Indonesia’s interfaith leaders have applauded the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the first non-European leader of the Catholic Church, saying that the Argentinian’s passion for social justice will be common ground for interfaith dialogue in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
The 76-year-old Pope Francis, known for his ability to reach out to people, had brought new hope for better interfaith relations in Indonesia and worldwide, the religious leaders said.
He is expected to improve relations between Islam and Christianity, the world’s largest faiths, after his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, delivered a 2006 speech that was deemed offensive by Muslims and drew violent protests in several countries, including Indonesia.
“I would like to say congratulations to Pope Francis, who was elected as the first pope from outside Europe, and I hope that he will further support humanitarian relations between Catholicism and Islam,” Hafidz Usman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
“We expect that he will teach people worldwide not to automatically link any act of terrorism or violence to Islam, and closely look at the causes and individuals who conduct such things,” Hafidz added, citing Benedict’s 2006 statement linking Islam to violence during a speech in Germany that led to outrage in the Muslim world.
Pope Francis, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was chosen on just the fifth ballot to replace Benedict, who made a surprise decision to resign last month.
Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin said that he rejoiced at the selection of Pope Francis, who he hoped would continue Benedict’s efforts to maintain a good relationship between Catholicism and Islam. Muhammadiyah is the second-largest Islamic organization in the country.
“Even though Pope Benedict XVI once made a shocking statement in Germany, I think that it had a beneficial impact as it opened chances for dialogue between the Vatican and the Muslim world,” Din said. “The relationship between the Catholic church and Indonesia has been good since then.”
Din also said that local Islamic organizations were planning to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Vatican, to ensure further harmonious relations between the two Abrahamic faiths.
“The MoU will mainly discuss how to maintain good relationships between the Vatican and Indonesian Muslims, to ensure the safety of Catholics in Indonesia and to intensify interfaith dialogue.”
Meanwhile, secretary of the Inter-Religious Commission of the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference, Benny Susetyo, said that he believed the pope’s struggle for social justice would inspire religious communities in Indonesia to join hands together to fight for justice, which is the prerequisite for peace.
“This spirit could lay the foundation for dialogue among religions and faiths that exist here. Therefore, dialogue among religions will no longer be merely normative talk because we will hopefully have the same purpose to achieve: social justice,” Benny said.
Neither the Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene nor Presidential foreign affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah commented as they had yet to receive the government’s formal stance on the selection of the new pope.