Jakarta Archbishop: Religion Conflicts Are Just a Symptom

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  • Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo. TEMPO/Hilman Fathurrahman W

    Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo. TEMPO/Hilman Fathurrahman W

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - FOR the third time, the Vatican has chosen an Indonesian archbishop to be Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. On October 5, last year, Jakarta Archbishop Monsignor Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo was installed by the head of the Holy See Pope Francis as one of the 13 new cardinals or ‘princes’ of the Church.

    Father Suharyo followed the footsteps of Cardinal Justinus Darmojuwono and Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja in holding high ranks in the Vatican.

    The pope has clearly taken special considerations in selecting the new cardinals this time. Those elected include interfaith dialog activists, refugee advocates and even environmental activists. “Although he did not explicitly mention this, he knows that Indonesia is the country with the largest muslim population in the world which maintains harmony (among the diverse population),” Suharyo said during a special interview with Tempo’s Sapto Yunus, Mahardika Satria Hadi and Aisha Shaidra at the Jakarta Archdiocese on December 24, 2019.

    Suharyo’s appointment as the pope’s advisor also signifies Vatican’s attention to Indonesia. Vatican is one of the first European countries to recognize Indonesia’s independence. The acknowledgment is marked by the opening of an apostolic delegation in Jakarta two years after Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared the country’s independence.

    Throughout his term as a Catholic leader, Suharyo, 69, who is also the president of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, is known for his active involvement in interfaith dialogs. He is also vocal about social issues, particularly regarding Papua and Kendeng’s farmers' resistance against the construction of a cement factory. Suharyo, quoting Jesus, said that humans must show compassion for other people. “The pope also mentioned about compassion in his letter,” he said.

    In a two-hour-long conversation, Father Suharyo talked about various subjects, from his appointment as cardinal, his concern about social issues, intolerance, to suspected sexual abuses in Catholic churches in Indonesia.

    What message did Pope Francis give you on your appointment as cardinal?

    The appointment is not about power, but honor. The higher the honor you are given, the more you are expected to serve. To practice Jesus’s commandments of absolute love even via the smallest acts, in all kinds of struggles. The essence is a total commitment. He also said this appointment should not be celebrated with fanfare as if to show off the promotion.

    You are the only archbishop from Asia to be promoted to the rank of cardinal. How does the pope view the current situation in Indonesia?

    The pope has been learning more about Indonesia lately. He grasped the size of Indonesia only after he saw the map and learned that it was not possible to travel from Sabang to Merauke via an eight-hour flight. Secondly, he always mentions Indonesia in his prayers especially when disasters strike. In his meeting with Indonesian archbishops in Vatican last June, the pope asked if Indonesia was familiar with the Abu Dhabi document to which I answered in the affirmative. After the document appeared during Ramadan, the Wahid Foundation, the Maarif Institute, Gusdurian and Paramadina invited us for discussion.

    (On February 4, 2019, Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, signed a Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together document or the Abu Dhabi Declaration in the United Arab Emirates.)

    What can we learn from the Abu Dhabi document?

    The document mentions a list of issues that cause humanitarian problems. Interfaith communities see them as interfaith problems that need to be responded collectively and find solutions. HIV, economic inequalities, environment, poverty - it’s all there in the document.

    Including intolerance?

    We call it religious conflicts presumably stemmed from an incorrect understanding of religions. All religions teach peace. But why are there conflicts? The pope does not only observe Indonesia. There are also never-ending conflicts in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and so on.

    The ban on celebrating and saying Christmas wishes was issued in several regions. How does the Catholic church respond to it?

    Living in the Unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia, we should uphold the spirit of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution. Such discrimination should not exist, but the reality shows otherwise. I am sure if it is solely a religious issue, it will not reach that extent. Religion has surely been used as a tool for only God knows what purpose.

    In Dharmasraya, West Sumatra, the police could not do anything because the people had made a pact to ban Christmas celebrations.

    The regional government has the obligation to ensure the common good there. If members of the community violate the national accord, they should be notified or actions should be taken against them. But, again, it depends on the leader of that region.

    Do you see a minority mindset deeply ingrained in the Catholic community (in Indonesia)?

    I never talk about it among the Catholics. I say that Catholics in Indonesia have a very valuable legacy inherited from their ancestors, the pioneers of the Catholic Church in Indonesia. It's called the love for the motherland. There are many shreds of evidence. I always mention Frans van Lith, the Dutch missionary, who chose to side with the natives because they were colonized and oppressed. There were also Soegija, Slamet Riyadi, Yos Sudarso, Adisutjipto, Karel Satsuit Tubun.

    Do you think that the Christians, particularly the Catholics, in Indonesia are being persecuted?

    That’s what foreign journalists say when they come here in the name of defending human rights. They believe there is persecution against Christians in Indonesia. I told them to try and stay here for a month and see if there is persecution or not. I precisely avoid such terms. We cannot deny that the problem does exist. It has been there since independence but the governments have always managed to handle it.

    Has religious tolerance deteriorated since the reform era?

    Clearly, there are increasing cases of intolerance. As often mentioned by experts, religious conflicts are just a symptom. Behind them are a myriad of other problems. Because religion is the easiest topic to be developed into an issue to inflame people.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine