The Indonesian Catholic bishops have met with government officials to express concern over escalating violence in Papua province following the death of a Catholic catechist, shot dead by security forces.
Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta, president of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference (KWI), was accompanied by two bishops from the Indonesian province of Papua during his meeting with Mohammad Mahfud MD, the Indonesian Minister of Security, in Jakarta on November 1, 2020. A summit meeting that took place days after Catholic Rufin Tigau was killed by soldiers in the Intan Jaya district, Papua province.
This part of Indonesia, divided into two provinces – Papua and West Papua – should not be confused with the independent country of Papua New Guinea.
Twenty-eight-year-old Tigau had been working as a catechist and translator in the parish of St. Michael in Bilogai since 2015. A spokesperson for the defense forces justified the military action against Rufin Tigau on the pretext that he belonged to “an armed separatist group,” an assertion that the diocesan apostolic administrator formally denies.
A Troubled Province Since 1965
It was in 1965 that the Netherlands ceded the Papuan provinces to Indonesia. Since that time, a latent conflict has opposed separatists and the central power. It suddenly heated up in August 2019, when all cities were the scene of violent protests.
The Papuans accuse the Indonesians of treating them as second-class citizens, of seizing their mineral wealth and of committing abuses against civilians. There is some truth to all of these accusations. Moreover, Christianity is largely in the majority in Papua, as in Papua New Guinea. While Indonesians are mostly Muslims.
Bishop Pierre-Canisius Mandagi, Ordinary of Amboina, one of the bishops who took part in the November 1st meeting, confided his fears to Ucanews: “We are concerned about the situation,” declared the prelate who added that hopefully “the government will keep its promises to reduce violence in Papua. We want Papua to become a fraternal land, not a war zone.”
Fr. Marthen Kuayo, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Timika, for his part continued to remember that the murder of Rufin Tigau is not an isolated case: “It is not the first time that servants of the Catholic Church, have been targeted. On October 7, Augustin Duwitau, another catechist from the Emondi mission, was also shot dead. If we remain silent in the face of such incidents, I fear the situation will get worse,” he said.
Unfortunately, it seems that a quick solution is not in sight.