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Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Congress, Bilbao-2005

@Cardinal Darmaatmadja
Threats and Opportunities for the Emergence of Inter-cultural
and Inter-religious Society

Dear distinguished guests, dear brothers and sisters:

First of all I would like to express my gratitude to all of you, who enable me to share my experiences in living in predominantly Muslims country, Indonesia, especially now, in a time when the world is longing for peace.

I.   The emergence of inter-cultural and inter-religious society is not a new phenomenon, but now its presence is felt as a real need, since the world is more coloured by fear: fear of war, fear of bombs and fear of not having peace.

Bomb: an icon of global threat

Perhaps, it will be more telling if I start my sharing with my experience with bombings in my country. I am not going to confine my talk on bomb as a material entity, but as an icon, a symbol, in which many ideas are conceived: horror, extremism, death, politics, technology and human cry . Perhaps you may hear about the bombing in Bali, at the hotel Marriot in Jakarta, at the Australian Embassy in Indonesia, but do you hear about the bombing at the front of my Cathedral in Jakarta on the Christmas Eve 2000?

It was really shocking, but to see and assess the bombing activities only and solely from the perspective of our Christian-Muslim relation is seriously and principally misleading. That a small number of the extremists could be involved, and may be are Muslims, I do not exclude this possibility. These bombing activities during the Christmas time should not be separated from other bombing activities during those times. Non religious as well as religious institutions were targeted. The non religious targets were for example: Diplomatic Corp Residences, Banks, Jakarta Stock Exchange Building, Residence of the Governor of Jakarta, Office of the Attorney General, Public Hospital. The religious targets in Jakarta were Istiqlal Mosque (in 1999) and Churches, including my Cathedral (on Christmas 2000).

It was true, when the targets were the biggest mosque in Indonesia and churches, the feelings of both the Muslims as well as Christians became heated. Thank God that both parties refrained from accusing each other, instead waiting for some further explanation. Then we realized that we Christians and they, the Muslims were just victims. A certain hidden force with a hidden agenda tried to incite tension among the Muslims and Christians in general. As the result, we Christians experienced a gesture of acceptance and reconciliation from the part of the Muslims after the Christmas Bombing 2000. On the eve of Idul Fitri, I was invited – for the first time - to attend the National “Takbir Akbar 1421 Hijriyah” to close the 30 Fasting days of the month Ramadhan in the compound of the National Monument of Jakarta. The whole atmosphere was amicable to us. Present in the same place were two catholic priests from the Bishops’ Conference Office, two protestant officials from the Communion of Churches in Indonesia. During the speeches and addresses, the Christmas incidents were commented upon with sadness and regret, even a very good phrase was expressed, namely that they have failed to protect the minority.

We regretted that this hidden force succeeded in Ambon in the Moluccas, that their manoeuvre resulted in a deep conflict in those areas. Therefore we are always trying our best to persuade everybody that the bombing attacks were done by the unidentified force. Many prominent persons including Muslim leaders have expressed this same opinion. They are now working hard together with us, the Christians, to prevent the possible unwanted incidents. We, Christians and Muslims, are afraid that the so called unidentified force is creating a second Ambon and Moluccas in Jakarta and elsewhere.

The future of our Church, our Christian Communities as well as the healthy relationship among different religions and religious believers will depend on how far and how deep we can maintain and develop our good and strong relationship with the Muslims in general, through dialogue in any aspect of life, so that any possible suspicion and tension can be reduced and minimized. I am convinced that such a dialogue is possible as well as enriching. In Jakarta we have several forums for dialogue among different religions, and as Bishop of the Archdiocese of Jakarta, I have urged the parishes that such a dialogue be promoted everywhere, especially on the grassroots level. The weak point is this, namely that there are so many uneducated men and women who can be easily influenced by “naughty preachers". In some parishes such dialogue has been growing. For us, therefore, it is very important to have a positive attitude towards our brothers and sisters from different religious traditions.

II   In difficult situations, brotherly and sisterly care from the Muslims part usually becomes more evident.

Communicate and progress together

Back to our theme, is the emergence of the inter-cultural and inter-religious society being threatened? Yes, it is threatened by stigmatisation, by suspicion, by unwillingness to build communication. Stigmatisation happens when we hear about bombing incidents, reading the names of the bombers, then we generalize that it was done by Muslims and all Muslims are related to the bombers. A threat becomes reality to multicultural society if we do not communicate with the Muslims.

Is there any opportunity for the emergence of multi cultural and religious society? Yes, and the opportunity is defined in one word: communication. We need to communicate and by so doing we progress together with those from different religious and cultural backgrounds.

One of the important inter-religious communications is talking about the feelings of the adherents of one religion towards the others. There are different kinds of feelings. Some people feel threatened; some feel that it is better not to talk about religions at all because it is too sensitive, while others say that peace in the country depends on the communication established by the adherents of different religions. Here, inter-religious communication in Indonesia is reflected upon in terms of four aspects of possible situation: hostility, tolerance, dialogue, and true brother and sisterhood.

1). From hostility to sisterhood and brotherhood

During the period of conflicts, to facilitate a process toward a solution, we follow these following steps:

a). Collaboration:
A visit organised and done by their religious leaders together, helps those in conflict to find a bridge to break the tensions. Then the spirit of collaboration need to be initiated to collect data and information around what has happened. There is no violent conflict which is caused by religious motives alone. From the field we know that the non religious factors: as economic, local as well as national politics are the main causes of violent conflicts. The objective information can reduce and minimize suspicions. At least they may realise that in those conflicts, not only one group, but all groups are suffering, and become victims.

b). Tolerance:
Theoretically, tolerance is a minimum demand of a civilized society. But the idea of tolerance is more based on one’s will and understanding of other’s religion. Citizens need a tolerance which is expressed in the law, a tolerance which is more active in the structure of society. But tolerance alone is not enough. It can only bring people to a sterile inter-relationship. Tolerance can bring about an attitude of letting neighbours walk on their path with little communication. It is not enough; therefore we are still struggling over it by creating communication which invites people to widen their horizon.

c). Dialogue:
The idea of dialog demands that the followers of different religious believes admit the idea of pluralism and have an attitude of mutual respect to each other, admitting also that historically the way of understanding as well as practicing their religious belief is not yet perfect. Followers of different religious traditions should understand that religions as recorded in history have strengths as well as weaknesses, have done positive and negative things. They should understand that a follower of one religion may hear good tidings from other religions, because in spite of differences, there are many common and universal noble values owned by various religions. This gives room to mutual support and enrichment. The Indonesian government, through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has invited leaders of religions to initiate dialogue with the aim of creating kerukunan (harmony). There are three kinds of harmony: internal harmony between followers of the same religion, harmony between followers of various religions, and harmony between religions and government. Recently, since there are many victims of human-made as well as natural disasters, workings together to help the victim are realized better. Besides the government-sponsored dialogue, there are also dialogues initiated by the believers themselves. Fortunately, as a system of governing, the government forms small units (Rukun Tetangga = brotherhood based on good relationship with neighbouring residents in a certain areas as part of the District). The similar system is also used in Indonesia as pastoral way of being Church with Basic Catholic Communities as a strategy to be more deeply immersed in the real world in that area. There are also some categorical basic communities that are not based territorially, but according to their professions. With these systems we have the opportunities to strengthen our brotherly mutual relations, promoting our inter-cultural and inter-religious society.

d). True brotherhood and sisterhood.
This atmosphere is coloured by fellowship and collaboration. If in the atmosphere of dialogue adherents of different religion pay attention to the exchange of idea and inspiration, now true solidarity is more expressed in working together with faith that does good for the benefit for others. Fellowship can be traced among those who have been working together since the beginning of the republic, even during the period preceding independence. There is a challenge for ordinary people to actualize the meaning of religion in paying respect to human values.

In this phase of communication, followers of various religions try to understand better that their enemies are not the adherents of other religions, but those who are against the promotion of human values. God, who loves human beings, demands that those who believe in Him love their fellow human beings as brothers and sisters. Because they are loved by God, they are invited to participate in His creation, which continues even now.

What should be the Role of the community and its leaders in an Atmosphere of:

Hostilty?   Breaking the ice of suspicion: visit the areas where violent conflicts are
Tolerance?  Advocacy, deeper study of the cases
Dialogue?   Exchange of inspiration, elaborating the noble values, develop respect
True sisterhood and brotherhood?   Collaboration for the bonum commune


Adherents of all religions have become more aware of the fact that they live in a pluralistic world. This is a new challenge for all to understand what ‘difference’ means for them. In the past the difference was understood only as a matter of how to eliminate those who are different. But now it is reflected upon under the idea of pluralism; the existing difference is seen from the perspective of collaboration, of how one could complement the other, with respect, for the sake of a common mission. In Indonesia, one of the conclusions of discussing pluralism is that it is a precondition for collaboration. Collaboration is a must for people from different backgrounds so that they may become more able to shape the world and to make it a place in which human beings, loved by God, can live according to their dignity.

Julius Cardinal Darmaatmadja, SJ
President of the IBC


1). Catholic Church’s exhortation

The Catholic Church in Indonesia tries to encourage the congregation to pay attention to communication with people from different backgrounds. Since 1997, the Indonesian Bishops repeat their exhortation to the Catholics to be open, to be ready to work with people. The problem of Indonesia is so huge that collaboration is a must. Indonesian society is facing a serious problem. The grave problem is the collapse of public civility. In the Bishops, Conference 1997 Lenten Pastoral Letter this problem was formulated as moral brokenness in almost every area of civil, national, and state life. Four years later, in the Easter Pastoral Letter of the Bishops’ Conference that concern was reflected upon again through a question,”…is it true now that it is merely moral degradation or morality and ethics, which should be the basis of civil, national, and state life that is dead?” Moreover, in the Bishops’ Conference 2003 Pastoral Notes, that critical problem was viewed as the withering away of civility. In that situation, the prosperity of the entire nation, which is the aim of the state, is difficult to realize. A plague of injustice in the areas of politics, economy, and culture has instead escalated. (Pastoral Notes: Public civility: towards a new habitus of the nation Social Justice for All Socio-Cultural Approach, November 2004) The willingness to nurture true brotherhood and sisterhood is an expression of the true faith. Faith includes the willingness to nurture a real unity in building a righteous neighbourly life, mutual support and caring for anyone of any group, including different religions. This is an expression of Catholic faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching on love. (ibid)

2) Dialogue and collaboration: Priority since 1997

Since 1997, the Catholic Church in Indonesia, in her pastoral care, try to encourage the congregation to be open to people from other religions, to communicate and collaborate with them.

1997: We need to develop a spirit of brotherhood and equality among cultural, ethnic, religious and faith community, as a frame of reference for co-existence in Indonesia. (Concern and Hope, Lenten pastoral letter, 1997, page 7): Dear brothers and sisters, we must have an open and positive attitude, particularly, in what concerns our relationship with the faithful of other religions and beliefs. If there remains a feeling of fear and suspicion, let us overcome it by mutually approaching and speaking with one another. Let us listen to their concerns and share with them our own concerns. Let us together seek after and struggle for our common good and well-being… ( ) In spite of certain irritations in our relationship, let us not forget that there is far more good that remains in our relations with each other and that there are many Moslem faithful and their leaders who maintain friendly relations with us. During the Situbondo incident, for instance, it was touching to see the gestures of protection and security accorded to our Catholic brethren by our Moslem brothers; the reassuring messages and statements from Moslem leaders and their participation in restoring buildings which were razed and destroyed. Let us then be vigilant and wise, so as not to politicize our religion; neither should we ever allow, whichever party, to politicize it, nor use it as a political tool. With our brother Protestant Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist and brothers of other beliefs, we must, together, seek an answer to questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life, deepen the practice of religion; to strive to attain freedom from fear and fetters, with love and faith in God … ( ) Let us, therefore, spare no effort in bringing about inter religious dialogue at all levels. Let prominent Catholics be acquainted with prominent figures of other religions. Where we, as Catholics, are the majority, let the faithful of other religions feel secure and fully accepted by us. And, where we are a minority, let us remain open, yes, even take the initiative to associate and cooperate with the faithful, as well as with prominent persons, of other religions. We must be aware that the Government can initiate good relations among members of different religions, but its realization and growth should be brought about by the faithful themselves. An attitude of openness and a spirit of cooperation is not a tactic to be secure; but as citizens, it is a must in the formation and development of national unity; and as Catholics, it is a must in Christian faith. (Concern and Hope, Lenten pastoral letter, 1997, page 11-12)

1999: We can still see the reform movement, particularly among the youth, the world of higher education, intellectuals, legal advocates and non-governmental organizations, along with movements to empower the people. Concurrently, we state our hope that the reform movement remains pure, and becomes our joint property as a nation. We are also proud that we may witness the consciousness and aliveness of inter-ethnic and inter-faith activities that prioritize the interests of the whole nation. There is concern for the fate of others, particularly those who are neglected, poor and weak, including the defense of children and women’s rights. (Arise and Be Unwavering in Hope, Easter 1999 Pastoral Letter of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, page 9)

2001: In the hearts of all love is present towards others and it is spontaneously moved to assist those who are suffering. When accidents, riots and chaos occurs, we often hear about the kind actions of someone who saves his/her neighbours, helps and cares for those who are victims although they are of a different religion or ethnic group. In the Moluccas, for example, the Women’s Concern Movement arose, i.e. a movement of Moslem, Christian and Catholic women who work together to relieve the suffering around them and work for peace. The spirit of brotherly or sisterly love among citizens of different religions was also clearly expressed in the statement that strongly rebuked the Christmas terror. There is an impression that all religions feel attacked by that action. The intention of those explosions is extremely clear, i.e. pit one religion against another. However, at that time the people refused to be placed in opposition to each other. The people of different religions refused to become an agent for political aims. That terror wanted to give the impression that people of one religion wanted to attack those of another religion. It was all meant to create enmity and if possible more chaos which would destroy democratization and reform. Therefore, we should not enter the trap so placed to ensnare us. We should not be carried away by an emotional attitude towards other ethnic groups or religions, because that is exactly what they want us to do. The death of a young Moslem while protecting the parishioners of a church in East Java last Christmas is the proof, memory and strength which encourages us to continuously build harmony between religions. Do not we all have teachings that encourage us to spread the seeds of love and refuse all forms of violence? (Put in Order the Nation’s Morality, Pastoral Letter of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, 2001, page12-13)

2001, November: In our annual gathering this year, we the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, perceive the feelings and listen to the voice of the Catholic faithful who ask about the Catholic Church’s attitude regarding the flare up in discourse about Islamic Law prior to the Annual council of the People’s Assembly 2001. This problem has not been completely resolved. Consequently; it will appear again in the future. We are aware that we need to understand the problem concerning Islamic law in depth. After studying written materials, we invited our Islam brothers to explain Islamic Law from the perspective of Islam.

The Way to God: (53) Belief, Law, and Morals are the essence of Islam. Islamic Law for Muslims is “the Way to God”. Islamic Law comprehensively arranges the conduct and life of Muslims in their position as servants of God. We understand and appreciate the efforts of Indonesian Muslims to live in accordance to “the Way to God”, as Christians endeavour to live in accordance to following Jesus, believed as the Way, Truth, and Life. St. Paul encouraged Christians when he wrote: “Do not let your love be pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil” (Rm. 12: 9).

The Implementation of a Religious Law for All Citizens: Although, we firmly hold that we must follow the way given by God to humanity; however, no authority whatsoever may impose this obligation. Religion and living religion must always seek protection in the area of human freedom. Because of that, the submission of the living of one’s religion to State power will increasingly open the opportunity for tyranny, violence, and injustice by the State and its agencies, particularly if the above actions are legitimized by religion. In the Indonesian context, we must remember that the State is not an Islamic Religious State. The citizens of this country follow many religions: Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Believers in the One God, and also those who by their own conscience choose not to follow any of the institutional religions. The argument that the application of Islamic Law is enforced only on Muslims is untenable because Muslims live together with other people of other religions. Consequently, it is certain that areas of Muslim life will be in contact with citizens of other religions.

Nevertheless, in the encounters and lives of people of different religions, we can discover values we hold in common that unite us. We must struggle for those universal values that originate in our religious traditions through democratic networks so that they are enacted into laws for all citizens.

Therefore, we support praiseworthy efforts in the abovementioned direction. We suggest that the Catholic Faithful study and understand in depth the controversy around Islamic Law. Then, together with members of other religions, we can discover other values that can pull this nation out of its grave and restore the shattered image of God. (Our Participation in Restoring Human Dignity and The Universe, Message from the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, November 2001, page 24)

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