By Luca Badetti
ROME — Lay Centre scholar Dewi Maharani made quite a cultural shift when she moved from Indonesia to Rome in order to enroll in interreligious studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). In the midst of her inter-continental transition, one thing has remained consistent: Maharani’s firm commitment to peace and justice.
Maharani was born the fourth of five children in Semarang, a port city in Central Java. As a Muslim, she has experienced encounter and dialogue with people of different religions from a young age. A number of her extended family members profess different faiths, including the Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian faiths, both Catholic and Protestant.
In 2017, just before beginning her master’s in environmental and urban studies at Soegijapranata Catholic University in Semarang, a friend asked her to join a national organization focused on tolerance, humanity, and attention to minorities, centred on the example of the late Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, who was known colloquially as Gus Dur. She would later participate in various interreligious activities in Indonesia as a way of being a bridge between people and of counteracting intolerance.
Through her involvement in peace and justice, Maharani met Father Markus Solo Kewuta, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, who works with the Nostra Aetate Foundation that promotes dialogue between Christians and believers of other religions. He invited her to participate in the pre-synodal meeting in Rome, held in March 2018, on the experiences of young people and faith; this trip would be her first time in Rome, but not her last.
In February 2019, Maharani joined The Lay Centre as a resident scholar after receiving a Nostra Aetate Foundation student scholarship. At first, she was concerned about moving to a Western country, fearing its culture would be too individualistic.
At The Lay Centre, however, she was immediately welcomed in a context where community matters. Maharani still remembers each person who helped her with her luggage upon her arrival and speaks with enthusiasm about how people at the centre are “kind, helpful and inspiring. From everyone here, I learn many things.”
Fellow Lay Centre scholars have the opportunity to learn many things from Maharani, too. She sees peace and justice as the point of life and believes interreligious understanding to be a key aspect in achieving them. She credits her Muslim faith with helping her appreciate these things.
“Islam is a religion very close to peace and justice,” she said. She is concerned about people using religion to perform inhumane acts, and she believes understanding other people’s faith and humanity is a way forward toward a better future.
As Ramadan begins, fellow Lay Centre residents will eat dinner at a later time, demonstrating their closeness to and respect for Maharani’s observance of this month of fasting for Muslims, a time during which she can reflect on the past year and grow in her faith, she said.
Maharani speaks of her time at The Lay Centre in terms of growing in tolerance, as she lives with people from different backgrounds. As she looks to her future in Indonesia, she said she wants to spread peace and love and counteract intolerance and injustice, starting with herself.