Pope Francis preparing for September visit to Indonesia, the country with the most Muslims

(Photo: Kim Cain)Crowd at a Christian Unity rally in Jakarata, Indonesia on May 18, 2013.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in early April that Pope Francis was planning a visit to the predominantly Muslim country and that discussions were ongoing with the Vatican about the trip.

As Indonesia prepares to welcome Pope Francis in September, two of the country's clergy told Crux News that they hope that while visiting a high-profile mosque, the pontiff will walk an underground tunnel that connects it to the Catholic cathedral across the street.

Islam is the largest religion in Indonesia, with 87.06 percent of the Indonesian population identifying themselves as Muslims, based on civil registry data in 2023.

Tensions have frequently arisen involving Chrsitians in Indonesia but generally they coexist with the Muslim majority..

Indonesia is the country with the single largest population of Muslims with the Southeast Asian nation hosting 13 percent of the world's Muslims.

While the official program for the pope's visit to Indonesia has yet to be published, Indonesian priest Father Markus Solo, an official with the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, said that currently, the second day of the Sept. 3-6 papal visit "is dedicated to interreligious dialogue."


A large interreligious event is being planned at Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, which sits directly across the street from the Catholic Our Lady of the Assumption cathedral.

Representatives of the country's various religious communities will attend the event

Nasaruddin Umar, grand imam of the mosque in Central Jakarta, told local media Monday that the pope would visit the mosque on Sept. 5, Crux reported.

It is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and the ninth-largest mosque in the world in terms of worshipper capacity.

Istiqlal Mosque was built to commemorate Indonesia's independence in 1945 from the Netherlands.

The Arabic word Istiqlal means "independence."

Rev. Solo said the choice to hold the interreligious event at Istiqlal Mosque "is very interesting" given its proximity to the cathedral.

He said the two structures of the places of worship share a parking lot, and when one community holds a major event or during special highly attended spiritual gatherings, the other will allow the sharing of the parking spaces.

Solo said a tunnel was built connecting the two as "a sign of fraternity, of friendship, of peace and of harmony" between Catholics, and Christians generally, and Muslims.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1890, taking 11 years, while the mosque was built in 1954.

Work on the tunnel – called the "Friendship Tunnel" or the "Brotherhood Tunnel," began in December 2020 and finished almost a year later, in September 2021.

"We are very proud that this is the first tunnel between a church and a mosque in the world," Solo said, noting that organizers of the papal visit "strongly hope that the Pope can pass through."

Pope Francis's journey to Southeast Asia, which is scheduled to take place from September 2 to 13, will include stops in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and Singapore.

Christians make up about 10.5 percent of Indonesia's population of some 281 million people.

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