.- Pope Benedict XVI told Indonesiaâs bishops Oct. 7 that their country can be a shining example of religious freedom for the rest of the world.
âYour country, so rich in its cultural diversity and possessed of a large population, is home to significant numbers of followers of various religious traditions,â observed the Pope.
âThus, the people of Indonesia are well-placed to make important contributions to the quest for peace and understanding among the peoples of the world.â
The Pope was addressing the Indonesian Episcopal Conference at the end of their regular âad liminaâ 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 Indonesiaâs 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, âIndonesiaâs constitution guarantees the fundamental human right of freedom to practice oneâs religion.â
But the Pope also stressed that religious tolerance is not the same as religious indifference, because âreligious freedomâ is not âmerely a right to be free from outside constraints.â It is also âa right to be authentically and fully Catholic,â including âinviting everyone to intimacy with the God of mercy and compassion made manifest in Jesus Christ,â he said.
âIn everything,â he urged, the Church in Indonesia should âstrive to make the Triune God known and loved through Jesus Christ.â
This âcourageous witness,â he told the bishops, will âalso strengthen Indonesian society by promoting those values that your fellow citizens hold dear: tolerance, unity and justice for all citizens.â
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 âsuffered unjustlyâ and âtaught us to respond in all situations with forgiveness, mercy and love in truth.â
As already happens in Indonesia, he said the Church should work in tandem with other religions where possible, since âcommon endeavours for the upbuilding of society will be of great value when they strengthen friendships and overcome misunderstanding or distrust.â
He concluded by observing that just as Indonesia is âcomposed of thousands of islands; so too the Church in Indonesia is made up of thousands of Christian communities,â which he described as âislands of Christâs presence.â
The Pope encouraged Indonesiaâs Christians to âalways be united in faith, hope and loveâ to each other and imparted his apostolic blessing.