Pope Francis Plans Trip to Most Populous Muslim Country

Pope Francis gestures to worshipers from the popemobile car as he leaves at the end of the weekly general audience on November 6, 2019 at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

ROME — Pope Francis is looking to travel to Indonesia later this year, the nation with the highest Muslim population in the world, Reuters reported Monday.

On January 15, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), Yahya Cholil Staquf, met with Pope Francis in the Vatican along with other religious leaders to discuss ways of dealing with interfaith conflict.

Five days later, Staquf told Indonesian media that the pontiff had told him that he planned to make an apostolic visit to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor (Timor Leste) in September, 2020, sparking a wave of unconfirmed rumors.

Finally, in late January AsiaNews reported that the Indonesian government had “officially” invited Pope Francis to visit the Southeast Asian country.

“Yesterday, 28 January 2020, I personally delivered a letter of invitation to Card Piero Parolin at the Vatican Secretariat of State,” said the Indonesian Ambassador to the Holy See Antonius Agus Sriyono.

In the invitation letter, the Indonesian government expressed its wish to host the pontiff during his apostolic journey next September.

On Monday, Reuters cited “diplomatic sources” saying that Pope Francis will visit Indonesia later this year in a bid to promote inter-religious dialogue.

Catholics make up a small minority in the most populous Islamic country in the world. With a population of some 7.5 million, Catholics make up just 3% of the overall Indonesian population.

Pope Francis has vigorously pursued Muslim-Christian dialogue, culminating in the Abu Dhabi joint declaration co-signed by the pope and the Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb of Egypt in February 2019.

The nearly 3,000-word text, titled, “Declaration on Human Fraternity for world peace and living together” condemned “acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression” carried out in God’s name.

We “resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood,” the text reads. “These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings.”

“We thus call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression,” the two leaders declared.

The document came under fire from prominent theologians for “devaluing the person of Jesus” and “undermining the gospel itself,” since it seemed to propose that God willed the existence of a plurality of religions just as he wills a plurality of sexes, races, and languages.

The passage that caused the most furor read, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings.”

If all goes according to plans, Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit Indonesia, following Paul VI in 1970 and Saint John Paul II in 1989.

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