Indonesian bishops ended their 10-day annual meeting in Jakarta on Nov. 16 with a pastoral message emphasizing the urgent need for Catholics to help protect the country's secular principles by engaging in social bonding activities and dialogue with people of other faiths. The bishops’ message aimed to promote national unity and address rising incidents of radicalism and intolerance, including acts of terrorism that they said have exposed deep divisions in Indonesian society. The use of negative religious and ethnic rhetoric during elections also drew the bishops’ attention. In February this year, more than 100 provinces, districts and municipalities elected new leaders
. Some of the campaigns prior to the polls saw mudslinging in which candidates attacked others on their religion and ethnic background. The Jakarta governor election provided the biggest example of sectarian divisions when hundreds of thousands of Muslims sought to oust then Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, in support for Anies Baswedan, a Muslim. The bishops also warned of a possible repeat of these sectarian conflicts during upcoming regional elections in June 2018 and the presidential election in May 2019, and called for dialogue to minimize this threat. “Dialogue is important to get to know each other, to get rid of all suspicions, and to fight religious fanaticism,” the bishops said in a statement issued at the end of their meeting at the Indonesian Bishops Conference office in Jakarta. “Dialogue can knock down separating walls and build a bridge of friendship to create a true brotherhood that leads to peaceful life,” they said. The conference’s secretary-general Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunyamin of Bandung said one sure way for Catholics to build dialogue is by actively participating in social activities with people of other religious beliefs. By doing so Catholics will open the eyes of other people who have not understood the mission of the church, the prelate said. Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura in Papua said that although religious sentiment is not a dominant issue in the Christian majority region, social issues such as environmental destruction, poverty, and other forms of oppression can be addressed through dialogue. “Catholics must interact with people from other religions to address these issues together,” he told ucanews.com. He cited fears among indigenous Papuans who fear they could become a minority as a result of an influx of migrant settlers — most of whom are Muslims — as an example. Tan Gwan An from Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon, a parish in North Jakarta named after a Korean martyr
, welcomed the bishops’ message. Dialogue should be part of daily life, he said, adding that he often participates in interfaith dialogue to create a harmonious life with the Muslims. “Our community has built good relations with local Muslim leaders. We regularly visit each other during festivals such as Christmas and Eid al-Fitr celebrations,” he said.