Moluccas: in the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier, to revive Christian-Muslim dialogue
Ambon (AsiaNews) - The Nuncio to Indonesia Msgr. Antonio Guido Filipazzi, the diocesan bishop Msgr. Petrus Canisius Mandagi, hundreds of priests, nuns, faithful and the governor of the Moluccas, a Muslim, have attended the inauguration of a statue dedicated to St. Francis Xavier. The ceremony, which took place earlier this month at Amboina, was an opportunity to strengthen Christian-Muslim dialogue and relations between leaders of the two major religions, in an area that has long been a hotbed of sectarian violence. The monument is located in the village of Great Hative, about 10 km from the center of Ambon, to commemorate the evangelizing work of the Spanish Jesuit; promoters included the leaders of the diocese, in collaboration with the Association of Indonesian diocesan priests (UNIO Indonesia).
In its history and tradition, Amboina has provided a great contribution to mission, with a growing number of male and female vocations. Many of the candidates come from Tual, Tanimbar, Kei, small islands of the Moluccas whose population is 99% Catholic, the result of the missionary work of St. Francis Xavier who planted the seed of faith in the region. A significant fact considering that in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, Catholics are a small minority of about seven million people, about 3% of the population (3.6% in Jakarta).
Promoted by Bishop Mandagi, the inauguration of the statue saw the joint signature at the foot of the saint by the governor of the Moluccas and the apostolic nuncio, in front of hundreds of people from both faiths. Among those present were the Mayor of Ambon Richard Louhenapessy and other senior officials in the region.
Speaking on the sidelines of the ceremony, the governor of the Moluccas Said Asagaff thanked the diocese and UNIO Indonesia for promoting the event and having chosen Ambon as the place for the national conference. For the official Muslim "this is a great opportunity to bring all stakeholders together, including groups that deal with inter-religious dialogue, to strengthen the morale of the people and instill a spirit of tolerance". He added that "diversity is a blessing that should not be eliminated, but maintained and preserved".
Addressing those present, the apostolic nuncio said he was "extremely happy" for the presence of hundreds of priests and the governor of the Moluccas, whose participation confirms the intention to "cooperate with the Catholic Church in building up society". Satisfaction was also expressed by the Bishop, Msgr. Mandagi, who repeatedly stressed "the appreciation and support of the authorities of the government of Maluku and Ambon."
Between 1999 and 2001, a bloody war was fought between Christians (Protestants) and Muslims in Ambon in the Moluccas. There were thousands of victims; hundreds of churches and mosques destroyed; thousands of homes razed to the ground; nearly half a million refugees. In February 2002, a truce was signed between the two sides - Muslims and Christians are in equal number - signed in Malino, South Sulawesi, through a government led peace plan. However, the truce did not stop sporadic episodes of terror against innocent victims; among the various episodes the beheading of three girls on their way to school, at the hands of Islamic extremists in October 2005 sparked international outrage and condemnation. In recent years, the situation seems to have improved, with an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence that goes hand in hand with the natural beauty of these islands.