Listen to Papua, Church Leaders

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaPastors in Papua asked bishops in Indonesia to break their silence over the violence in the region. Church leaders must push for dialogue and reconciliation in order to end the conflict.

    THE leaders of the Indonesian Catholic Church should respond seriously to the appeal for attention from 147 pastors across Papua concerning the humanitarian incidents that continue to occur in the region. The bishops must not remain silent in the face of the violence and human rights abuses suffered by the faithful in Papua. Continued silence by the church leaders will only worsen the conflict in Papua, which has continued for half a century.

    The call from the pastors, which was made on the commemoration of World Human Rights Day on December 10, is a rarity in the history of the Catholic Church, which highly values its hierarchy. If the bishops had responded to the problems of the faithful, this open call would never have been made. Claiming that it was only a difference of opinion between pastors and the church leadership that led to this appeal is only an excuse to find a scapegoat.

    The continuing and repeated violence in Papua has pricked the consciences of the pastors. It is understandable that they, therefore, called for the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) - a federation of bishops across Indonesia to foster unity and cooperation in pastoral work among the Catholic leadership in this nation - to not remain silent in the face of the suffering of the faithful in Papua. The pastors who have day-to-day direct contact with their flocks, have asked for the church to pay attention to, protect and defend the faithful.

    The appeal from these pastors shows how little attention the church leadership has been paying towards what has been happening to ordinary Catholics. There has never been an open statement from the church leadership condemning the violence that continues to take lives. In the period between September and October alone, at least three church officials were allegedly shot dead by the security forces. They were chairman of the Kemah Injil Indonesia Hitadipa Church Presbytery in Intan Jaya, Yeremia Zanambani; as well as two catechists of the Papuan Catholic Church, Agustinus Duwitau and Rufinus Tigau. Two witnesses to the shooting of pastor Yeremia, Luther Zanambani and Apinus Zanambani, also died as a result of violence from the security forces when they were being questioned at the Sugapa Military District HQ in Paniai.

    The Catholic Church has built a harmonious relationship with the administration of President Jokowi. There is nothing wrong with this approach because Christians are taught to obey the government, but this is not unconditional. The faithful are not asked to blindly follow a government and refrain from criticism if the government acts unjustly.

    Church leaders should also understand the problems and challenges faced by the faithful in Papua are different from those in other regions. There are no problems of intolerance for people living in Papua as there are in Java, Sumatra and other regions. The building of churches is never forbidden in Papua. The main problem faced by people there is protracted violence. The KWI cannot use the excuse that the problems of the faithful in Papua are the responsibility of individual bishops. The KWI has a responsibility to pass on this moral plea over what is happening in Papua.

    As an assembly of religious people, the church must not neglect its duties to work promoting, striving for and protecting human rights. Church leaders must be more active in pushing for dialogue and reconciliation as the most dignified way to end the conflict in Papua.

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