indonesian Air Force Academy and another on Flores Island, where most residents are Catholic.

Joy among local Catholics for a possible visit of Pope Francis follows the appointment of KWI president Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta as cardinal five months ago.

Speaking about the pontiff’s appointment, the new cardinal explained that the Holy See had been monitoring and 'evaluating' the Indonesian Catholic Church for a long time, which “is seen as a good model for every Church in the world, for how to practise the Christian faith by promoting peace, tolerance, and a spirit of compassion towards others.”

In June 2019, the pontiff called on Indonesia’s 37 prelates, who were in the Vatican for their ad limina apostolorum visit, to teach and promote the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, which he signed in Abu Dhabi together with the Great Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyib, in February 2019.

Pope Francis told the cardinal that Indonesia is the most representative place where human fraternity between different religious groups is put into practice; in particular, between moderate Muslims and Christians.

Following the Pope's suggestion, the bishops focused on the Abu Dhabi Declaration at their annual conference last November.

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