12/30/2019, 15.10
INDONESIA
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Harmony and diversity at the centre of National Christmas celebrations in Bogor

by Mathias Hariyadi

The event, which was centred on the theme ‘Let’s be friends to anybody’ (Jn 15-14-15), saw the participation of President Widowo and other government officials. For the president, the state guarantees religious freedom.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo last Friday took the opportunity of this year’s national Christmas celebrations (Perayaan Natal Nasional 2019) to celebrate with some 10,000 Catholics and Protestants the harmony, cohesion and diversity on which Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic country, is founded.

The theme of the meeting, which was held at Bogor’s Sentul International Convention Centre, West Java province, was centred on the ‘Let’s be friends to anybody’ theme found in the Gospel of John (15:14-15). The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia (KWI) and the Council of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) promoted the event by encouraging believers to participate.

The gathering was divided into two parts, namely the Mass and festivities. Card Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, archbishop of Jakarta and KWI president, led the religious service.

Several government officials attended the event along with President Widodo. Addressing participants, President Widodo said that Christmas celebrations offer the best opportunity to reiterate social cohesion.

“This is the time when we celebrate good social relations,” said the president. “We are called to celebrate and show our gratitude for our diversity. Such a marvellous diversity has united us as a nation.”

"We must maintain such good social unity, which we have been able to guarantee for decades,” he noted, adding though that things “might become volatile due to many provocations that could split us.”

"Pancasila[*] guarantees the freedom to adopt a religion and people are free to express their faith,” explained the president. “I want to reiterate here, once again, that the state guarantees these rights.”

Widodo's statement follows recent controversies over freedom of worship for religious minorities in Indonesia in recent weeks. In fact, this year, some Catholic and Protestant communities were prevented from holding Christmas prayers and services because of legal obstacles.

Christians in two villages in Dharmasraya and Sijunjung regencies (West Sumatra), were able to celebrate Christmas only after their situation became front-page news in national and international media. Local leaders had refused to grant them a permit to hold their celebrations.

For two Protestant communities in West Java, the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (GKI Yasmin) in Bogor and the Philadelphia Congregation of Batak Protestant Churches (HKBP Filadelfia) in Bekasi regency, the year 2019 saw another Christmas without the right to use their own place of worship.

For years they have been denied the right to conduct religious activities in their respective houses of worship, due to alleged permit violations. Thus, since 2012, GKI Yasmin and HKBP Filadelfia have celebrated Christmas Mass in front of the presidential palace.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in their favour, local authorities are delaying the implementation of the decision.

Card Suharyo explained that the reason for choosing the theme of friendship (Jn 15:14-15) was “to say the truth in some way or another” that, “as Indonesians we felt that out sense of brotherhood and good social relations have been disrupted” by “hate speeches , which had not been heard for a long time but now suddenly seem to reappear.” The other issue is “identity politics, which is spreading intolerance.”

In light of this, “we had to make our Christmas celebrations more down-to-earth by adopting a theme that calls upon us to reach out in friendship towards others.”


[*] Pancasila (pañca: five; sīla: principles) refers to the philosophical theory on which Indonesia is founded.

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