THE Catholic Church has become an unwilling victim in the territorial struggle between Malaysia and Indonesia. Both nations have granted C..atholics full freedom of religion. But in both Catholics are struggling minorities with similar problems which in peaceful times might be solved by mutual co-operation.
Until the political mistrust and active warfare is ended, Catholics in the two countries must pursue separate paths to what they hope is a common goal.
The Church in the former Dutch colony of Indonesia has been very well treated by the government of President Sukarno. Dutch missionaries were permitted to adopt Indonesian citizenship and have continued their activities without interruption.
Conversions in certain parts, such as the island of Flores. have been so great that these sections can be said to be virtually Catholic. Yet, although Catholics in Indonesia number about L5 million, they represent only, slightly more than 1 per cent of the total population.
Malaysia, like Indonesia, is largely Moslem. Its coastal city of Malacca, which St. Francis Xavier knew and where his body lay for a time, is predominantly Catholic. There are large Catholic communities in Singapore and in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
But again as in Indonesia, Malaysian Catholics are only a small percentage of the population. If one includes Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo, there are probably not more than 250,000 Malaysian Catholics in a population of 10 million.
While permitting freedom or religion, the governments of the two nations are anxious to creatc national solidarity, especially in the face of a possible conflict between them. This desire was typified by a talk given by Lee Siok Yew, Malaysia's assistant Minister of Education, at the dedication of a 'Buddhist temple in Ranting last month.
Declaring that all religions have an important role to play in the country, he said. "We may differ in creed, but we agree on basic principles — the principles of truth, justice, charity and freedom. We agree in our desire for co-op