New Indonesian archbishop vows to promote tolerance

Archbishop Robertus Rubiyatmoko of Semarang faces tough challenge to combat sectarian tensions
New Indonesian archbishop vows to promote tolerance

Archbishop Robertus Rubiyatmoko of Semarang (Photo by Bernard D. Elwin)

Promoting tolerance amid rising sectarian tensions in Indonesia is one of the top challenges facing the new archbishop of Semarang.

Father Robertus Rubiyatmoko, appointed as the sixth archbishop of Semarang by Pope Francis in March, was ordained on May 19 during a ceremony held at the National Police Academy in Semarang in Central Java.

The episcopal ordination saw Father Rubiyatmoko, 53, become the sixth archbishop of Semarang and the youngest of Indonesia’s 10 serving archbishops.

He succeeds Archbishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta, who passed away two years ago.

Semarang Archdiocese covers Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces and has four vicariates — Kedu, Semarang, Surakarta and Yogyakarta, serving more than 400,000 Catholics in 98 parishes. 

Semarang Archdiocese has three suffragan dioceses — Malang, Purwokerto and Surabaya.

"The archdiocese wants to create a culture of love in society. Catholics can promote a harmonious life which shows tolerance and brotherhood," Archbishop Rubiyatmoko told

Rising sectarianism has led to intolerance. Worse, national unity is at risk, he said.

"People can easily react badly to any tensions. This is very concerning," he added.

He vowed to encourage Catholics to build good relations based on love of people from different religious backgrounds.

"The challenge is at the grassroots," he said. "Local people are actually very tolerant. But I often see the grassroots are easily provoked by outsiders who want to spark tensions."

Last month, mass protests took place in Semarang and the nearby city of Salatiga against the formation of local chapters of the hard-line group called the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

Protesters said they wanted to protect their communities from sectarianism and prevent the country from tearing itself apart.

The protests were also in response to a series of large rallies staged by the FPI and other hardliners in Jakarta.

These groups wanted the capital’s now outgoing Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, jailed for blasphemy amid an acrimonious election campaign.

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Early this month, Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Quran.

Critics say hard-line Muslim groups are using religion to further their political interests, which is creating divisions in society.

This has sparked a backlash by Christians and moderate Muslims, who have staged a number of public events to reject extremism and protect national unity and secularism.


To seek and to save

In response to these tensions, Archbishop Rubiyatmoko chose quaerere et salvum facere (to seek and to save), taken from Luke 19:10, as his episcopal motto.

"Many people, not only Catholics, need help right now," he said.

Prior to his appointment, he served as judicial vicar in Semarang Archdiocese as well as a formator at St. Paul Major Seminary and a lecturer at Wedabhakti Pontifical Faculty of Theology of Sanata Dharma University, both in Yogyakarta.

He was also an assistant priest at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in the province's Sleman district.



Father Aloysius Gonzaga Luhur Prihadi,  Semarang Archdiocese's episcopal vicar expressed the hope that the new archbishop will encourage local Catholics to be more inclusive.

"It is very relevant to the current situation where there are divisions based on ethnic, religion, race and group," he said, suggesting that the prelate should also focus on encouraging young Catholics to deal with such situations.



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