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G20 Religion Forum meets ahead of summit in Bali, Indonesia | National Catholic Registry

Called the R20 for short, this year’s first Religious Forum is set to resume with next year’s G20 in India and then the following year in Brazil.

The Catholicism of Catholicism is what makes our faith so vital today. For too long, conversations about religion have forced worshipers to choose between commitments that shouldn’t be seen as separate. We can worship God and cherish the environment. We can worship God and care for the less fortunate. Last week in Bahrain, Pope Francis reiterated these commitments. Catholics will be happy to know that not only has it been warmly welcomed, but that many of our moral commitments are enjoying growing support.

In a few days, the world’s most powerful leaders will gather in Bali to the annual G20. The Indonesian island of Bali is home to the world’s 20 largest economies as they struggle to contain the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, deal with huge economic uncertainty and debate how to work together in a time of growing suspicion and outright hostility. Religion probably won’t be high on their agenda – at least not the kind of religion we preach.

For some leaders, religion is at most an afterthought. For others, it’s a purely personal matter. And for some, unfortunately, it is a weapon used to divide their populations and conquer their political systems. (This is the case, for example, in India, where a Hindu party has become increasingly aggressive towards Muslim and Christian minorities.) But perhaps that is because their understanding of religion actually limits and denigrates the faith. It is a tool they wield, as opposed to a process they submit to. Not a practice of refinement, but a means of self-gratification.

In this regard, Vatican authority often confuses world leaders, who cannot understand how to relate to a Church that engages the world, works with the world, but refuses to limit itself to the world. If we are honest, Catholics have also been harmed by this fact – our Church is sometimes rejected and sometimes even seen as a threat. This is why what happened in Bali before the summit is so exciting. As part of the G20, but taking place days before the arrival of world leaders, this year’s gathering included the very first Religious Forum November 2 and 3.

Called the R20 for short, this first Forum on Religion is set to resume with next year’s G20 in India, then the following year in Brazil.

R20 of this year what happened in indonesia has additional meaning. Indonesia is of course the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. It is also a secular democracy; while its democratic record is more recent, its commitment to secularism dates back to its founding, following independence from the Dutch following World War II. Would Catholic readers be surprised to know that this commitment to secularism has long been supported by some of the country’s most staunch Muslims, including its largest religious organization?

Called Nahdlatul Ulama, or NU, this group led by senior Indonesian clerics counts tens of millions of Indonesians among its members. For the R20, he partnered with the Muslim World League, the largest non-governmental organization in the Islamic world. The Muslim World League is led by a Saudi academic, Dr Abdul Karim Al-Issa, and is based in his native Saudi Arabia. This location gives it considerable influence among Muslim communities around the world. What he does with this influence is remarkable.

The Muslim World League has become an increasingly vocal advocate of moderation, pluralism and tolerance, including in the cause of religious freedom. Neither group wants narrow religious edicts to be applied to diverse populations, and both groups are more than willing to engage with them in public forums. Their dedication to the R20, which won over senior religious leaders from all major traditions of the worldillustrates this promising trend in Muslim religiosity, in stark contrast to the headlines of recent years.

That’s not to say there aren’t strengths in Muslim (and other faith) communities that plead for an extreme imposition of faith. This, however, means huge Muslim corps with unprecedented authority and reach are fighting back; by connecting to the G20, they not only find willing partners in other powerful countries, but they are likely to reach out to political leaders and provide a different model of what religion is – and how faith and government can work together without collapsing into each other.

Dr. Al-Issa opened the R20 with an exhortation: He noted that many of the world’s greatest challenges have moral causes and require spiritual solutions. Not religion as harsh imposition, but faith as true belief, which acts in the world with purpose and compassion. To this end, he even announced that the Muslim World League was creating a humanitarian fund to help the victims of the war in Ukraine. As this country risks facing a trying winter, this gesture of interreligious solidarity is urgent. And inspiring.

For Catholics, the opportunity to work with religious leaders with similar priorities and common commitments is exciting. This means that our dedication to religion, social development, and stewardship of the Earth is not one we do alone. And that’s something everyone should consider. Because Dr. Al-Issa is right: Behind many of our earthly problems are spiritual problems. We cannot solve the first without a deeper awareness of who we are, where we came from and where we are going.

Uchenna Ekwo is a Nigerian-born author and media studies researcher affiliated with the City University of New York and a member of the Knights of Columbus.