HomeAsia - PacificIndonesian island set to become an international Catholic pilgrim destination

Indonesian island set to become an international Catholic pilgrim destination

The Tuan Ma statue is paraded around Larantuka City during the Semana Santa Holy Week celebrations on Indonesia’s Flores island. / Credit: Alfonso Giostanov/Creative Commons/Wikimedia

Rome Newsroom, Jun 30, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Flores, Indonesia’s most Catholic island located in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), is set to become an international pilgrim destination following government support to boost religious tourism.

Initial efforts will concentrate on attracting tourists to participate in Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations held each year in the Larantuka Diocese as well as the annual festivities organized by the Ruteng Diocese in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Aug. 10–15.

“Flores Island is famous for its history and Catholic heritage. Flores is also often referred to as Missionary Island; this island has extraordinary potential and attraction for religious tourism, especially through the enculturation of the Catholic Church and the local community’s culture,” stated Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, Indonesia’s minister for tourism and creative economy, during a webinar held in May organized by the Labuan Bajo Flores Authority Implementing Agency (BPOLBF). 

According to the Jakarta Post, approximately 3 million of the 8 million Catholics in Indonesia live in NTT province, with the majority living in Flores island. Though Catholicism is one of six official religions recognized in Indonesia — alongside Islam, Protestantism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism — the Catholic population is a religious minority that accounts for only 3% of the country’s total population. 

Every year during Semana Santa, the largest and oldest Catholic event in Indonesia takes place: The faithful process with the wooden statue of “Tuan Ma” (Mother Mary) in Larantuka, a subdistrict on the eastern side of Flores island. This has taken place for 500 years.

Legend and historical accounts indicate that the Tuan Ma statue washed ashore on Larantuka beach shortly after the Virgin Mary appeared to a young boy in 1510 and revealed her identity by writing on the sand: “Akulah Reinha Rosari” (“I am the Queen of the Rosary”). Though this 16th century apparition does not have official approval by the Vatican, it is the first reported vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary to be recorded in Indonesia’s history. 

During the Easter season, following Semana Santa, the Bale Nagi Festival also takes place in Flores to showcase the skills and handicrafts of over 1,500 weavers living in the eastern part of the island, which attracts both religious pilgrims and cultural tourists.

The Indonesian government has additionally expressed support to boost tourism in Labuan Bajo, a fishing town on the western side of Flores. The Golo Koe Festival organized by the Diocese of Ruteng annually takes place from Aug. 10–15 in honor of the Assumption of Mary. The main event of the festival is the solemn Mass celebrated on Aug. 15.

In addition to the celebration of the Mass and the procession of Mary of the Assumption, Golo Koe includes parades showcasing local music and dances as well as cultural and culinary arts expositions throughout the six-day event.

“The Diocese of Ruteng has designed and continues to promote holistic tourism in the region,” Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng told The Jakarta Post. “Tourism must be built upon and evolve from local culture roots and local spirituality.”

The Ruteng Diocese website states that the Golo Koe Festival is included in Indonesia’s “2024 National Charisma Event” list, officially making the festival a collaborative tourism project with Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy.  

“Let’s collaborate [and] synergize so that this activity has an extraordinary market that attracts everyone so that in the future they [tourists] will come in droves to take part in a series of Golo Koe Festival activities,” Edistasius Endi, regent of West Manggarai, the local regency government, told Radio Republik Indonesia.

The Jakarta Post reported there are also plans to promote visits to other churches spread throughout the island by developing Catholic pilgrimage routes to attract Indonesian as well as international religious tourists from neighboring countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and Singapore.

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