A Catholic bishop in Indonesia’s restive Papua region has called on his flock to pray for peace during Lent following the death last week of a child during a clash between the military and separatist rebels. "We stipulate that every Friday we pray for peace in the Land of Papua. Prayers can be held during the Eucharist, as well as when we meditate the passion of the Lord during Way of the Cross worship,” Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura said in a pastoral letter. The letter was read out in the diocese during Masses on Feb. 22 and 23. Violence in Papua has become the main concern of him and other local religious leaders, he added. "In our society, a peaceful atmosphere has become more elusive. Criminal acts are increasing, political aspirations and interests are increasingly accompanied by violence, more social ills, a lack of mutual trust where people are easily suspicious and prejudiced against one another,” he wrote.
"All this convinces us more that true peace is indeed not the result of human effort. True peace is a gift of God, and it will not be realized if we only rely on human strength.” He said that "by praying for peace we declare to God how much we long for peace and ask him to help us realize that peace." The Franciscan bishop also called on people to continue praying after Easter and fast for peace every first Friday and Saturday each month until November, pointing out that in the Catholic tradition the first Friday is a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the first Saturday is devotion to the holiest Heart of Our Lady. “We ask that the peace of God be poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit and from that heart peace then radiates out in our words, deeds and way of life,” he said. An insurgency has been waged in the region since Indonesia took control of Papua in the 1960s following a disputed referendum. Local activists have long complained of rights abuses committed by the Indonesian military against local people. John Gobay, secretary of the Papua Customary Council, told UCA News on Feb. 25 that tension in the region was still high going into Lent following the death of 11-year-old Melki Tipagau on Feb. 18 in Intan Jaya during the clash between rebels and the military. He claimed more than 1,200 residents in 16 villages were still too scared to venture from their homes as a result. "They cannot grow or look for food or shop because of the presence of army and rebel groups in their locality," he said. A report on the human rights situation in the region titled "Papua: The Neglected Paradise" was submitted to Pope Francis by the Franciscans' Commission for Justice and Peace in Rome on Feb. 17. Bernard Koten, one of the authors, said the report was carried out by a joint team from all Papuan dioceses who recorded the human rights situation in recent years. The report noted that rights violations had touched many aspects of life and caused hundreds or even thousands of deaths. The process of solving the problem had merely been a discourse which then just disappeared, it said.
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