Arya Kiet – Coinciding with International Human Rights Day today, December 10, 147 Catholic priests in Papua have called for an end to violence in Papua and have requested that bishops give more serious attention to the issue for the sake of the safety of religious community members in Indonesia's eastern-most provinces.
In a statement read out by Papuan Peace Network (JDP) Coordinator Pastor John Bunay during a press conference attended by 20 or so priests representing various different diocese in Papua who signed the statement, which was also broadcast on the Jayapura Diocese Social Communication YouTube Channel, they said, "[We] feel called upon to be a funnel to articulate the consciousness of the religious community which is trusted by God".
"We are voicing the cries of the consciousness of pregnant months who are breastfeeding, small children, parents and young children, people who are ill, blind, deaf and paralyzed, all those who are powerless who are currently living in anxiety and fear throughout the land of Papua", they said.
The statement was signed by priests from various different diocese and congregations such as the Franciscan, Augustinian, Jesuit and the Utterances of Godly Union throughout Papua.
They said that the human rights situation in Papua continues to worsen where in the recent period many people had fallen victim to violence including servants of the church.
They touched on the death of Pastor Yeremia Zanambani who was shot dead by the military in Hitadipa Village, Intan Jaya, on September 19, as well as Rufinus Tigau, a religious educator shot dead on October 26.
Following these shootings, on November 3 Coordinating Minister for Security, Politics and Legal Affairs, Mahfud MD, met with two bishops from Papua, namely Mgr. Aloysius Murwito, OFM and Mgr. Petrus Canisius Mandagi, MSC and Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo, the chairperson of the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI).
Despite this however, they said that nothing changed. Only three days later, on November 6, the military leadership declared that it would continue operations in Papua.
The priests said that the presence of non-organic troop which have launched military operations have created anxiety among the Papuan people and are calling on President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to withdraw all non-organic troops from Papua.
They also asked that the military and the pro-independence army halt all "armed violence and open their hearts to negotiations under a dignified dialogue which can be mediated by a neutral and independent country or group".
"Violence will never resolve the problem, instead it will add a million more sufferings and new problems", they said. "Understand that saving human lives will not happen at barrel of a gun, sisters and brothers", they added.
The call by the priests was also conveyed to the KWI who they called on, "not to say silent or pretend as if they do not understand the injured feelings of the people of Papuan congregations.
"Why did the respected Sirs of the Indonesian Catholic Church leadership not respond holistically, seriously, and fully to the prolonged conflict in the land of Papua during the KWI's annual meeting?", they asked.
They said they felt surprised and at the same time ignored when they heard that the KWI had been so quick to declare a position and express its profound sorrow over the recent incidents of violence against the Protestant church community in Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi, "meanwhile grief and anxiety as well as the killings of Papuan human beings appears to have eluded the attention, protection and compassion of the KWI", they said.
Meanwhile, to the bishops in Papua they said, "Yearn for the shepherds who are in the place that is at the forefront of efforts to safeguard God's congregation".
The priests said that the Papua problem must be dealt with an approach that prioritises dignified dialogue, which is not intended to find who is wrong and who is right, but for the sake of finding concrete truths which can deliver justice and peace to all parties.
"Dialogue will never kill, dialogue will never injure, and dialogue will never make us stupid. It is precisely when we use methods that are wrong like violence which has no humanity, that we leave behind festering sores of material as well as spiritual life", they said.
Pastor Paulus Tumayang OFM, one of the signatories of the statement, said that their call was born out of the experience of real meetings with congregations in the villages and hamlets of Papua.
"We are not affiliated with any group at all. This is our genuine voice as servants of God", said the pastor of the St. Petrus and Palus Argapura Parish from the Jayapura dioceses.
Meanwhile Pastor John Djonga, a pastor activist, said that they felt they had to speak out because congregations in Papua admit to feeling that the government does not want to know about their fate.
"There is an impression that the government no longer feels responsible for this situation. Because of this, we [feel we] must speak up", he said.
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Imam Katolik di Papua Desak Para Uskup Bersuara Tegas demi Keselamatan Umat Papua".]