Pope Francis will promote inter-religious dialogue this year during a trip to the world’s biggest Muslim country Indonesia and make the first papal visit to mainly Catholic Timor-Leste since it won independence from Jakarta, diplomatic sources said.
The trip, which will also include a visit to Papua New Guinea, is likely to take place in September, the sources said. The Vatican has not yet announced the trip.
This news follows comments made by a Muslim cleric who met with Pope Francis in Rome on Jan. 15.
Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf, who heads the 50-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama movement, told the Catholic News Agency that the pope said he plans to visit Indonesia, East Timor, and New Guinea in September.
Two popes have previously visited Indonesia — Pope St. Paul VI in 1970 and Pope St. John Paul II in 1989. Pope Francis has long expressed a desire to visit the country.
While Indonesia is home to 229 million Muslims — the world’s largest Muslim population — 24 million Christians also live there, 7 million of whom are Catholic.
Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 following a decades-long rule occupation. The small nation has a population of just under 1.3 million people, 98 percent of whom are Catholic. Pope St. John Paul II visited the country in 1989.
Papua New Guinea, a predominately Christian nation which occupies the eastern half of New Guinea island, is 26 percent Catholic, according to previous census figures. The western half of New Guinea is a part of Indonesia.
Pope St. John Paul II visited Papua New Guinea twice with the first being in 1984 for the centenary of the arrival of the first missionaries in PNG. His next visit was in 1995 for the beatification of Peter To Rot who is believed to have been killed for his faith by Japanese occupation forces during World War II.