Semarang (AsiaNews) – The sight of a smiling Pope Francis shaking hands with an emotional young Muslim woman (picture 1) has gone viral in Indonesia, becoming an iconic image in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
The woman in the picture is Dewi Kartika Maharani Praswida, a 23-year-old student from Wonogiri regency, Central Java province.
“I never expected that my pictures with Pope Francis would cause such hype in Indonesia,” she told AsiaNews, “but I am happy, because these images reminded many of my compatriots that belonging to different religious communities does not prevent us from being brothers and sisters, children of the same almighty God.”
The photo that made Dewi famous at home was taken on 26 June, during the Pope’s general audience in St Peter’s Square.
“Pope Francis was busy with greetings when he approached the barrier. I was able to exchange a few words with him: ‘I am Muslim and I come from Indonesia. Please, Holy Father, pray for me, for peace in my country and in the whole world. The Pope replied: ‘Of course, I will.’”
“Being able to meet the leader of the Catholic Church, the ‘good man’, the ‘man in white’, was for me a true blessing. Being able to say ‘I am in the prayers of Pope Francis’ was an indescribable joy.”
Dewi has a BA and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Environmental and Urban Sciences at the Universitas Katolik Soegijapranata (Unika), a Catholic university in Semarang, the capital of Central Java.
She is involved in interfaith dialogue with Gus Durian, a youth movement affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a moderate Islamic group. With more than 90 million members, NU is the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia and the world.
Between February and June of this year, the young woman was in Rome to study thanks to the Nostra Aetate Foundation[*], which grants scholarships to young people from other religions who wish to deepen their knowledge of Christianity at Pontifical academic institutions.
Dewi studied at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) and the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI).
“In my city, Semarang, I am involved in activities concerning interreligious dialogue,” Dewi explained. “I have also dedicated my studies to Rome to this topic. But since I was in the heart of world Christianity, I said to myself: ‘Why not to take the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of Christianity and the Catholic Church?’