Heru Prakosa SJ
On January 2008, twelve students and two professors from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB) (United States of America) spent three weeks in Indonesia to conduct an immersion program related to Islamic studies. In doing so, they were accompanied by some students and staff members from the Faculty of Theology of Sanata Dharma University. They met with many interesting experiences, like when they stayed in two pesantren (Muslim boarding schools) in Central Java.
In the first pesantren, our American friends had a difficult time, since the clerics and students of the pesantren, along with hundreds of Muslims from other places, bombarded them with many questions in the form of a theological debate. Indeed, they really found it a nightmare.
The following day, they visited a different pesantren about 15 minutes distant by car. In this second pesantren they found a totally different situation. They were received with such a warm welcome that they were able to share their opinions peacefully. This clearly manifests the difficulties and complexity of religious encounter in Indonesia. There were incidents in 1999-2000, when many Muslims and Christians murdered each other in the Molucca Islands.
Nevertheless, at the same time many people also made efforts to collect humanitarian aid for both sides. One can recall Riyanto, a young 25-year-old Muslim fellow, who was killed during his attempt to protect a church in Mojokerto, East Java, from a bombing attack by an Islamic fundamentalist group.
One should remember that Indonesia is characterized by great diversity in religion, ethnicity, race, culture, language etc. According to the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics, it is reported that, in terms of religion, 88.22 percent of the population label themselves as Muslim, 5.87 percent as Protestant, 3.05 percent as Catholic, 1.81 percent as Hindu, 0.84 percent as Buddhist, and 0.2 percent as belonging to other religious denominations, including traditional indigenous believers.
“Catholics in Asia are a ‘small flock’ – [in a] context that is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. Christianity is often perceived as foreign and dialogue is typical of the life of the Church in Asia,” said John Paul II in his exhortation to the members of the post-Synod Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for Asia.
So how can the fire of interreligious encounter be kindled for Jesuits in training?