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Indonesian president follows Pope John Paul II's lead

Jokowi is always there with the message — solidarity and hope — that people are not alone in their struggles for life

Indonesian president follows Pope John Paul II's lead

Pope John Paul II visits Medan in Indonesia in October 1989. (Photo: YouTube)

More than three decades ago, from Oct. 9-14, 1989, Pope John Paul II was in Indonesia for a state and pastoral visit. The cities visited by the pontiff included Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Medan and Maumere.

The choice of cities was not without reason. Jakarta is the national capital, Yogyakarta is widely known as the city of culture and education, Medan has the largest number of Catholics on the island of Sumatra, and Maumere (Flores) is the “Catholic kitchen.”

Of course, the pope's visit was a tribute to Indonesia, a country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Nicknamed the pilgrim pope, John Paul II, born Karol Jozef Wojtyla, visited dozens of countries and Indonesia was the 76th country he visited after being elected in 1978 until his death in 2005.

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At that time, President Suharto, who was said to be tolerant of minority religions and ethnicities in Indonesia, welcomed the arrival of the head of the Vatican. Security forces were prepared by the state for the protection of the pope. The Indonesian government certainly did not want its name tarnished in the eyes of the world if the pope's security was disturbed due to the actions of certain individuals.

During his visits the pope always echoed the motto totus tuus, which means "to you I devote everything." As the youngest and first pope from outside Italy in papal history, John Paul II offered his entire self as a selfless servant or public servant.

He did not hesitate to greet and bless anyone he met. He never gave the impression of serving the people half-heartedly. He appeared sincere and wholehearted in his ministry mission, as reflected in his motto.

Unsurprisingly, then, Pope John Paul II is remembered as one of the most influential figures of the faith of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His achievements in promoting world peace and interfaith dialogue are among the most beautiful legacies to be remembered and celebrated. He was an inclusive and embracing leader; he came to bring light and a message of peace to the world.

In particular, in the eyes of the world's Muslims, Pope John Paul II is remembered as the first pope in history to visit a mosque — the Omayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria, on May 6, 2001, four years before he died. He passed away on April 2, 2005, at the age of 84. The visit to the Omayyad mosque was a historical breakthrough, and the pope's visit to Indonesia was a symbol of his recognition of the importance of establishing Christian-Muslim relations in promoting world peace.

For the people of Flores (and the province of East Nusa Tenggara) in particular, the pope's visit to Maumere, capital of Sikka regency, on Oct. 10-11, 1989, was a sign of the pope's recognition of Flores' important role in the history of spreading and inculcating Christian values in Indonesia. It is undeniable that in the last three decades, East Nusa Tenggara has become the province that sends the most Catholic missionaries throughout the world as well as to other areas in the archipelago.

Moreover, some Indonesian clergy have assumed key roles in the leadership of the universal Church. For example, Paulus Budi Kleden is currently the general superior of the Society of the Divine Word in Rome, while Markus Solo Kewuta was recently an official at the Vatican in matters of interreligious dialogue.

In addition, in the course of Indonesia's history, there have also appeared Christian lay figures (Catholic and Protestant) who have had national influence. Among them are Ignatius Joseph Kasimo, Fransiskus Seda, Harry Tjan Silalahi, Jusuf Wanandi, Johannes Leimena, Benny Moerdani, Cosmas Batubara and Ben Mboy.

In my opinion, the presence of Pope John Paul II in Maumere carried a strong message of solidarity for residents of East Nusa Tenggara province in their struggle to alleviate economic backwardness. The pope was present with the hope that after dark, light must rise. However, this light only emerges if there is a sense of solidarity and cooperation that is consistent in developing the region.

Jokowi's message of solidarity

President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) planned to return to East Nusa Tenggara on Feb. 16. Unfortunately, the plan was postponed a day before his scheduled visit. Two places were on Jokowi’s itinerary — Central Sumba regency and Sikka regency. In Sumba, Jokowi wanted to closely monitor the implementation of the National Food Estate Program. Meanwhile, in Sikka, he planned to inaugurate the Napung Gete dam.

Jokowi's planned visit, although delayed, is not the first time he has visited East Nusa Tenggara. Jokowi has several times set foot there and in other provinces in eastern Indonesia. Jokowi's visits have been seen as evidence of his urgent intent to help disadvantaged people to be free from their downturn. Most East Nusa Tenggara residents who live on agricultural products must be helped. Their yields, specifically maize, rice, bananas and yams, need to be multiplied.

For Jokowi, the most appropriate way to help farmers is to prepare dams, agricultural land, seeds and fertilizers, agricultural tools, and open farming and isolation roads. For this, Jokowi ordered governors, mayors and regents to help people achieve welfare targets. The question is: To what extent have the regional heads seriously carried out President Jokowi's orders?

In the context of Lembata, Jokowi's hopes and orders seem underestimated. Rather than helping the poor, the Lembata district government and legislators are busy developing a kind of “justification regulation” to double their monthly allowance for 2021.

The regent of Lembata, for example, stipulates that his allowance is 408 million rupiah (US$29,000) per month, excluding his basic salary and private resort rental for the regent's residence for almost two periods running. The public considered the increase of the allowance as insensitive to the economic conditions of the poor.

That is just a matter of allowances, not to mention projects stalled since Lembata became an autonomous district in October 1999. The state lost billions of rupiah without any tangible results for the people.

Of course the people did not remain silent. Several reports have been submitted to the authorities. Unfortunately, public reports are slow to be followed up, if at all. The most recent example is the floating jetty project in Awololong. In plain view, the project failed to take off, while 85 percent of the total budget has been used up.

Like Pope John Paul II, who cared about the interests of the people, Jokowi's presence in East Nusa Tenggara (also in underdeveloped areas in eastern Indonesia) is proof of his solidarity. Jokowi is always there with the message — solidarity and hope — that people are not alone in their struggles for life. The government continues to strive to achieve social justice for all Indonesian people.

Justin Wejak studied philosophy in Indonesia, theology and anthropology in Australia and currently teaches at the University of Melbourne. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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