Peaceful polls dominate Indonesian Christian unity prayers

Indonesia takes center stage as world marks Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Peaceful polls dominate Indonesian Christian unity prayers

Father Agustinus Ulahayanan, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, joins Catholics and Protestants in a prayer meeting at the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Jan. 18 in Jakarta. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

Christians in Indonesia are praying for peaceful presidential and legislative elections during this year’s international observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ends on Jan. 25.

Indonesian Christians wrote the prayer and chose this year’s theme —"Justice, and Only Justice, You Shall Pursue," — taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.

Reflecting on the theme, Pope Francis said at the start of the observance on Jan. 18 at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls that Christians in Indonesia "are deeply concerned that the economic growth of their country, driven by the mentality of competition, is leaving many in poverty and allowing a small few to become immensely wealthy."

"This jeopardizes the harmony of a society in which people of different ethnic groups, languages, and religions live together and share a sense of responsibility for one another," he said.

Earlier he said promoting unity among all Christian churches regardless of denomination is a basic duty of Catholic clergy as they shape "consistent" measures to foster justice and support the vulnerable, Pope Francis said.

"Ecumenism is not optional," the pope said during his weekly General Audience on Jan. 16, as he reflected on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Father Agustinus Ulahayanan, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told ucanews.com as the observation got underway in Jakarta that the theme was based on the political situation in the country which will see presidential and legislative elections on April 17.

President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election, is up against former general and long-time rival Prabowo Subianto. 

Some 7,968 candidates from more than 20 political parties will be seeking seats in both the 575-seat national assembly and local legislatures. Among them are 151 Catholics.

More than 185 million people will be eligible to vote.

"Christians in Indonesia pray that all citizens are blessed with God’s wisdom so that they are able to exercise their right to vote responsibly and to vote for a leader with integrity who loves justice and cares for social welfare," said Reverend Henriette Tabita Lebang, chairwoman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia.

She said Indonesian Christians were praying for "peaceful, dignified and civilized elections."

Lebang said Christians were also praying religion and politics would be kept separate during the polls and that fake news would not be used to disunite the people.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) remarked how Indonesia was founded on five principles that helped it to create a strong sense of solidarity given its diverse ethnicity, religions and languages. 

That harmony is being threatened by growing competition and corruption, it said.

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"Corruption is experienced in many forms. It infects politics and business, often with devastating consequences for the environment," the WCC said.

Observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began globally in 1908 with the Octave of Christian Unity.

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