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June 12, 1998     The Message
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June 12, 1998
 

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4 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana The community of faith We were standing in an underground passage. It was dimly lit and quiet, filled with the smell of damp earth and somehow charged with a mixture of awe and excitement. There is no other place like it on this earth, or beneath it. One by one we peered through a small opening in a wall of old brick• It was a quiet moment in that extraordinary chamber not too many feet below one of the busiest spots in all of Rome. We were beneath the floor of St. Peter's Basilica, the center of Catholic Christendom. There were 14 of us, and with us was a guide. Fifteen was the limit for a group to take this extraor- dinary plunge through the centuries. We had come to the final point of a special tour. It was not the dim light here which had the power to illuminate the soul of a believer. It was not the smell of the darkness and the damp earth that filled our senses. It was a growing awareness that here, where we were, was a place of simple, profound faith. Above us, just a few feet up, were crowds of pil- grims and tourists. They walked on marble floors of famous beauty. We walked on concrete, practical and cold. Above us was excited conversation which would stained glass windows. In our excavated chamber, only dim electric light was available to help us see what our guide pointed out -- a thin stone column, simple and plain. We were standing near what was once a place of common burial, where the bones of the dead were buried as if at random• But here was a single grave, surrounded by the graves of others, which had been placed there carefully, deliberately. In later years a wall had been built and a marker of stone erected above that simple central gravesite. The column that we could see was part of that ancient marker. Who could be absolutely certain? Perhaps no one. But it was inspirationally clear that we were looking at a site that had been part of Christian tradi- tion from the earliest times• What we could see was one of the signs of that early Christian faith, that here was the grave of St. Peter. That faith has continued through the centuries: The simple marker became the focal point of a church building; then an altar was built on top of it, and then another altar on top of that one. Faith guid- ed construction after construction, to build the mag- nificent structure known throughout the world as the Basilica of St. Peter. June ,. iv Our visit left the world of the tourist entered the inner depth of the pilgrim. Take the time today to examine the basis c your own faith. Whose witness was it enced you? Perhaps beneath the elaborate struc current faith life is the simple witness of a day apostle• , • • Trace the history of your faith through erations. Make sure the next generatiortin . family knows the story. Make a pilgrimage to a place of your faith life -- perhaps to a church, or tot grave of a family member, or to the home your parents shared their belief with have children, take them with you. Tell thefft your faith, and how it came to be that Christian. Help someone find a quiet place to friend or neighbor to make a retreat. Support Cursillo, Teens Encounter other movements and organizations build up our community of believers. Make a ence in the faith life of another. Comments about this column are prleing@cfm.org or the Christian Family P.O. Box 272, Ames, Iowa 50010. Washington Letler Mr. Smith goes to Indonesia, looks at human By NANCY HARTNAGEL Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Rep. Chris Smith has gone to Indonesia and pressed the new government to end human fights violations and religious persecution of Christians in the predominantly Muslim country. On a May 25-27 trip to the Southeast Asian islands nation, the New Jersey Republican met with officials of a new govern- ment, after President Suharto's repressive 32-year regime ended May 21. The congressman also met with military, opposition and religious leaders, and with political prisoners. Smith chairs the House Sub- committee on International Oper- ations and Human Rights. He said witnesses who described tor- ture, extrajudicial executiolxs and other violations at a subcommit-  Weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Evansville PuOashed wee/dy except last week/n December by the Caesr/c Press of Evan4 evaaw .......... c. E .................................. P=JR. ................................... PatJ  Sta Wrr ........................... :Ua/ /C Hug Address all communications to P.O. Box 4169, Evansville, IN 47724-0169 Subscription rate: $18.50 per year Single Copy Price: $50 Entend as pedoc matter at tle post 0ffice in ˘aravi, iN 4770L Ptication, rratr 843800, Poslt,aste˘: P,,n POD forms 3579 to Office of Pul:fJc= " Cogyright t998 Cahohc Press of Evansvte tee hearing May 7 had urged him to go to Indonesia soon, to "deliv- er a message of concern for human rights." In a June 3 interview with Catholic News Service at his Capitol Hill office, Smith said new President B.J. Habibie "has already done some things that suggest-- and the proof will be in the deeds over a long period of time -- that he wants to chart a new course for Indonesia." Among them, Smith said, are listening to his opposition, releasing a few political prison- ers and moving up elections from 2003 to 1999. Despite the objections of his ministers, Habibie allowed the congressman to meet with 21 of 200 political prisoners jailed under Suharto, including Xanana Gusmao of East Timor. A former Portuguese colony, East Timor was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in the mid-1970s, but many there are seeking the right of self-determination. Also during their hour-mad-a- half meeting, Smith said, Habi- hie "promised me and my staff that they would be looking to sign on to an (International Labor Organization) convention to allow for workers' rights." The first prisoner Habibie released, Smith noted, was inde- pendent labor leader Muchtar Pakpahan. But if there are reasons to be "cautiously optimistic," in Smith's words, the trip also pro- duced what he called disap- pointments over the building of churches and proselytizing by Christians. "The way the national law works," Smith explained, "is that if you don't garner the support of 100 families who are in the immediate radius of a proposed site, you don't build your church." One Mus- lim family can veto a church project, he said, though there doesn't seem to be a problem with mosques. According to Smith, "The government continues to look with disfavor on those mission- aries who would seek to bring the Gospel." He said Habibie indicated there would be no change in either policy• . Smith also expressed his con- cern about Indonesian popula- tion control. "They seem to be moving into the area of a three- child-per-couple policy," he said• "Having the government step in and set up an array of disincentives to having children is antithetical to women's and children's rights." In addition, he urged the new president to end terror cam- paigns believed to involve the military, especially an elite unit known as Kopassus that has been implicated in torturing prisoners. Smith met witl 3 a Catholic lay- man and two Protestant pastors from Irian Jaya, on New Guinea, where there is an ongo- ing insurrection. The religious leaders "told of one church ser- vice on a Sunday -- three Puma helicopters came over the hori- zon and started strafing the church," killing 21 people, said Smith. He said the people in Irian Jaya are mostly indigenous, and many are Christian Evangeli- cals. "They believe they're being focused on... becau of their faith, because they're also a dif- ferent ethnic blend," he said. In his discussion with Habi- bie, Smith said he stressed West- ern anxieties about Indonesia becoming an Islamic state or introducing Islamic law. "He went into a long explanation about how President (Jacques) Chirac of France had said to him that he should be the voice of moderation for Islam," Smith recalled. "So far he seems to be taking the right moves to allay those fears about a radical Islamic state," the congressman said. But he added, "There are those ele- ments who would love to see it." Smith also raised the issue of the ethnic Chinese minority, who constitute less than 3 per- cent of Indonesia's population of 210 million but reportedly control about half its economy. Some Indonesians have called for their expulsion. Opposition leaders with whom he met said such a move would be foolish and could only worsen an already-bad econom- ic situation, Smith said. And though Habibie didn't talk about the Chinese "in such glowing terms, he didn't say negative things about them either." Throughout, said Smith, "The word he used over and over was tolerance," at one point stating "that living side by side with your neighbors who are of ! a different faith is that he wants Ind known for." The congressman bie "also stressed that his values are our The new president, trained and nautical engineer in told Smith he "had democratic values Indonesia is the lim country in one of the largest population, Smith "For it to go said, "would be. • " a disaster for the region," which destabilizing and Pakistan s Smith also has a laz Indonesia." nomic trouble ther im F "The effect is there," Smith said he tried the message ing a dozen letter to members that nomic incentive investors is strokes in the rights." He also out of the bottle to these reformS. Ad Limina visit in Rome, with other bishops VII, from May 22. Return to Diocese of Evansville, June 14. National Conference of Catholic BishopS, June 17 through 22.