Thursday, March 7, 2013


Jakarta, February 25--March 1, 2013
(Fr. Kasmir Nema, SVD)

Theme: “Bringing ‘A common Word to Common Action for justice in Asia”

I. Background

On October 13, 2007, 138 Muslim Scholars issued an open letter addressed to Christian World Leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI and General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), entitled: “A Common Word between Us and You!”. Some responses have been made at the international levels, such as the statement of the first Catholic-Muslim Forum issued on November 6, 2008 and the statement of “International consultation Transforming Communities: Christians and Muslims Building a common Future” jointly organized by WCC, the World Islamic call society (WICS) issued on November 4, 2010.

Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) and the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) warmly welcomed this initiative and felt the need for religious leaders in Asia, particularly Muslims and Christians, to respond to this call from Asian experiences and perspectives. In order to achieve this goal, Indonesia was chosen as a possible venue for the Asian Conference. The steering committee was made, which consists of the Bishop’s conference of Indonesia, (KWI), The Indonesian Community of Churches (PGI), International Conference of Islamic Scholars (ICIS) , Christian Conference of Asia (CCA)  as well as Muslim Friends in Indonesia. 

Apart from the possible misunderstanding in comprehending religious teachings, there are other factors contributing to social conflict and other conflicts among believers. Many times, power interests are couched in religious terms, whereas in fact, the truth of the reality is far from that. We must place religion above all other interests. For this reason, efforts to build harmony among religious followers must begin from within each religion with the goal of reducing conflict in this region of the world, and together with others promoting peace and justice for all people and the whole of creation. 

II. Participants of Conference 

Total participants of the conference: 109, coming from fourteen countries namely: Phillipines, Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Malaysia, Pakistan, Taiwan, Timor Leste, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. The composition of the participants according to religions: Catholics: 29, Protestants: 42 and Moslem: 38

III. Aim of the Conference
There are four main objectives of the conference, namely:
1      To become familiar with the letter which had been written by 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, and explore ways to understand it from the religious and cultural perspectives in Asia.
2      To share in respectful manner the diverse ways of ‘love of God and love of neighbor‘ that are practiced by Muslims, Catholics and protestants in Asia, including the varied effects of this;
3      To discuss the possibility of common collaboration in implementing this divine mandate within the Asian context, especially with marginalized and poor sectors of the society
4      To promote deeper personal friendship among religious leaders of Asia. 


III. Output 
There were many presentations from various-well known speakers and many papers were distributed at the conference. I only highlight, however, some key issues which I consider significant and relevant to the context of the people in Timor Leste. 

1              “A Common Word” And Its Relation To The Cultural And Religious Context Of Asia
Three speakers address this issue, namely: KH. Dr. (Hc) Hasyim Muzadi, Archbishop Fernando Capalla and Drs. Suryadharma Ali, M.Si.  Each speaks from his religion’s perspective. The speakers affirm that Religious plurality has been always present in the history of humanity. Nevertheless, in our time there is an increased awareness of this phenomenon, and of its new dimensions, due to the greater human mobility and advanced progress in the means of communications.
The religious differences, the speakers stated, need to be recognized and respected; then transcending them and deepening our sense of being one community in Asia as Christians and Muslims, together with other religions, will do all we can to forge paths of friendship and solidarity in order to face common challenges, overcome obstacles and build lasting peace because Almighty God is our peace and He alone gives peace. They request that all believers in Asia must explore the theme of peace in the context of integral development of each person and all peoples. In the pluralistic context of Asia, one speaker added that,  dialogue in its multi-form (dialogue of life, of collaboration, of discussion and of religious experience) should be a way of living. The question is that what is the common Thrust of religions in Asia?
The thrust of religion is seen in its liberative force. It is meant to liberate the human person from the ego and thus bring abundant life; to see the true nature of things, to make the human person aware of his/her true dignity and especially to teach us the true place of human existence in life, namely, his/her creatureliness before the Creator God.
            Liberation, as understood from the point of view of a respective religious tradition, therefore, could be said to be the key word in Asian religious ethos. In other words, it does not merely indicate a purely material aspect. Religious and cultural values, such as fidelity to prayer, love of silence and contemplation, simplicity, harmony, detachment, non-violence, the spirit of hard work, discipline, frugal living, thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry, etc., are seriously practiced with the goal of achieving one’s ultimate salvation.
            With the growing sense of plurality of religions, followers of their respective religious traditions in Asia are discovering richer dimensions of their own religious traditions and thus feel called to live on a deeper level of their religious experience. This richness encompasses integral liberation of the human person, which integrates the spiritual, cultural, political, social, religious and economic aspects of life.

The common problems and responses to the challenges:
The common problems, which the speakers identified, are facing Asia today: 1) social and economic injustice are caused by the gains of modern prosperity being enjoyed by a relatively few, while many are exploited and marginalized; 2) the communications of mass media, which has tremendous potential of building understanding and respect among religious believers, has sometimes promoted models of an alienated life style and perpetuated suspicions and prejudices by caricaturing religious traditions; 3) the ecological crisis deeply affects many Asian countries and should engage attention of believers of all religions; 4) poverty forces many Asians to migrate, which in many cases lead to the break-up of families and the exploitation of migrants; 5) all aspects of the exploitation of women and children for labor and sex are abominations which should be effectively forbidden by law; 6) graft and corruption demoralize society and weaken people’s initiative to work hard and serve generously; 7) Instrumentalisation of religion for political and economical ends is a growing concern in Asian societies today; 8) denial of human rights, particularly, that of religious freedom, causes not only oppression of innocent people, but also, it falsifies religious truth itself; and finally, 9) lack of respect for life in an increasingly secularized and hedonistic culture poses grave problem for all believers.

At the same time, difficulties and challenges encountered on the path of dialogue among believers of different religions are emerging, as acknowledged by the speakers. They are: 
1) Ethnic conflicts. Even though these problems are not proved as religious problems, however, there are cases in which religions can intensify these conflicts. Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India can be taken as examples. Obviously, every ethnic group has the fundamental right to exist. This right is violated when an ethnic group is suppressed or brutally forced to move or when an attempt is made to weaken its ethnic identity to such an extent that it is made no longer distinguishable. Interreligious cooperation and correct understanding of one’s own religious tradition, which is based on the faithful practice and serious and unbiased study, can be of immense help in resolving these inter-ethnic conflicts

2) Globalization: is perhaps providing opportunities for many Asian developing countries to join the mainstream of the world economy. Unfortunately, the poor in Asia are becoming poorer as a result of the open market economy and multi-national corporations. Globalization means control of world economies by giant corporations which are finally accountable to no community and to no country. Their only aim is profit at all costs. As a consequence poverty has become deplorably acute in many parts of the Asian continent. The great benefits of global economic growth have gone not to the poor but to those who already have more than they could ever need in their lifetime. At the same time: Religious scenario in Asia has been deeply affected by the global market economy and free world trade. As a consequence of this, the focus of the Asian societies has shifted from the transcendental values to material profit and consumerism. 

3) Materialism. The hegemony of global consumer culture requires the relocation of a society’s religious traditions to the private sphere. This is resisted by religious people and the resistance to the privatization of religion often takes the form of resurgent, militant assertion of religious value and identity. The challenge for us, therefore, is to respond by ensuring a ‘globalization in solidarity, a globalization without marginalization’. In this sense, the challenging yet also positive side of globalization is that we now have at our disposal numerous means for offering humanitarian assistance to our brothers and sisters in need, not least modern systems of distributing food and clothing, and of providing housing and care.

4) Secularism. History demonstrates that as civilizations rise they turn away from religion to science, but then decline because without an underpinning of religious belief, the morality that holds society together inevitably falls away. 

5) Relativizing the eternal truth. This particularly happens through the recourse into historical investigation, falling into the error of ‘nihilism’ which ultimately ends up in a sort of ‘totalitarianism’ of the ideological world. Complete absolutization of the act of reason, when brought to its apex and applied to political and religious ideas, brings not concord and peace but gives rise to atheism.

6) Religious fundamentalism.  The ‘movement’ of religious Fundamentalism emerges increasingly  in the continent of Asia. They fundamentalism fight under a religious banner. This becomes for a fundamentalist a great conviction in carrying out what is conceived to be a mission. Let us not forget that the danger of fundamentalism is not limited to any one particular country, culture or religion. It is a problem which also all religions in Asia face today

The ‘sense of one community’ in its pluralistic context of Asia must be preserved without allowing religious communities live in isolation. That could be fatal for Asian societies. Religion as a common denominator is able to unite the Asian societies, creating a joint front to face the challenges I have mentioned above. Religion is the soul of the Asian society. Dialogue of collaboration among believers of different religions, across boundaries, is necessary to foster a culture of harmony and peace in the continent. This collaboration must be founded on the rejection of fanaticism, extremism and mutual antagonisms which lead to violence… education as a means of promoting mutual understanding, cooperation and respect is very important.

2              The Role of Religion in Promoting Justice
Promoting justice amid complexity of continental Asia is not an easy matter, is acknowledged by the speakers and all participants. Justice, however, must be promoted as a core of our religious teachings, to create a peaceful living, one speaker added into account. “A common word Between Us and You” , which is the theme of the conference, is a call to love, we would not close our ears as our Master had said: “ by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one another”.
The above point highlights the core message which was presented by Prof Dr. M. Dib Syamsuddin, Fr Ismartono and Rev. dr. A. A. Yewangoe. Besides welcoming “A Common Word between You and Us”, it also could be a new frame for our struggle for justice and a new foundation for our love for one another, the speakers affirmed. Fr Ismartono, one of the speakers, invited participants to be aware of four common things which are occurring in Asia. We are (1) experiencing violence in conflicts which are caused not by religious motives alone. The role of a religious community and its leader is to break the ice of suspicion; and also to visit areas where violent conflicts occur. (2) The experience of tolerance. However tolerance alone is not enough, because tolerance can only bring people to a sterile interrelationship. It can only bring about the attitude of letting neighbors walk on their path within minimum communication. In this context, the role of religious community is to give advocacy and make a deeper study of the cases and their individual circumstances. (3) There is absolutely a great need for dialogue because it involves communication and relationship. In the sphere of dialogue, the followers of different religions are called to drop any concept and feeling that their religion is superior to that of others. Therefore, the key idea which enables and forms the foundation of dialogue is pluralism. Exchange of inspiration, elaborating the noble values, developing  respect, seeking common concern are several things which need to be promoted by religious leaders. (4) The much-vaunted experience of true brotherhood and sisterhood.  This experience is colored by fellowship and collaboration.  Religious leaders are  called to create collaboration for living in a society based on the values of justice and love. In short the possible role of religion for promoting justice in Asia is that: being well rooted in the common great value which is love, building discerning communities to denounce injustices and moving and progressing from animosity to true brotherhood-sisterhood.
On Thursday, Feb 28, 2013, the participants of the conference were split into parallel group discussions. Various themes were discussed, such as: Impact of Globalization in Asia, Migration and Human Trafficking, Youth and the Future Interfaith, and the Role of Religion in Development. This session was followed by a plenary session in the afternoon in which each country presented their plan and action for their own country. 

For us, the following is our future plan and action for the implementation of interfaith dialogue in Timor Leste.
1      To build a centre for interfaith Dialogue as the centre for all interfaith activities in Timor Leste
2      To have monthly interfaith activities
3      To promote justice and peace for all adherent religions in Timor Leste
4      To advance collaboration between the religious leaders of Catholic, Christian and Muslim communities in Timor Leste
5      To work together with the Government in order to avoid making laws which can violate human rights, and to amend existing laws which do not promote justice and peace in the society

The plenary session presenting the plan and action for each country marked the end of the afternoon. It was, then, followed by the closing ceremony of the conference which was held at the Jakarta provincial office, in which the Jakarta Message was read, as the final document produced by the conference. The Jakarta Message, under the title: Striving Together in Love; Toward Common Action. (see the attachment for the full text)

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