Asia: Unity Amidst Diversity

The Asian Youth Day (AYD), a major event of Asia’s Catholic Church, is taking centre stage
in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Some 3,000 young people from 29 Asian countries are expected
to gather in the Javanese city, from the 20th July to the 9th August 2017, for the youth meeting on the theme,”Joyful Asian Youth: Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia!”

AYD is an outcome of the World Youth Day that was instituted by Pope St. John Paul II in 1985. The first AYD was held in Hua Hin, Thailand, in 1999. Since then, the continent-level event has been held in intervals of 2, 3 and 5 years. The last AYD was held in Daejeon, South Korea, in 2014, which was attended by Pope Francis. The 7th AYD in Yogyakarta is the first time that Indonesia is hosting the continental event.

Organisers have planned the 11-day event into three stages, with July 3oth-August 6th as the period of the main events. It will start with ‘Days in the Dioceses’ (DID), July 3oth-August 2nd, during which participants will be hosted by 11 of Indonesia’s 37 dioceses. “In these dioceses, participants will learn and share their faith experiences with people from different countries”, explained Fr. Antonius Haryanto, chairman of AYD 2017.

The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderates, but recent incidents indicate that the nation is no exception to the growing threat of Islamic radicalism among its people. The nation’s authorities are worried and are taking action. “Our events promote tolerance and respect in living in a multicultural country”, Fr. Haryanto noted.

During the ‘Days in the Dioceses’, the Asian youth will be accommodated in families of “different cultural backgrounds, ethnic groups and languages”, Fr. Haryanto said. In Yogyakarta, the participants will stay in seminaries and convents, and will also have the chance to taste “many different kind of Indonesian food”. “Each participant will contribute to the expenses, including meals and travel expenses”, he said.

Various activities such as the Eucharist, prayers, games, sharing of testimonies and other such sessions will be held “to unite the participants as a Catholic people,” referred Fr. Haryanto.
After the ‘Days in the Dioceses’, all the participants will converge in Yogyakarta, August 2 – 6, for the main events of the AYD. This will include group sharing sessions, games, cultural presentations by participating countries, group prayers, adoration, confession and the final Mass on the last day, August 6.

With the main AYD events over, bishops, priests and lay people serving as guides, advisors and coordinators to youth in their countries will stay back for the Asian Youth Ministers’ Meeting (AYMM), August 6th- 9th. They will be provided with materials to help them coach and encourage their young people to grow and contribute to their respective society and Church.

“We have engaged heavily on digital and social media”, given the fact that young people are media-savvy, Fr. Haryanto explained. Besides, he said, organisers “have asked some famous Catholic athletes, actors/actresses, public figures” to encourage participation in the events in the run-up to the July 3oth—August 6th AYD 2017.

With some 17,000 islands dotting its vast expanse of some 1,9 million sq kms, Indonesia is the largest archipelagic nation in the world. It is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation although, officially, it is a secular state. With an estimated population of 258 million, Indonesia is also the fourth most populous country in the world. More than 85% of its population is Muslim, with Christians forming nearly 13%. Catholics make up some 3.5%.

Even though the government recognizes only six official religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism), the Indonesian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The state is based on the Pancasila or five principles namely, belief in one God, a just and civilised society, unity of the country, democracy and social justice.

“This is why the Indonesian government welcomes and supports this event, as this is also in line with the mission to fight the current issue of radicalism and extremism”, said Fr. Haryanto. “Indonesia is living the Pancasila ideology, with the slogan of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika —which translated simply means “unity in diversity”.

He pointed out that “the nation has existed for more than 72 years, with 1,128 ethnic groups with different traditions, 746 ethnic languages, and thousands of islands united by common goals of prosperity, humanity and world peace”.

Bishop Pius Riana Prapdi of Ketapang, Chairman of the Youth Commission, noted that the diversity of the AYD “is an asset that should be able to benefit us. Diversity within Asian countries should, in fact, become the main asset for the Catholic youth to face challenges”.

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