Indonesian Catholics have called on the Vatican to reschedule Pope Francis’ visit to Indonesia after it was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the Vatican never confirmed the pope would be visiting Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Papua New Guinea this September, diplomatic sources had said the visit was planned. However, officials have now said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic the visit has been called off.
“The cancellation is understandable because now the whole world is fighting Covid-19 and it will remain a serious threat over the next few months,” Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting communal tolerance, told UCA News on March 15.
However, the former executive secretary of the bishops’ interfaith committee hoped the Vatican would reschedule the pope’s visit for next year “because his visit is very important for Indonesia.”
“His visit will have a positive impact on Indonesia, particularly in strengthening interreligious dialogue,” he said.
Hermawi Fransiskus Taslim, a Catholic lay leader, expressed a similar view.
“We pray the Vatican reschedules Pope Francis’ visit so that he can come to Indonesia next year,” said Taslim, chairman of the student communication forum of the Indonesian Catholic Student Association (Forkoma PMKRI). “A visit would boost peace and unity [among religions] in this country.”
Indonesia’s ambassador to the Holy See, Antonius Agus Sriyono, told UCA News that he was told of the cancellation of the pope’s visit by Monsignor Mauricio Rueda Beltz, who manages Pope Francis’ trips overseas. Sriyono said the visit could be postponed until next year.
Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, president of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, refused to offer any confirmation about the proposed visit or its cancellation, saying he had not received any official word from the Vatican.
“My policy is to wait for an official announcement from the Vatican before commenting,” Cardinal Suharyo told UCA News.
Yahya Cholil Staquf, secretary-general of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, revealed the pope’s wish to visit the region after meeting him on Jan. 15.
Staqut, who was in Rome to attend an Abrahamic Faiths Initiative meeting between Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, told Catholic News Agency that Pope Francis planned to visit the three countries in September.
In late January, Indonesian President Joko Widodo extended an official invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Muslim-majority country.
Indonesia has 24 million Christians including seven million Catholics. Pope St. Paul VI visited the country in 1970, while Pope St. John Paul II traveled there in 1989, including Timor-Leste, which at that time was part of Indonesia.
The Vatican’s chargé d’affaires of the apostolic nunciature to Timor-Leste, Monsignor Marco Sprizzi, told reporters in Dili on March 11 that the pope’s visit to the tiny nation had been canceled due to the fast-spreading pandemic.
He said Pope Francis had indicated his willingness to visit Timor-Leste this year but was concerned about large crowds, saying “because he did not want his people affected by the coronavirus, he had canceled his visit.” Covid-19 has so far infected more than 170,000 people worldwide, killing more than 6,500, including five in Indonesia.