Priests meet in Bogor to promote harmony and interfaith dialogue (photos)
by Mathias Hariyadi

The meeting attracted 174 priests from seven administrative units in Java, home to 557 of Indonesia’s 2,242 diocesan priests. For Fr Paulus Christian Siswantoko, president of Unio Indonesia, "The aim of this initiative is to create a 'new habitus' in society, including the Catholic community".

Sentul (AsiaNews) – As "men of communion", priests are called to establish "healthy relationships with their colleagues, the community of faithful and anyone who belongs to a different ethnic, cultural and religious group," said Mgr Paskalis Bruno Syukur, bishop of Bogor (West Java), during the Eucharistic celebration that opened a four-day meeting (18-21 September) for diocesan priests.

About 174 priests from seven administrative units in Java – Bogor, Bandung, Jakarta (West Java); Semarang and Purwokerto (Central Java); Surabaya and Malang (East Java) – came to the event, which is being held in Sentul (Bogor)

The meeting in Java, home to 557 of Indonesia’s 2,242 diocesan priests, focused on “[inter-faith] tolerance in a pluralistic society".

As the host diocese, the Church in Bogor showcased its initiatives in favour "harmony and dialogue" between various local communities, including the largest, the Muslim group.

"The meeting is taking place in Bogor because of the diocesan's ability to promote religious tolerance in Muslim majority West Java and in the Province of Banten," said Fr Paulus Christian Siswantoko, president of Unio Indonesia (forum of all Indonesian diocesan priests).

Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman, who is executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the laity (Komisi Kerawam Kwi), noted that "practices and topics are discussed so that each participant can be encouraged to establish good relations. The purpose of this initiative is to create 'a new habitus' in society, including the Catholic community."

Fr Ferry Sutrisna Widjaja, a priest from the Diocese of Bandung, likes the topics discussed at the gathering and the initiatives undertaken by the Church in Bogor, continuing the work of Dutch-born Mgr Paternus Nicholas Joannes Cornelius Geise, the diocese’s first bishop.

A trained anthropologist, the latter able to develop good relations with ethnic Baduy and local Muslims. He became famous in West Java for the establishment of the Catholic Parahyangan University in Bandung, the provincial capital.

"The university became a public space for socialisation and high education for everyone," said Fr Widjaja. Mgr Geise’s legacy continued with each of his successor as bishop of Bogor: Mgr Ignatius Harsono, Mgr Cosmas Michael Angkur and Mgr Syukur, the current bishop.

One of the participants in the meeting is Fr A. Joko Purwanto, from the diocese of Semarang (Central Java), who spoke about three Bogor priests – Fr Fabianus Heatubun, Fr Yohanes Driyanto, and Fr Mikael Endro Susanto – who are involved in various interfaith dialogue groups.

"Through organisations like Basolia and Bogor Sahabat, they want to make Bogor a peaceful place for the members of all religions,” said Fr Purwanto.

Bogor Mayor Bima Arya confirms that the city does not present particular problems in terms of communal coexistence.

The one exception is the "unresolved case" of the Protestant church of Yasmin, whose members have been the subject to intolerance in recent years at the hands of radical Muslims who object to the construction of their church and who have tried to disrupt their Sunday services.

(Fr Ferry Sutrisna Widjaja and Fr A Joko Purwanto contributed to this article).