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Indonesian bishops refute reports of papal visit

Social media is flooded with Pope Francis’ itinerary to Muslim-majority nation
Women from Indonesia gesture during Pope Francis' weekly general audience at Saint Peter Square on Sept. 21, 2016. The last pope to visit the Muslim-majority nation was St. Pope John Paul II who came in 1989.

Women from Indonesia gesture during Pope Francis' weekly general audience at Saint Peter Square on Sept. 21, 2016. The last pope to visit the Muslim-majority nation was St. Pope John Paul II who came in 1989. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 19, 2024 11:42 AM GMT
Updated: March 19, 2024 12:07 PM GMT

As Timor-Leste prepares to host Pope Francis, bishops in Indonesia have denied rumors of a papal visit to the world’s largest Muslim nation this year.

"Information circulating via various social media platforms about the time, place and events of Pope Francis' visit to Indonesia has been confirmed to be incorrect,” said the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia in a March 18 statement.

“There has been no official announcement about this visit, either from the Vatican or the Indonesian government," it said.

The bishops' clarification comes after news about a possible papal visit to Indonesia flooded web channels and social media.

Katolikku.com, a Catholic news portal, reported that a committee, headed by Ignasius Jonan, a Catholic and a former energy minister, had been set up to oversee the visit.

"We just received a WhatsApp message saying that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will visit Indonesia from September 2 to 6, 2024," it wrote.

Pojokdurasi.com, a news portal, wrote that Pope Francis will lead the Mass in three locations in Indonesia.

Quoting President Joko Widodo, it said at least 1 million Catholics will attend the Mass in Jakarta.

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the conference, however, said that it was true that there are plans to host a papal visit in Indonesia.

"But, we need confirmation from the Holy See and the Indonesian government," he said.

Father Anthonius Lalu, secretary of the conference's Social Communications Commission, asked Catholics not to spread information that has not yet been confirmed.

Rumors about Pope Francis' visit to Indonesia coincide with a visit to neighboring Timor-Leste.

In the Catholic-majority country, the government has formed a special committee and allocated the budget for the preparations.

In a statement to UCA News, Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, charge d'affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in the capital Dili, said the exact date of the visit had not yet been decided.

Last month, the Timor-Leste government authorized an expenditure of US$12 million to organize the pope's visit.

Pope Francis was supposed to visit Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea in 2020 but canceled the trip due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Indonesia's religious affairs minister, invited Pope Francis when he met him at the Vatican on June 6, 2022. He invited the pope on behalf of President Joko Widodo.

Christians make up 24 million of Indonesia's estimated population of more than 270 million. Catholics account for about 7 million.

The country has six organized religions — Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism — and around 200 traditional beliefs.

The last papal visit to Indonesia was 35 years ago when Pope John Paul II visited in 1989. Pope Paul VI also visited the country in 1970.

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DR.CAJETAN COELHO
The Indonesian Archipelago is home to millions and millions of God-loving people. Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Protestantism, and several hundreds of traditional beliefs offer time-tested pathways to the Indonesians to serve one another on their way to eternal glory.
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