Ambon (Fides Service) – “Today there is an atmosphere of confidence and hope. People show good will in dialogue and look at each other as brothers and sisters. I am surprised to see the speed of the reconciliation process after years of conflict”. Catholic Bishop Petrus Mandagi of Amboina said this to Fides Service as he prepares to preside a solemn reconciliation ceremony between Muslims and Protestants on Sunday 22 June in Ambon, capital of the Moluccas islands in eastern Indonesia.
A little more than a year since the agreement was signed in Malino (February 2002) putting an end to ethnic conflict which lasted three years, killed more than 15,000 people and left 500,000 homeless, war is ever further away and peace is ever nearer. This is demonstrated by a ceremony of reconciliation planned for 22 June presided by local religious leaders, Protestant and Muslim, and also Catholic, in the presence of thousands of islanders. The day will mark the official reopening of free circulation of people and goods, transport and the re-opening of the Protestant district of Ambon city, off limits except for Protestants.
Bishop Mandagi tells Fides: “The process of reconciliation between Muslims and Protestants has taken giant steps forward. I am surprised if I remember the intensity of the past violence. Today people believe again in dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation. Protestants and Muslims live and work side by side, gradually the districts of the city, previously rigorously separated, are opening for cultural and commercial exchange. People pass freely from one zone to the other. They now realise that violence was useless and unmotivated, it only damaged daily life, removed serenity and threatened the future of young people, children and families. Everyone seems to realise that they were manipulated and exploited by radical groups from Jakarta, sectors of the army and political lobbies interested in keeping the insane conflict alive. Today it is the Muslims themselves who reject the extremism of Laskar Jihad, the group which came to bring the “holy war” to the Moluccas, and which has now left the islands. Just at the Protestants condemn the separatist movement South Moluccas Republic of the SMR.”
On the eve of the reconciliation ceremony, Bishop Mandagi says: “Today my heart is filled with happiness and hope. I thank God that in the Moluccas normal life is being resumed and people are looking to the future with confidence”. PA (Fides Service 20/6/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 478)