Suppose the Indian elections are scheduled for Ash Wednesday 14th October, what would the Church in India do? This story comes from Indonesia.
In a unique move reflective of the diverse challenges faced by religious communities globally, Catholic bishops in Indonesia are making a temporary liturgical adjustment as the country prepares for its presidential election.
The upcoming polls, scheduled for Ash Wednesday, have prompted concerns among the Catholic leadership about potential disenfranchisement of their followers. Simply put, if the Catholics turn up at the polling booths to cast their votes, they will likely miss the Ash Wednesday Mass on the day of obligation. So may faithful Catholics will choose to go to Mass and not to vote.
Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, faces a logistical challenge as its polls open for the presidential election from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The clash with Ash Wednesday and the limited polling hours in Indonesia have prompted Catholic bishops to act proactively.
Catholics constitute about 3% of Indonesia’s population, which is predominantly Muslim, with Christians making up around 10%. Fearing that the Catholic voice could be further diminished if followers miss the opportunity to vote on Ash Wednesday, bishops are temporarily altering the liturgical schedule to ensure active participation in both civic duty and religious observance.
In response to this unique situation, some dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Jakarta, will observe Ash Wednesday on the following day, Thursday, February 15. Other regions are opting to hold services on the day before the traditional observance, ensuring that Catholics can fulfill their religious duties without compromising their civic responsibilities.
Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng, in a pastoral letter, announced that on Catholic-majority Flores Island, remote mission stations are permitted to carry out Ash Wednesday rituals on the first Sunday of Lent, February 19. This adaptive approach aims to accommodate the diverse circumstances faced by Catholics in different regions.
The presidential elections in Indonesia will determine a new president, vice-president, and 711 members of the national assembly. Acknowledging the significance of both events, Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung, President of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, emphasized the responsibility of Catholics to actively engage in both civic duties and religious practices.
Bishop Bunjamin stated, “Both the general election and Ash Wednesday are important for us as Catholics and Indonesians. The active involvement in both events is the responsibility to fulfill our duty as citizens and our call to repent as Christians. We believe that we have to live as 100% Catholic and 100% Indonesian.”
Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo of Jakarta justified the decision not to celebrate the Ash Wednesday Mass on the traditional day, citing pastoral prudence. He emphasized the importance of allowing Catholics enough time to participate in the electoral process without hindrance from church-based activities.
The move to adjust the liturgical schedule sheds light on the delicate balance between civic responsibilities and religious observance in a country where religious freedom conditions, as noted in the latest annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, “remained poor.”
The Indonesian Catholic leadership hopes that this temporary alteration will enable their followers to fully engage in both the democratic process and their spiritual obligations.