Indonesia can be beacon of religious freedom, Pope says

.- Pope Benedict XVI told Indonesia’s bishops Oct. 7 that their country can be a shining example of religious freedom for the rest of the world.

“Your country, so rich in its cultural diversity and possessed of a large population, is home to significant numbers of followers of various religious traditions,” observed the Pope.

“Thus, the people of Indonesia are well-placed to make important contributions to the quest for peace and understanding among the peoples of the world.”

The Pope was addressing the Indonesian Episcopal Conference at the end of their regular “ad limina” visit aimed at updating the pontiff and Vatican officials on the health of the Church in the vast Asian country.

According to the 2010 census, 85 percent of Indonesia’s 245 million people are Muslim, with Christians making up only 13 percent. Only about a quarter of those Christians are Catholic. There are also smaller but significant numbers of Hindus, Buddhists and Confucians.

Despite such a religious mix, the Pope noted, “Indonesia’s constitution guarantees the fundamental human right of freedom to practice one’s religion.”

But the Pope also stressed that religious tolerance is not the same as religious indifference, because “religious freedom” is not “merely a right to be free from outside constraints.” It is also “a right to be authentically and fully Catholic,” including “inviting everyone to intimacy with the God of mercy and compassion made manifest in Jesus Christ,” he said.

“In everything,” he urged, the Church in Indonesia should “strive to make the Triune God known and loved through Jesus Christ.” 

This “courageous witness,” he told the bishops, will “also strengthen Indonesian society by promoting those values that your fellow citizens hold dear: tolerance, unity and justice for all citizens.”

The religious harmony of Indonesia has been shaken in recent years by the rise of fringe Islamist groups. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has reported an increase in violence against Christians since 2009, ranging from church buildings being burnt down to Muslim fundamentalists forcing Easter services to be cancelled.

Pope Benedict said Christians should always model their response to such incidents on Jesus Christ who “suffered unjustly” and “taught us to respond in all situations with forgiveness, mercy and love in truth.” 

As already happens in Indonesia, he said the Church should work in tandem with other religions where possible, since “common endeavours for the upbuilding of society will be of great value when they strengthen friendships and overcome misunderstanding or distrust.”

He concluded by observing that just as Indonesia is “composed of thousands of islands; so too the Church in Indonesia is made up of thousands of Christian communities,” which he described as “islands of Christ’s presence.”

The Pope encouraged Indonesia’s Christians to “always be united in faith, hope and love” to each other and imparted his apostolic blessing.

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