Pope Francis waves to worshipers from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St. Peter's Square in the Vatican during his weekly Angelus prayer on Jan. 19. (Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
Pope Francis’ possible visit to Indonesia this year has sparked hope for both Catholics and Muslims in the world’s largest Muslim country.
Yahya Cholil Staquf, secretary-general of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, told the Catholic News Agency following a meeting with Pope Francis that the pope said he planned to visit Indonesia and neighboring Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea in September.
He met with the pope on Jan. 15 while visiting Rome for a meeting of the Abrahamic Faiths Initiative, which gathered Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to discuss the promotion of peace and fraternity.
Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, told media that there is no confirmation of a visit yet from the Vatican.
As part of the process of such a trip, he said, President Joko Widodo recently wrote to the pope with an official invitation.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, chairman of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, was reluctant to comment on the pope’s possible visit.
“Let us wait until there is a confirmation from both the Indonesian government and the Vatican. I will only give further comments after there is an official announcement,” he told ucanews on Jan. 20.
News of the pope’s possible visit to Indonesia has sparked hope for both Catholics and Muslims in the country.
“I surely hope that the pope’s visit will come true. Catholics in Indonesia should be ready to welcome him,” Yulius Setiarto, secretary of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Catholic Society Forum, told ucanews.
“I hope Pope Francis will also bring the message of peace as stipulated in the Abu Dhabi document and will make Indonesia one of the places where the document can be widely introduced.”
The “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” was signed on Feb. 4 last year by Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
One part of the document says that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race, and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings.”
Dewi Kartika Maharani Praswida, a Muslim woman who met Pope Francis at the Vatican last year, said she has waited for the pope to visit Indonesia for several years.
“For me, Pope Francis is not only a leader of Catholics but also a pluralism figure who never feels tired of ‘provoking’ human beings to love peace and to become agents of peace,” she told ucanews.
She regards the pope as “a role model” of building a life with love. “I do expect his visit to Indonesia,” she said.
Indonesia’s 229 million Muslims make up more than 12 percent of the global Muslim population.
Indonesia has 24 million Christians including seven million Catholics. Pope St. Paul VI visited the country in 1970, while Pope St. John Paul II traveled there in 1989.
Timor-Leste, which gained independence from Indonesia in 1999, is a tiny country of one million people, 98 percent of whom are Catholic.
Nearly all Papua New Guinea’s nine million people are Christians and 26 percent are Catholic. Pope St. John Paul II visited Papua New Guinea in 1984.
Pope Francis has long expressed interest in visiting Indonesia and is also keen to visit Iraq this year. He recently made successful visits to Thailand and Japan.