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Papuan priests join pope in denouncing racism

Dozens of indigenous clergymen draw inspiration from the pontiff to condemn abuses, 'church silence' at injustices in Papua

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Papuan priests join pope in denouncing racism

Father John Bunay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, celebrates a Mass. He said Papuan indigenous priests have united in rejecting any form of racism, injustice and violence against Papuans. (Photo supplied)

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More than 50 indigenous priests in five dioceses across Indonesia’s restive Papua region have denounced all acts of racism, injustice and violence committed by Indonesians against Papuans.

They also condemned what they said was the local Church’s “silence” regarding such acts.

They said they were inspired by Pope Francis speaking out against racism in response to the death of George Floyd, an African-American man killed by a US policeman.

During last week’s Angelus prayer at the Vatican, the pope called Floyd’s death “tragic” and prayed for him and all other people who had been killed because of racism.

“My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” the pope said.

The Papuan priests in their denunciation said racist actions have cost the lives of many people like George Floyd and of Papuan people.

In a statement titled “Slam racism, reject injustice and all forms of violence against believers in Papua land,” 57 priests called on the Catholic Church in the region to stand up against racism.

“We Catholic priests are doing this because we cannot stand continuing violence and discrimination in our land,” Father John Bunay, the priests' spokesman, told UCA News on June 9.  

He said the denunciation was not only in response to Pope Francis’ appeal to fight racism but also came from disappointment at the Church’s silence on racial issues in the region.

“We, Papuan priests, want to break that silence and unite against racial discrimination,” said Father Bunay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network.

He also hoped ordinary Catholics would encourage the Catholic Church not to remain silent in the face of violence in the region. 

In their statement, the priests pointed to “injustice” in a racism case in Surabaya, East Java, in August last year in which prosecutors sentenced Papuans to 5-17 years in prison for protesting against racism while the perpetrators of the racism were only jailed for five months. 

They said they were also guided by the document titled “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” signed by Pope Francis and the grand imam of Al-Azhar on Feb 4, 2019, during the papal visit to the United Arab Emirates, which calls on all nations to build peace and harmony.

They also urged academics, philosophers, religious leaders and all Indonesian people “to seek peace, justice, goodness and fraternity.”

"We ask the government to settle all conflicts in Papua and ensure that Papuan indigenous people can live in peace in their own land,” they said.

They said the government must prioritize dialogue, not by sending in troops, when a problem occurs and to develop Papua by improving education, health and the economy.

“All people must be peacemakers” across Papua, Indonesia and the world, they concluded, quoting a prayer from St. Francis of Assisi.

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