The trip to Asia and Oceania by Margaret Karram and Jesús Morán, President and Co-President of the Focolare Movement, has come to an end. Here are some updates on what they experienced on the final stage: Indonesia
Panongan (Indonesia), 17th of May 2023 – It is 8 a.m. in the morning in the Catholic parish of St. Odelia, about two hours from Jakarta. Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo, Cardinal of the Indonesian capital, has arranged a meeting for representatives of the government and law enforcement agencies, the municipality, the villages, as well as Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu religious leaders. The purpose was to tell the President and Co-President of the Focolare about a pilot social project, being conducted collaboratively by all these sectors of society, in support of the city of Tangerang/Banten. With more than two million inhabitants, this is the third most populous area west of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which with all its satellite cities has almost thirty million inhabitants. It is an area where there is great development, but also economic inequality. The people living in the villages are poor, working in the rice fields, living off the land and raising chickens, goats, and a few cows. This area, with an overwhelming Muslim majority, is within the St Odelia parish.
Father Felix Supranto – known as “Romo Felix” by everyone (“romo” means “father” in Bahasa, the country’s official language) is the dynamic parish priest of St. Odelia’s. He has the gift of knowing how to bring people together. He is our host along with the many parishioners he has involved in various social projects over the years.
The Cardinal explained: ‘The dialogue we have here with our brothers and sisters of different religions is something concrete,’ ‘it looks at the needs of the people. There is a need for houses, to create job opportunities, to bring water to the villages. We are working on this ‘together’ and it is important that the President and Co-President of the Focolare have come here to see what could be a model of dialogue, also outside Indonesia. Our country’s motto is ‘unity in diversity’ and it very much expresses who we are, and how we face challenges.”
“We are honoured to have you with us,” said Father Felix to Margaret Karram and Jesús Morán, “to share the journey we are on. So far, we have built twelve houses to help the poor and it is this working together that makes us brothers and sisters, even with our differences.
The day continued with a visit to a school for children from 6 to 15 years old, to several villages where, thanks to the funds raised, it has been possible to bring water, to breed cows, goats and catfish and where the added value is the full involvement of everyone: institutions and local people. The visit to the madrassa – an Islamic school – is the last appointment of this first day of visits that shows us the supportive and communitarian character that is the real strength of this country.
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – we are different, but we are one
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, ‘We are different, but we are one’ is in fact the motto of Indonesia, inscribed on the national coat of arms depicting an ancient deity, the Javanese eagle.
A record breaking country
With its 17,000 islands and more than three hundred ethnic groups, each with its own vibrant cultural tradition, Indonesia is a country of rich diversity. And today the population proudly presents itself to the world as an example of tolerance and coexistence between diverse cultures and religions. One example among many: the Istiqlal (Independence) Mosque in Jakarta is the largest in South-East Asia. It stands directly opposite the Catholic cathedral and during major Christian celebrations, such as Christmas, the mosque gives support by providing parking spaces for Christian worshippers; it happens the other way around on Islamic feast days.
Indonesia has the highest biodiversity on the planet, but deforestation and exploitation of resources are threatening the preservation of these natural environments with serious consequences. Wealth is unevenly distributed, and it is estimated that 27,000 millionaire families (0.1% of the population) own more than half of the country’s wealth.
Although it is not easy to get accurate statistics, the population is estimated at 273 million, making it the fourth most populous country in the world. Indonesia has the highest Muslim population in the world (86.1 %); Christians of various Churches make up 10.53 %, and religious affiliation is recorded on identity cards.
The focolarini in Southeast Asia and Pakistan
Jakarta, 19th May 2023 – Seeing the focolarini from Southeast Asia and Pakistan who have arrived in Jakarta to meet with Margaret Karram and Jesús Morán, the great potential of the Asian continent comes to light. They witness to the encounter between very different peoples and cultures: from Thailand to Myanmar, from Vietnam to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Many of them were connected online, like the focolarini in Pakistan for example, but the distance does not prevent a deep communion in which we witnessed both the challenges of inculturation in individual countries and the strength of unity, which can reach the most diverse environments.
There was a very attentive atmosphere during the question-and-answer session with Margaret Karram, Jesús Morán, Rita Moussallem and Antonio Salimbeni (who are jointly responsible for the Focolare’s interreligious dialogue). The women focolarine from Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) asked how to spread the spirituality of unity in these times when it is difficult to interest people, and especially young people. “On this trip to Asia and Oceania,” Margaret explained, “I realised that the way we have been offering the spirituality of unity up to now has to change, because society has changed. We are all living so ‘connected’ to one another that we need to find a way of presenting the various vocations not each one on its own, but alongside one another. Perhaps we could do this when we meet as a community of the Movement at a local level; then it will be God who speaks to the heart of each one, calling them to the different paths. I see that what touches people’s hearts is caring for people personally, building true relationships, made of selfless love. People should find in each of us a brother, a sister, a friend. Only when we have built a relationship can, we invite them to get to know the spirituality of the Focolare”.
“Sometimes we might think that we do not have the right means for interesting people in the spirituality of unity,” continued Jesús in the same vein, “but we must beware of giving in to the temptation to adapt what we say to the flow of the world in order to be accepted at all costs. We have to be in the world, because it is beautiful, God created it, but we should feel the contrast with the world; it is Christian to experience it, because we belong to a truth, the truth of Christ, which goes beyond the world’.
Dialogue as a way of life
Jakarta, 20th May-Yogyakarta, 21st May 2023 – “Since February 2021, our life in Myanmar has changed completely. My region is the one where the conflict is worst. We wouldn’t want anyone to have to hear the explosions of artillery and aerial bombings, it is not human. We are rooted in God and focused on living in the present – because we do not know if we will be here tomorrow – and we continue to bring our people love and new hope. Every day I understand more Jesús’s words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (Jn 15:13)”.
The speaker was Gennie, who is Burmese and works for an aid agency that takes care of displaced persons of whom there are more than one million since the coup. Hers is one of the testimonies that recounted the life and challenges of the Focolare communities in Southeast Asia at the forum “Dialogue as a way of life”, held in partnership with the Catholic University of Jakarta “Atma Jaya”.
290 people attended from various parts of Indonesia as well as from various countries in Southeast Asia. Another three hundred were linked by streaming from Pakistan and elsewhere.
At the centre of their testimonies is the culture of dialogue that is lived in these countries in everyday life, becoming a way of life, also in the world of economics, as Lawrence Chong from Singapore recounted. Since 2004 he has been running a management consultancy company with two other partners, a Methodist and a Muslim, according to the principles of the Economy of Communion. “Today we are present in 23 countries and our work is to bring about change, to have an impact on the economic system and improve it, based on the principles of interdependence and mutual love.”
After the celebration, where the different peoples present shared their great cultural wealth and variety of traditions, Margaret and Jesús answered some questions and shared their initial impressions of this trip. “Asia is the continent where the sun rises, while we come from Europe, where the sun is setting,” said Jesús. “In Asia and Oceania, we found a very lively Church, as well as people of different religions, and we immersed ourselves in the light that we found in the deep humanity of people. We have received so much hope for the Church and for the Work of Mary. This hope will not meet with disappointment if these people remain true to themselves. Of course, we also saw the problems: the poverty, conflicts, and wars. So, it is true that the sun rises in these countries, but we also have before us a great challenge: our hope is that the Gospel can also bear a message of freedom for these peoples”.
The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Piero Pioppo, who came to celebrate Mass, expressed his wish that the message of unity and of communion may grow and spread in this world that is in dire need of it.
The roots of the movement in Indonesia
Also in Yogyakarta, Margaret and Jesús were welcomed by the Focolare community with the traditional dance of welcome. The meeting there was a journey into the extraordinarily rich Javanese culture and traditions, and an opportunity to learn about the roots and development of the Movement in Indonesia. After several trips were made from the Philippines from the late 1980s onwards, the focolare arrived in Medan in 2004. But no one will ever forget 2006, the year of the terrible earthquake that claimed thousands of lives. Its epicentre was on the island of Java, in the region of Yogyakarta, where the focolare is now located. Bapak Totok, one of the animators of the local community, tells how the people of the Focolare Movement, together with the local people, rolled up their sleeves to help build 22 “Pendopo” (community centres in twenty-two villages) as well as a social project. These centres have been a sign of peace and unity among people of different religions.
Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University: in dialogue to promote fraternity
Yogyakarta, 22nd May 2023 – With its 20,000 students, Sunan Kalijaga University is an important national academic centre for Islamic studies and has also had a Cultural Centre for Interfaith Dialogue since 2005.
Margaret Karram, together with Rita Moussallem and Antonio Salimbeni, participated in the seminar “In dialogue to promote fraternity” with 160 students, teachers, and members of the local Focolare community. It is a subject that resonates in a special way here, where dialogue “goes beyond” university lecture halls or study forums, as it is both the challenge and the foundation of Indonesian society. “The presence of the leaders of the Focolare Movement is important,” explained Prof. Inayah Rohmaniyah, “because it allows us to take an extra step, not to look only at Indonesia, but to become together builders of a world renewed by the values of the fraternity that we are living, here, today”.
The students’ questions focussed on the strategy of dialogue to combine cultural and religious diversity even in situations of social conflict.
“Sometimes we talk very much about the difficulties and very little about the riches that these diversities bring in themselves” Antonio Salimbeni replied. “First of all, we are human beings, brothers and sisters, which is why it is important to be open, to understand the religion of the other from his or her perspective; to try to think as a Muslim thinks, as a Hindu thinks, to see the world as the other person sees it.
The journey is ending, but a world is opening up
Margaret Karram and Jesús Morán first official trip to Asia and Oceania is ending after 45 days travelling, visiting five countries, and meeting several thousand people – 1,500 in Indonesia alone. They met very different peoples and cultures, they have seen the challenges at first hand, but also the vitality of the Church in countries where Christianity is a minority. They have witnessed dialogue between people of different religions taking place in everyday life, dialogue that can give concrete answers to the social and economic problems of peoples and they have shared in the life of the Focolare communities in this part of the world.
It is not easy to take stock on the spur of the moment, but nonetheless the question was asked, and Margaret shared some impressions of the recent public meetings: ‘I feel strongly that God is asking the Movement, in Asia in particular, but also worldwide, to take an important step. Dialogue must become our way of life, our way of acting, at all times. We cannot continue as before, looking only at our Movement and doing our own activities. The time has come to go outside, to work with other organisations, with people of different religions, as we are already doing here. So, let’s get going, there’s no time to lose!
This journey has given me, once again the confirmation that unity and peace in the world are possible. Sometimes looking at the world today, with its wars and injustices, I have had doubts. But in all the countries we visited, I met many people committed to building a different society, to building bridges, even making great sacrifices. It is they who have given me the certainty that together we can make a difference and give our contribution”.