Muslim protesters gather during a demonstration in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Oct. 30 against French President Emmanuel Macron for his comments about the Prophet Muhammad caricatures. | Photo: AFP

By Justin L Wejak

Nov 4 2020

Dialogue between people of different faiths and ethnicity is a necessity, not an option.

When I first read Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli tutti, one question that immediately came to mind was: How important is the papal document in addressing some of the existing issues in Asia in general and Indonesia in particular? 

Indeed, Fratelli tutti is an important document partly because of the timing of its production. It was issued when the entire world is suffering deeply from outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic.

The document is also important because it reflects the pope’s continuing concern and care for universal humanity and the environment as well as a call, particularly for Catholics, to continue their endeavors in making the world a better place to live for all creation. In his earlier encyclical Laudato si’ (2015), Pope Francis calls the world our common home.

Due to the pandemic, the world — the global village — has suddenly split into remoteness and become so distant. In some places there are strict lockdowns and restrictions on interactions. Healthcare systems, economies and social relationships are profoundly affected. 

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, many Indonesians remain fearful the pandemic will weigh on the economy and their own finances well into the future. Bali, with an economy heavily reliant on tourism, has suffered dramatically as a result of restrictions on travel. Estimates suggest 80 percent of every dollar made in Bali comes from holidaymakers.

Overview of ‘Fratelli tutti’

Fratelli tutti contains the pope’s reflection and teaching on the importance of fraternity and social friendship for all human beings irrespective of their differences of origin, nationality, skin color and religion. Pope Francis particularly shows his genuine care for the unfortunate, the abandoned, the weak and the outcast. 

His core message is clear: everyone must be embraced and work together, not alienated. Unfortunately, I think, sometimes the exercise of freedom tends to alienate people. And when people feel alienated, they may react violently, as in the case of recent attacks in France and other parts of the world.

This is not to suggest that violence that occurred there is justifiable. No violence should be tolerated at all, it must be condemned. Fundamental to freedom is respect, and dialogue is like a bridge to gain understanding and respect of one another. These are necessary to protect the rights of everyone to live without feeling threatened and alienated. 

Fratelli tutti is made up of eight chapters. Chapter one is expressed in a metaphor of dark clouds over a closed world. According to Pope Francis, the dark clouds hinder the manifestation of universal fraternity. This chapter not only reflects the sad reality amid the coronavirus pandemic but is also a call to live out the spirituality of Saint Francis; a spirituality characterized by openness of heart and inclusion.

The pope then goes on to his second chapter, reflecting on what it means to be a stranger on the road, and urges the community of faith to greet strangers and welcome them, not to exclude or eliminate them. In chapter three, the pope talks about how an open world is envisaged and engendered. To Pope Francis, equity and inclusiveness must be promoted in order to have hope for a just society. For where there is justice there is peace.  

Chapter four elaborates on the idea of openness. It explains what it means to have a heart open to the world. The pope then moves on to chapter five contemplating what he calls a better kind of politics, followed by chapter six on dialogue and friendship in society, and chapter seven on paths of renewed encounter.

The final chapter calls on all religions to be always at the service of fraternity and social friendship in the world. It is a great way of closing the encyclical with a call to all religions to work together to make the planet a safe place to live for all creation — living beings, flora and fauna.

Indonesian context

Indonesia’s population is more than 274 million, with about 3 percent Catholics.

Even though nationally Islam is the dominant faith in Indonesia, Catholicism is the majority religion in certain areas of the country. Regardless of its minority status nationally, Indonesian Catholics are once again called upon to continue to not only reflect on, but more importantly to live out, St. Francis’ spirituality of openness, respect and dialogue. 

Interreligious/ethnic dialogue is not an option; it is a necessity. Religious and ethnic conflicts that occurred in some parts of Indonesia following the fall of Suharto in 1998 signaled the need for ongoing dialogue between religions and ethnic groups.

Fratelli tutti is rather generic but a specific aspect relevant for Indonesia is concerning the call to protect the rights of the weak and marginalized, such as the victims of sexual abuse within the Church. The Indonesian Catholic Church needs to apply this document by protecting people who have suffered abuse rather than burying allegations, an action that only protects the perpetrators and leaves the victims to their silent suffering.

After all, Fratelli tutti can be seen as a Covid encyclical, given the timing of its production and the general call to use the time in isolation during the pandemic to reflect on some important aspects of life such as solidarity and human rights. Continuing endeavors to support the voiceless, including the victims of abuse, are especially important. 

Justin Wejak studied philosophy in Indonesia, theology and anthropology in Australia, and currently teaches at the University of Melbourne. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News. – UCANews