A woman votes in Jakarta's governor election in this Feb. 15, 2017 file photo. This month, voters in 17 provinces and more than 150 districts and municipals go to the polls to elect new leaders and legislators. (Photo by Ryan Dagur/ucanews.com)
Many years in politics has taught Stefanus Asat Gusma to take failure on the chin and to look upon it as coming with the territory.
Four years ago Gusma, who hails from Bondowoso in Central Java, failed in his bid to be elected to Indonesia's national parliament.
However, adopting the philosophy "If you don't at first succeed..." he hopes things will soon be different with the country going back to the polls for a general election in April next year.
"It won't be long before the race begins," Gusma told ucanews.com, adding he was currently waiting for his Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) to assign him an electoral district to run in.
For him, involvement in politics is a manifestation of his Catholic faith and the social teachings of the church.
His interest in politics began in high school and blossomed during his university years in Jakarta, which saw him serve as president of the Indonesian Catholic Students Association (PMKRI) from 2009 to 2011.
Gusma said moving to Jakarta widened his political horizons, and enabled him to immerse himself further into the political world by engaging with more influential people and political parties.
"After I finished up at the PMKRI, several political parties approached me, but I chose the PDIP, because its political mission was closest to mine," he said.
Now the ruling party, the PDIP was founded in 1999 by Megawati Soekarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno. The PDIP is known as the party of the wong cilik — marginalized people.
The party currently forms part of the ruling coalition after winning 109 seats in the 560-seat national parliament four years ago.
Aside from Gusma, many other Christian politicians are members of the party, but the majority of its 340,000 members are Muslims.
"But it does not matter what party Catholics or Christians are in, they must fight for the interests of the Indonesian people, and must live a dignified political life at both national and local level," he said.
Stefanus Asat Gusma shares his experiences in politics with Catholics from Jakarta Archdiocese at a recent gathering in Jakarta. (Photo supplied)
About 10 percent of Indonesia's 260 million population are Christian, of which 16.4 million are Protestant and 7 million Catholic, according to the latest census.
Most are concentrated in East Nusa Tenggara, North Sumatra, Papua, North Sulawesi, West and East Kalimantan, West and Central Java and Jakarta.
Some of these provinces are among 17 that will elect new governors on June 27, and local legislators in 154 districts and municipalities.
Indonesian bishops are encouraging Catholics to participate actively in this month's elections. Politics has noble values such as service, dedication, sacrifice, justice, honesty, solidarity, freedom, and responsibility, they said.
"If those values are lived and followed, politics will become a noble feature of life," Archbishop Vincentius Sensi Potokota, chairman of the Commission for the Laity said recently in a statement.
Catholics are called upon to be the salt and light of the world. In the context of an election, this is achieved by being good voters, participating as organizers, and becoming candidates, the bishops said.
For those running as candidates, the bishops said they should avoid sectarian campaigning and must offer better solutions to people's problems, and be brave in facing threats such as the emergence of radical groups in their areas.
Beyond church walls
Paulus Krissantono, a former Golkar Party parliamentarian during the Suharto era, welcomes the call, believing it will give more people a positive mindset about politics, which is often seen as a minefield of dirty tricks.
That's because politicians set bad examples through graft, manipulation and thirst for power, he said.
"Catholic politicians must be different from others, particularly in making sacrifices for the common good. They need to witness the truth, uphold justice and care for the welfare of all," he said.
They must support this with a spirit of service and if necessary make sacrifices in pursuing these values, not merely seek power or pander to sectarian demands, he added.
He said his party once threatened to expel him for standing against the eviction of local people for a Central Java dam project and pressing for the teaching of various religions in schools, but backed down when Suharto supported him.
"Catholic politicians running for office must break free from the church's comfort zone," he said.
"Leave your church compound and reach out to non-Catholics, be they laborers, taxi drivers, women's groups, Muslim clerics," he said.
He also asked Catholics to learn from Ignatius Joseph Kasimo Hendrowahyono, a cabinet member during the Sukarno era, and the founder of the Indonesian Catholic Party and Catholic University of Atma Jaya.
He was declared a national hero for his service to the country and promoting honesty, professionalism, intellectuality and religious truth.
Father Antonius Suyadi, director of Jakarta Archdiocese' Commission for Interreligious Dialogue said every Catholic has the responsibility to participate in nation building.
"Catholics are encouraged to participate in politics to ensure that no-individual, group or political party establish a country based on one certain religion," he said.
According to Berthy B Rahawarin, newly elected general secretary of Harmoni Indonesia — the Catholic arm of the United Indonesia Party (Perindo) founded by Christian business tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibijo — the greatest challenge for Catholics in a multi-ethnic and religious society is fostering ties with non-Catholics.
"[Many] non-Christians equate Christianity with colonialism," he said.
"Those [Catholics going] into politics should be aware of this, and don't be over confident in the way they think, act and communicate," he told ucanews.com.
"If necessary, they should be able to explain how the church is different from colonialism," he added.
He also said that with President Joko Widodo providing a wider space for democracy and public participation in recent years, there is now "a good opportunity for society as a whole, not just the church, to participate more efficiently, measurably, and make changes for the better."