Vincentius Hargo Mandirahardjo (left), chairman of the Association of Indonesian Catholic Intellectuals (ISKA), looks on as Indonesia’s Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignatius Jonan (wearing blue shirt) attends a function held to mark the organization’s 60th anniversary in this May 2018 file photo. (Photo supplied)
After joining the Association of Indonesian Catholic Intellectuals in 2011, it did not take long before Vincentius Hargo Mandirahardjo found himself leading the respected organization.
The 58-year-old lawyer was elected as presidium chairman of the country’s oldest group of Catholic intellectuals, known locally as ISKA, for a four-year term in 2017.
Prior to that, the parishioner of St. Matthias Church in Depok, on the outskirts of the country’s capital Jakarta, served as chairman of the group’s Law and Regulation Department.
“I’m proud of this organization. Its members come from various professional backgrounds, but we all share our thoughts and ideas. This is our strength,” Mandirahardjo said.
He says his primary goal, as its head, is to make sure there is no let-up in ISKA’s efforts to maintain diversity in the predominantly Muslim country.
Established on May 22, 1958, with St. Albertus Magnus as its patron, ISKA seeks to ensure Catholic intellectuals use their faith and knowledge for the sake of the state and the nation as well as the local Catholic Church in accordance with the national ideology — Pancasila (five principles).
Pancasila is seen by Indonesians to symbolize national unity. It stipulates belief in one God, a just and civilized society, a united Indonesia, democracy guided by consensus, and social justice for all citizens.
“We are presently focusing on making sure young Indonesians understand the principles and foundations on which this country is based as they are the next leaders of this nation. If they are lacking in this knowledge, divisions can emerge,” Mandirahardjo said.
Under the slogan “Preserving Commitment to Indonesian Nationality,” ISKA — a member of Pax Romana-ICMICA, a U.N.-affiliated international association of Catholic organizations, groups and individuals primarily engaged in dialogues between Christian faiths and cultures — holds programs particularly for young people.
“We want to make educational contributions to this nation. We want to tell people that they must not forget their responsibility as citizens to promote national unity and to maintain diversity,” Mandirahardjo said.
In 2017, the group launched Sekolah Kebangsaan (School of Nationality), with senior high school students as its main targets.
The program involves an ISAK team going to schools around the country and making presentations or staging role-playing activities that highlight certain themes that can include national and social issues.
Sessions last about three hours and are often attended by between 100 and 500 students.
“The program is a materialization of ISKA’s commitment to preserving national unity. It is designed to educate in interactive and modern ways,” said Paulinus Prasetyo Nurhardjanto, a program team member.
“In general, students are very responsive and show great enthusiasm for what we do,” added Nurhardjanto, who comes from Bekasi, a town near Jakarta.
Preserving local wisdom
ISKA has also held study programs on diversity with the theme “Knitting the Values of Nationality Based on Local Wisdom” since last year. For these, each of the organization’s 10 regional chapters regularly holds focus group discussions.
“The aim is to revive local wisdom. Most of this reflects on diversity and our plural society. In Ambon, capital of Maluku province, for example, there’s the spirit of pela gandong,” Mandirahardjo said.
Pela gandong is the harmonious relationship between Muslim and Christian villages in the province that has been fostered since sectarian violence broke out 20 years ago.
“Local wisdom gives strength to national unity. However, it seems to have been ignored by many people,” Mandirahardjo said.
ISKA is preparing to publish a book containing thoughts and ideas resulting from the study programs. The book is expected to be ready in August when the country marks its 74th Independence Day.
Another program called Indonesia Bijak (Wise Indonesia), which stresses the use of social media to counter hate speech and fake news, was also initiated by ISKA last year. As a first step, the group trained up trainers in 10 cities to conduct interactive sessions in schools.
“If we simply talk about how to promote Pancasila and to maintain diversity among young people, they won’t be interested. But if we show them how to use social media wisely, they will listen and learn,” said Joannes Joko, a program coordinator.
According to Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, ISKA plays a very important role in Indonesian society.
“It offers people, particularly Catholics, a perspective on diversity, something which needs to be strengthened today. Diversity isn’t merely about interfaith dialogue but how to build a dialogue on life on a daily basis. Such a perspective has been promoted by ISKA, which seeks to introduce a habit of living with diversity,” he said.
Indeed, ISKA is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world by upholding the slogan of Jesuit Father Albertus Soegijapranata, the first Indonesian native bishop, which is: “Being 100 percent Catholic, 100 percent Indonesian.”
“ISKA is here to proclaim national goodness. It’s a huge responsibility,” Mandirahardjo said.