Politics

Pope Francis to Visit Muslim Indonesia in September

ROME — Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, in September, the Vatican has announced.

According to Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, the Vatican sent a letter to the Indonesian government confirming that Pope Francis will be present in Indonesia on Sept. 3, 2024.

On Wednesday, Indonesian Secretary of State Pratikno said that the Foreign Ministry is working out details for a bilateral meeting between President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Pope Francis to be held when the 87-year-old pontiff visits the country in September.

“It’s a state visit, and now details are being discussed by the Foreign Ministry,” Pratikno said in regard to an official meeting between the two leaders in Jakarta, the nation’s capital.

The 87-year-old pope will visit Indonesia at the invitation of President Jokowi, who extended the invitation in June 2022. The trip was originally planned for 2022 but could not be carried out due to concerns for the pope’s health.

“After waiting for two years, Pope Francis will finally come to Indonesia. I believe this will be a special gift for Catholics,” Yaqut said, adding that it would be “an honor for Indonesia.”

“During his visit, Pope Francis will be able to experience first-hand the diversity and interreligious fraternity that is growing in Indonesian society,” reads a statement from the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Indonesia has become the testing ground for an alternative model of Islam in contrast with the predominant versions of Sunni and Shia Islam typified by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“A remarkable transformation has been taking place in the Muslim world, a years-long shift towards pluralism and tolerance belying common assumptions about Islam,” wrote Muddassar Ahmed for The Hill in late 2022.

Ahmed was speaking of the G20’s “ground-breaking” Religion Forum, the R20, which had just met for the first time in Bali.

“Not only is it an epochal moment in modern Islam, but this moment also helped create the world’s most important interfaith conversation,” he wrote.

The R20 is driven by the Indonesian Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama, which backs Indonesia’s foundational secular government and has supported its transition to democracy.

Nahdlatul Ulama also promotes interfaith collaboration while condemning extremism, leading some observers to see the group as an important player in the future of Islam’s relations with other faiths.

Pope Francis will reportedly visit Indonesia en route to Timor-Leste and he is also expected to visit Papua New Guinea as part of the same voyage.

The Vatican’s foreign minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher said last month that Francis plans to visit Indonesia, Singapore, East Timor, Papua New Guinea in early September, and could possibly add Vietnam to the list.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has made 44 trips abroad and is also scheduled to visit Belgium later this year.

With a Muslim community of 242 million, Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Catholics make up only 3 percent of the Indonesian population, numbering around 8.5 million.



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