Indonesia's Joko Widodo, paid his first visit as president to the headquarters of the country's Catholic bishops' conference in Jakarta on Aug. 24 to improve ties with the local church and to stress the need for religious institutions to preserve and maintain diversity within the nation. The conference's chairman Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta
and its secretary-general, Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung in West Java province, as well as eight other bishops, welcomed the president. During their meeting that lasted more than an hour, each bishop took the chance to discuss various issues affecting their respective dioceses with the president, who took office in 2014. "In the meeting, I talked about issues related to [the national ideology of] Pancasila
as well as diversity especially in terms of religion, ethnicity, customs and traditions that we must continue to maintain," Widodo later told reporters. "We must maintain our brotherhood, harmony and unity," he said. Speaking with ucanews.com on Aug. 27, Archbishop Suharyo said the president's visit was "to build friendship" and had "nothing to do with the presidential election." Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center) sits with conference chairman, Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo (left) and the organization’s secretary-general, Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung (right), during talks on Aug. 24. (Photo courtesy of the Indonesian Bishop’s Conference’s Documentation and Information Department)
Indonesia goes to the polls in April 2019, with Widodo looking to secure a second term in office. "There was no specific issue raised by the president during the meeting. He just wanted to hear directly from Catholics [about problems they are facing]," the prelate said. According to him, the visit was Widodo's first as president. He had visited the conference's headquarters twice while he was Jakarta's governor from 2012 until 2014. Archbishop Suharyo also revealed that Widodo wanted to visit the Vatican. "If it really happens, then the noble values the Indonesian people live by will be recognized by the international community," he said, referring to diversity and secularism. Franciscan Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura
in Papua province said the president stressed the need to maintain diversity "because religious identity has become a big issue particularly ahead of the presidential election."
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The president hoped that bishops would help do this, he said. As part of this drive, Widodo the same day also visited the offices of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia and the country's largest Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama. Previously, he had visited the offices of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic organization in the country.