Indonesians Showing Interest in Catholicism, Say Bishops

Millions of Catechumans and Others Interested in the Faith

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- In the world's largest Muslim country, Catholicism seems to be vibrant.



Making their five-yearly visit to the Holy See, bishops from Indonesia report a large number of catechumens, and a growth in interest in the faith, in their country.

Catholics in Indonesia are estimated between 6.5 million (Church statistics) and 10 million (government statistics).

The spokesman of the Indonesian bishops' conference, Bishop Martinus Situmorang of Padang, explained the difference in figures to the Fides service.

"The present number of baptized Catholics is 6.5 million but besides these there are at least 2 or 3 million catechumens and other people who feel drawn to the Catholic faith and claim to be Catholics although they are not baptized," he said.

"In Indonesia, where the government recognizes five religions -- Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism and Protestantism ... -- a person's religion is stated on identity papers," Bishop Situmorang said.

"Our Catholic communities are dynamic, anxious to share the faith although there is a long way to go and many, many people who are waiting to hear the Good News of the Gospel," he added.

"However there is nothing of proselytism in our religious services and social and educational work, which are highly appreciated by the local people," he said. "Our only aim is to give tangible signs of Christian charity."

Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Ambon in the Molucca Islands, the scene of Protestant-Muslim clashes in recent years, said the number of Catholics in his area is growing.

"During the clashes," he explained, "the local Catholic communities upheld the dignity of every person, irrespective of religion, and, rather than siding with one of the parties in conflict, they worked to reach reconciliation. This witness has led many to want to know more about the Catholic faith."

Regarding the U.S.-led war on Iraq, the bishops expressed fear that the conflict may cause a resurgence of Muslim fundamentalism, including in Indonesia.

"There will almost certainly be a new wave of Islamic fundamentalism," Bishop Situmorang told Fides. "But I am confident that our Christian-Muslim dialogue will not be affected. We have strong ties with the other religious leaders in our country.

"As you know, only a week or two ago, a delegation of Indonesian religious leaders paid a visit to Pope John Paul II with a message of support for world peace. I think that thanks to this testimony from religious leaders there will be no open conflict between Christian and Muslim believers."

Bishop Mandagi observed: "In Indonesia, fundamentalist groups are small but they are supported by international networks, as we saw in the Molucca Islands. There are, in fact, groups and parties that try to exploit Islam for their own interests."

"It is very easy to identify the Americans with Christianity and Iraqis with Islam, and see the conflict as a war about religion," the Ambon bishop said. "The Church all over the world must echo the Holy Father in his affirmation that this war has nothing to do with religion. This must be made clear with public demonstrations and statements by religious leaders so that the message will reach grass-roots level."