4.4 Indonesia the world's largest Muslim country

In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country

Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Asian Islam, which is little known in France, is a popular form of Islam which ensures social cohesion in particular. Sergio understood how to build links with the moderate Muslim movement directed by Abdurrahman Wahid who later became the president of Indonesia. In this way he was able to enable people who would otherwise have remained enemies to meet and to work together. This cooperation included their participation in training seminars, the grant of scholarships which enabled them to learn about other realities.

Abdurrahmam Wahid believed deeply in dialogue between people and religions. He had lasting relations with leaders of other religions in Indonesia, including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.. He was a builder of peace and understanding between people. CCFD and Sergio took up the great challenge of signing a Memorandum with his Muslim Organisation Nahdatul Ulama and supporting actions for training and exchange with partners from other countries.

Umar Saïd, who had facilitated CCFD's contact with China, was thus a political refugee in France but he kept many contacts with his compatriots in Indonesia. This helped Sergio to develop CCFD work and solidarity in the immense Indonesian archipelago.

Sergio's relations with those who had been battling the Suharto1 military regime both in Indonesia and overseas, including in France were part of his greatness of soul. Under different forms and by different means, Sergio witnessed to friendship and solidarity with Indonesians who had taken asylum in Europe and who were unable to return home. He offered scholarships financed by CCFD to a certain number of them and provided other opportunities for training and work.

Concerning the problems in Indonesia, what Sergio did allows us to measure and evaluate his sincerity and perseverance in the accomplishment of his task, particularly under the Suharto military regime which was still very powerful. It was with audacity but also prudence that he helped many NGOs of the left as well as organisations that were under the protection of the Catholic and Protestant churches. Many economic and social development projects were supported by CCFD throughout the country Many NGO activists were financed to take part in seminars and conferences in other countries within the framework of international exchanges.

In this precise context, Sergio had helped finance the visit to China of the Indonesian delegation comprising six persons and led by Romo Mangun2. The objective of the trip was to promote friendly relations and reciprocal knowledge at a time when diplomatic relations between Indonesia and China were cut off (they continued until August 1990). This was the result of a long period of reflection by Sergio that showed his courage and lucidity.

Another example that shows the extent to which Sergio was in solidarity and sustained close links with people who could not return to Indonesia. During the funeral of Budiman Sudarsono, co-founder of the Indonesia co-operative restaurant in Paris, who died suddenly in a rail accident, Sergio attended his funeral with many other people from other countries in Europe. What was even more extraordinary was that one day in secret and alone he made a visit to the tomb of Budiman. He did it even though he knew that Budiman had been a central leader in Indonesian Young Communist organisation and president of the Student Movement, two youth organisations that had been repressed by the Suharto regime.

Sergio had an alert and supple work style, an agreeable way of communicating with everyone including “difficult” persons. He always had a humble and warm attitude, full of friendship and the spirit of cooperation with many people from various religious and political currents.

He was recognised not only by many bishops and priests in many countries, including South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Indonesia, Timor Leste but also by Indonesian partners such as Abdurrahman Wahid, alias Gus Dur, Romo Mangun, and other Indonesian NGO leaders. He had close links with Buddhist figures in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Sergio also supported the democratic movement in Burma and was opposed to the Burmese military junta.

The solidarity shown by CCFD with respect to our cooperative business, the Indonesia restaurant in Paris, is important to mention. This restaurant is an example for many people and organisations in Indonesia and in other countries. When in 1982 several Indonesians who sought exile in France were experiencing difficulty in finding work to be able to live normally and tried to create their own tool for work by opening a restaurant, CCFD provided a significant financial assistance to support this collective effort

Dari apa yang telah dilakukan Sergio mengenai persoalan-persoalan Indonesia maka dapatlah kiranya diukur betapa besar ketulusan dan kegigihannya dalam menjalankan tugasnya, terutama ketika rejim militer Suharto masih sangat berkuasa.

A people-oriented housing project

Darwis Khudori is Indonesian and teaches at the University of Havre. Involved in community development in Indonesia as part of the Foundation for People's Housing (YPR), he shares his time between France and Indonesia. He retains a memory of Sergio as a worker who quietly build an international social network.

I heard of Sergio at the beginning of the 1980s when I was working with Fr Mangun in community development on the banks of the Code river in Jogjakarta in Indonesia. At that time, Sergio was a project officer for Asia-Pacific for CCFD and he had granted me a study scholarship in France. This is why from 1986 I found myself enrolled in a French course at the Franco-Indonesian Association in Jogjakarta.

It was only in 1987 while I was studying at the Institute For Housing Studies (IHS)3 in Rotterdam, that I went to Paris to meet Sergio for the first time. I remember the first impression he made on me: tall, handsome, well-groomed, gentle, jovial, polished and full of humour... He was in his forties. That first meeting was followed by other letters and meetings in Indonesia and in Europe. It was the beginning of the relationship between CCFD and the Foundation for Popular Housing (YPR) thanks to brother Kusni and brother Arif. The following year when I returned to Jogjakarta Sergio came to visit the YPR Centre at Codongcatur in Jogjakarta, a building on stilts like traditional houses in South-East Asia, of which the construction was not yet finished. He was impressed by the building and offered us financial support to complete the building. Evidently, I accepted the offer with pleasure. It was CCFD's first financial support for YPR.

The following support was a scholarship to study in France that I began in 1989. In 1995, I still had not finished my studies but I found a job as a teacher at the University of Havre. Thus I no longer received any support from CCFD but continued to collaborate with it.

During the same period, Sergio's mandate at CCFD came to an end. It was also the period of tiarap (the position of a body flattened face to the ground; the security position under gun fire) for the YPR Centre because of the repressive Suharto regime. In spite of the fact that I was in France, the relationship between CCFD and YPR continued. During the period of transition in which Sergio was replaced by Lidia, he paid a visit to the CCFD partners in Asia, including YPR. The meeting took place in the beautiful house on stilts of Eko Prawoto, YPR leader during my absence and in the presence of Fr Mangun, community development volunteers on the banks of the Code river and the YPR team.

A few years later after the fall of Suharto in 1998, YPR was able to work again and started to move thanks to the initiative of siser Endah Rahardjo. It received funds from CCFD for a small silkworm raising project. The later activities were numerous, particularly the the participative urban development based in the kampongs4 ; the publication of periodicals Warta Kampung (Kampong News), Exploring Yogya, the book Menuju Kampung Pemerdekaan (Towards a kampong of liberation), The Altruism de Romo Mangun ; a participative action-research program through learning in the kampongs; kampong libraries, etc.

After he left CCFD, Sergio directed the Centre Lebret, an international network of people and organisations working on social and solidarity issues, inspired by the faith and spirit of Fr Louis-Joseph Lebret, theoretician and practician, and precursor of the notion of “human development”. Thanks to Sergio, I joined this association which has now become Développement et Civilisations - Lebret-Irfed (DCLI).

In 2000, Sergio returned to Jogjakarta to take part in a workshop on the theme “Spirituality and globalisation” that was launched by the Centre Lebret and welcomed by the Forum of Communities of Faith (FPUB) in Jogjakarta. Sergio stayed with the participants for several days at the Workshop Centre in Puskat in the northern suburbs of Jogjakarta. The YPR team had the opportunity to get to know Sergio very well. It was Sergio's last trip to Indonesia.

He travelled the empire of the hornbill and the dragon

Kusni Sulang, originally from the island of Kalimantan, better known as Borneo, had raised CCFD's awareness during the 1980s of the importance of increasing direct support5 for Indonesian peoples in their liberation struggles. Kusni, who became a close friend and collaborator of Sergio, also drew his attention to the importance of working with ethnic minorities and indigenous people, Dayaks and Papuans.

Since then CCFD has not only supported many development projects throughout the archipelago but has also taken part in some astonishing cultural and religious exchanges. All thanks to the perspicacity of Sergio.

I first met CCFD through the intermediary of the Faim et Développement (Hunger and Development) magazine. As a student of development economics at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, the CCFD conception in matters of economics and development had strongly attracted me. On several occasions I heard talks by Bernard Holzer, the secretary general. I had carefully read his book. And I found that the CCFD vision of development closely answered my questions with respect to the humanisation of society. From that time, I joined CCFD as a volunteer. That was more than twenty-five years ago.

During two years of activity as a volunteer, I learnt that CCFD was concerned for many countries in Africa and Latin America but it seemed to me that it did not have significant actions in Indonesia. One day I wrote a short letter that I sent to the leaders of CCFD. I said this: “I greatly appreciate your attention to countries of the Third World. But I would like to say that very far away in South East Asia there is an immense island nation that you cannot ignore, Indonesia. It seems that this country which contains thousands of islands and which plays a considerable role in the region only occupies a small place in your concerns. I write these lines as a volunteer who strongly supports your concept of development.”

Sergio learned of these lines. He showed great confidence in me and allowed me to assist at the CCFD Projects Commission. I was also able to take in international meetings of INFID, an organisation to promote links between Indonesian and European organisations.

A brilliant teacher

Each time that I met and discussed with Sergio, whether in his small office in Paris, or over lunch or during a long trip, I had the impression that I was in a class listening to the presentation of a brilliant teacher who had been formed and tested by the difficulties and challenges of life. Thanks to his confidence and his vigorous and concrete support, the CCFD networks developed in Indonesia in a significant and unprecedented way. The networks extended to the island of Riau in the west by way of Java and Kalimantan until Papua in the east of the country. From the cities to the country...But would we have been able to learn of the existence of CCFD only through our own eyes under the Indonesian military regime? Naturally no, a hundred times no. In all these activities, CCFD adopted a low profile. But it was very present in solidarity with the oppressed peoples.

In effect, CCFD supported development actions with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, among marginalised people, ethnic minorities, indigenous people, young people, farmers, workers, including NGO activists of all kinds. The CCFD networks could also be found in the universities.

In many parts of Indonesia Sergio was known by particular names, e.g Sarjio for the Javanese and for the people in Brunei in West Kalimantan, Serju in Central Kalimantan, Bapak Serjiu in Papua... All these new names to designate Sergio revealed the extent of his closeness to the people and their love and appreciation. Because Sergio understood the meaning of suffering and rejoiced in their battle to rise up and become subjects and actors of liberation.

A joint declaration

Nahdatul Ulama (NU) is the most important Muslim organisation in Indonesia. From the time of Sergio, it represented 30% of the 220 million inhabitants of the country. Its president was Abdurrahman Wahid6, known throughout the world as Gus Dur, a “moderate Muslim”. Up to the present, NU, which had a considerable number of members and which practised a policy of openness, had a strong influence in every sector of Indonesian society. Sergio had spoken of the possibility of a joint declaration with Nahdatul Ulama.

With Djohan Effendi, who later became Secretary of State, we prepared this conjoint declaration then known under the name of Memorandum of Understanding CCFD – NU. Djohan worked in the name of Nahdatul Ulama and myself in the name of CCFD and Sergio. Sergio had rightly planned a mission to Indonesia to present Lidia Miani who succeeded him at CCFD. The signature of the Memorandum took place at the same time in the Hotel Sofyan Betawi, in Jalan Cut Meutia, Jakarta Pusat. To my knowledge no other international NGO ever concluded such an agreement with Nahdatul Ulama.

The political situation was evolving quickly in Indonesia. Gus Dur had been elected President of the Republic. Many government ministers from the time of Sergio were people who had been at one time or another in contact with CCFD. When Gus Dur visited Paris as President of the Indonesian Republic, Sergio invited him to meet our old common friend. Each time Sergio came to Indonesia he arranged to meet the President.

Support for the indigenous people

For Sergio, true self-management and real development must be based on high quality and capacity human resources. Quality and capacity signify that each one must have a holistic conception of life, a strong commitment to realise and defend their own concept of humanity, based on high quality know how. CCFD accepted my idea of granting a scholarship to young Indonesian men and women, particularly those from indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. He invited many young people to undertake a short trip overseas in order to enlarge their horizons and their point of view. CCFD also provided its support for the Christian University of Palangka Raya (UNKRIP) in the centre of Kalimantan. He granted scholarships to students from Papua and Java. Scholarships were also attributed to UNKRIP in favour of students from poor families. Equally to university professors so that they could reach a higher level. Some of these professors were sent overseas to study.

The Dayaks of Kalimantan and the Papuans7, two indigenous peoples of Indonesia who had retained Sergio's attention. In Kalimantan, he had personally attended the National Dayak Congress in the city of Pontianak. This congress of indigenous peoples was organised by the Institute of Dayakology for Research and Development (IDRD), now known as the Institute of Dayakology (ID). The IDRD was created 35 years ago by the Dayaks themselves. Until now, the activities of the centre dealt with all kinds of issues concerning self-management and development. Sergio having some knowledge of their development activities (organisation of cooperatives, farmer economic activities, promotion of Dayak culture, etc.), CCFD decided to concretely support IDRD. He invited its members to travel overseas to exchange on their projects with other actors working for similar causes. The activities of the Institute thus offered a new panorama to the cultural, economic, social, health, education plans and the way of thinking and mentalities. And at present, these activities are developing among the Dayaks of Kalimantan in the political field based on the results of the last thirty years of activity.

Sergio asked Stepanus Djuweng8 from the Institute of Dayakology and myself to come from Kalimantan to Nabire in Papua to organise a short training course for the other CCFD partners on the island. Moreover, he sent Papuans for a training session on credit unions in Pontianak. Sergio had chosen this kind of exchange to promote mutual development and solidarity in the network of partners in Indonesia.

During one of these visits, I had contact with one of the young Papuans at Parung, which is near Bogor in the suburbs of Jakarta. To provide economically for their needs, these Papuans had organised themselves into co-operatives for producing mushrooms and poultry. They sold their production on the markets of Bogor and Jakarta. This production co-operative seemed really promising. Personally, I found it more interesting than others because it was led by young Papuans in a self-managed way. It was the first time that I had found this kind of initiative among my Papuan brothers.

To follow up this contact, we prepared a trip to Parung, then to Papua in the most easternmost province of Indonesia. Sergio came with Lidia his future replacement at CCFD for Asia-Pacific. I accompanied them on the visit to Parung. Seeing the expression of Sergio, I understood that he was very happy to see with his own eyes the young Papuans doing and earning thanks to their saving of mushrooms and chickens.

The next day, Lidia, Sergio and I took the plane for Papua. We stopped in Makassar before taking a plane to Biak. It took eight hours of flight to arrive from Jakarta to Biak. At the Makassar international airport, we tore up two books on the human rights situation in Papua and Timor Leste to avoid any kinds of problem in the various airports that we were going to pass through. This kind of book in the hands of white people could raise questions among the Indonesian immigration personnel. I still laugh when thinking of Sergio's expression when he threw the two books in the rubbish at Makassar international airport. “There is danger at every step we make in your country!” he told me in answer to my laugh.

In Papua

Finally, the plane landed at the Biak international airport. The morning cold spread a light fog over each corner of the historic city that had played a special role during World War II. Under the cold and windy sky, while we descended from the plane, I saw a young man with frizzy black hair who waved his hand with a big happy smile. It was Ambros Takege, one of the young Papuan leaders. Sergio and later Lidia invited Ambros to Paris several times to give him the opportunity to broaden his horizons and his outlook. We embraced. “Welcome to the land of the Papuans, Pak Sergiu et Bu Lidia”9, Ambros said in rough English. I was proud of his assurance – it is an important thing in the life of someone who wants to fight for the human cause. The people must first of all liberate themselves before realising their dreams. I discovered this kind of spirit in Ambros and my Papuan brothers. Only a liberated man can achieve genuine liberation.

Biak is the name of the city and the island in the west of the main part of Papua. We went to a remote part of the suburbs of Biak. Learning of our arrival, some men, women and children welcomed us spontaneously. All were Papuans and for many it was the first time to meet whites. They expressed their astonishment but very son contact was made and they emerged from their reserve and dialogue began.

To approach the Indonesians, Sergio communicated in his rough Bahasa. In this way, he quickly became close to people and broke down communication barriers. The Papuans freely explained their living conditions and their situation. “This land belongs to us, explained an old man indicating the place. Then the newcomers expelled us with the aid of the police.”

Before leaving and continuing on our way, Sergio shook the hand of each one, one by one. They said: Terimakasih. Bapak datang lagi ya (Please come back, father). Before closing the door of the car, I still remember how Sergio waved to them with emotion. He was really a very sensitive person. I am certain that he thought of himself as one of those poor Papuans.

The next day we had to take a small plane limited to 14 passengers over the Japen Strait between Biak and Nabire, which on the Papuan mainland. In stormy weather on the strait, the flight is automatically cancelled. Here, life is still subject to nature and at the time there was no radar for navigation. Sometimes we had to wait hours to cross. Finally, we were able to get a plane. The strait seemed to directly open the door of the Nabire airport. The screaming of the siren welcoming the arrival of each symbolised a little of the opening of the heart and spirit of hospitality of the honest Papuans. If you don't believe in their honesty, you will also fail to believe in all their potential. You will lose your credibility. What can one do without credibility?

Nabire is the capital of a small district attached on one side by a long green and rich mountain chain and on the other by the Biak strait. Once we arrived at the airport, we were able to meet with many Papuans. On the other hand, the government is controlled by people who are not locals. To present the situation of the city, Ambros and the young Papuans accompanied us and helped us visit all the various places in Nabire. The Ambros Group wanted to move their projects to Parung at Nabire, with the objective of launching a small poultry farming unit in a mountain village that was inaccessible by car. It was impossible for us to visit during that trip.

Several months later, Claude, a French photographer with vast experience and seven young Papuan brothers arrived at the summit of the chain of mountains at the centre of Papua. We took thousands of photos. It is possible that we were the only NGO taking on such action in the midst of conditions so difficult and so remote. We walked around from place to place on fot. In the midst of the green mountains of Papua, I thought to myself: “Sergio, I have fulfilled your mission and the challenge you gave me!”

By the light of a candle

In the afternoon, Ambros organised a meeting with the Papuan community in an isolated area of Nabire. We entered a small village in the midst of a desolate countryside with the humming of insects and the cries of animals as the only music. The sun sent its golden rays through the leaves of the mountain trees. We discussed the problems of the land, the traditional Papuan laws and way of building capacity among the people and a development based on their own culture as well as many other things. These discussions took place with Takege, the leader of the community under the light of a candle. There was in fact no electricity in this part of Indonesia. They told us the reasons given to justify the expulsion of the villagers from their lands for the benefit of multinational companies who exploited the timber. The Papuan struggle against the expulsions was at legal level. Later, Ambros and his friends decided to study in order to be able to defend their colleagues.

Several years later, what we had spoken by candlelight in the deserted countryside became a reality. I met them again in Jakarta. Takege had become vice-president of the Popular Democratic Party of Indonesia (PDIP), one of the largest political parties in the nation. It was the hand of Sergio that had left its imprint on Indonesian politics...

Our trip to Papua was over but our struggle for the defence of human causes continued. These struggles continue by tortuous and endless routes. The best that we can do is to take the first step to launch the new initiatives. That was one of the lessons that I learned from Sergio.

You are at home here

CCFD strongly supported my work with the indigenous people and ethnic minorities, symbols of marginalisation in Indonesia. I worked in Central Kalimantan among the Dayaks with the support of CCFD. This is my own home region and there were no NGOs when I first returned.

To support me, Sergio and Lidia both came personally to Central Kalimantan. Stepanus Djuweng and the other brothers from the Institute of Dayakology in Pontianak in the west of Kalimantan joined them. They came directly to Kasongan from Tjilik Riwut, the airport of Palangja Raya.

We arrived at Kasongan, our principal destination of the day. I wanted to show Sergio and Lidia the real life of my Dayak ethnic group. My father, who is now deceased, a traditional leader and a former guerillero who had fought Dutch colonialism welcomed the two groups enthusiastically.

- You are at home here. I call you brothers and sisters, Dad told them in Dayak. The friends of my son are part of my own family.

- Terimakasih (thank you), Sergio answered embracing my father. Both of them seemed happy and close.

- Do as if you were at home... My father did not know what else to say!

Moved by curiosity, Sergio left the traditional house of my father and went to the back yard under the shade of the many fruit trees there. I went with him while my father killed one of the cows for his guests who had come from so far.

Death is a part of life

Sergio never stopped questioning me about what he discovered among the Dayak as we walked under the trees. Suddenly, he arrived at a luxurious little building surrounded by many various wooden statues.

- What is this, Kusni ?

- The Dayaks call it a pambak meaning tomb. It is the future resting place of my father and my mother.

- But they are still alive!

- My father says that death is a part of life. So he prepared his tomb according to his own taste. On the other hand, he also doesn't want to leave the financial burden to his sons and daughters.

- And what about the wooden statues?

- They describe the concept of kaharingan of life and death; they explain what life after death is like.

- What is the meaning of the hornbill and the dragon on the tomb?

- They explain the meaning of life and death for the Dayaks. The hornbill symbolised the empire and the power above while the dragon symbolises the empire and power here below. The two powers form a whole. Our earth, called the Banks of Humanity (Saran Danum Kalunen) is the Middle World. According to the Dayaks, it is the mission of life and death of the whole of humanity to create the Banks of Humanity by following the example of life in the World Above. The Middle World is a place where all people can live in conformity with the values proper to human beings.

And I continued the explanation:

- For a Dayak humanising the Middle World is his eternal mission during his life and his death. If you fail to fulfil this mission, you will have a mediocre life and death. You will lose your place in the life after death. That is the meaning of the statues of the hornbill and the dragon. Dayaks consider themselves the sons and daughters of the hornbill and the dragon. It is the guide rope of Dayak culture and philosophy. Do you understand up to this point? I see that you also live the life of the hornbill and the dragon. That is why Dad said to you earlier: “Consider yourself at home” because philosophically you are in your own home. In your “nest”, here among the Dayaks.

- Really? Sergio looked at me with surprise.

- Yes, don't you believe me? In Dayak philosophy, to ensure that our small planet becomes a place of quality human life, every one must work with others for the betterment of the human being and reciprocal understanding. Because the essence of humanity is Love.

- Tell me if you could what is the difference between your philosophy of Love and Dayak philosophy?

- Probably the differences reside in the way of applying the philosophy. For Dayaks, philosophy must be concretely implemented. Without any real application, it has no value. Philosophy is a tool for understanding the world and then for changing it for the good. That is why Dayaks describe themselves as “fighters or descendants of a warrior” (Utus Panarung). The philosophy of Love in the Dayak conception can be found in tolerance and pardon to the extent that they recognise their faults.

Sergio listened attentively to all my explanations concerning the future pambak of my parents. Our steps led us side by side towards the others in the home of my father.

Years have passed. I have heard Sergio speak to his friends of the impression that he had among my family, particularly with my future pambak, the expression of a Dayak with respect to his family. In telling others what he had learnt about this pambak, I think of Sergio falling in love with the Dayaks.


1 Suharto had been in power since 1967. Little by little he had installed a quasi-monarchical regime, pitliessly crushing his rivals.

2A Catholic priest, now deceased, who was very well known in Jogjakarta (Java) and at national level for his action in favour of the poor and marginalised and for the defence of human rights.

3 Institute for Housing Studies.

4 Poor neighbourhood in a city. Around 80% of the urban population live in kampongs but in terms of space the kampongs occupy only 30% of the territory.

5 In the beginning, CCFD worked through APHD (Asian Partnership for Human Development), a collective of Catholic organisations in the North and the South supporting development projects in Asia and of which CCFD was a member.

6  Cf. his article « L’islam aux prises avec lui-même » in Développement et civilisations n° 380 January-February 2010. He had also written previously in Foi et développement n° 280 in January – February 2000.

7These people were already supported by LPPS (Caritas) through APHD.

8 Stepanus Djuweng wrote an article on sustainable development in Foi et développement n° 248 December 1996 which remains strikingly current.

9 Pak and Bu are Indonesian honorific names meaning “brother” and “sister”.