Friendship tunnel will soon link mosque and cathedral

President Joko Widodo agreed to the project. the Istiqlal mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, is undergoing renovation. Indonesia’s founder Sukarno wanted it to be front of the Church of the Assumption as a symbol of unity, religious harmony and tolerance.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Many people probably thought that digging tunnels is just as good a way to build bridges in interfaith dialogue after Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo gave the green light yesterday to the construction of an underpass to connect Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque to St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.

The two buildings are located in Central Jakarta, in the heart of the capital, facing each other (picture 1). For Widodo, the underpass will encourage brotherhood between the two religious communities.

Yesterday, during an inspection of the ongoing work, Widodo told reporters that "This will be a 'friendship' tunnel. Someone suggested building a link between the two places of worship. I agreed. People will no longer have to cross the street.”

Minister of State Secretariat Pratikno, Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi, and Minister of Public Works and Public Housing Basuki Hadimuljono accompanied the president.

The renovation works (picture 2) of the largest mosque in Southeast Asia began in May 2019. Widodo hopes that it will be completed before Ramadan 2020 (which will begin on 23 April). To that end, the government has earmarked 475 billion rupees (US million).

For most Indonesians, the Grand Istiqlal Mosque (built between 1961 and 1978) has always been a symbol of interfaith dialogue since it was designed by a Christian architect, Frederich Silaban.

Sukarno, Indonesia’s founder and first president, wanted the mosque to be built near the Assumption Cathedral and Immanuel Protestant Church as a show of national unity, religious harmony and tolerance.

Every year, many interfaith and intercommunal initiatives are undertaken during the main Muslim and Catholic religious holidays as a token of friendship and outreach, going far beyond simple courtesy visits.

For example, thanks to Card Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, archbishop of Jakarta, Masses at the cathedral are rescheduled on the day when the world’s most populous Islamic country stops to celebrate Eid al-Fitr to allow Muslims to use the church’s parking lot.

At Christmas and Easter, members of the country’s two major moderate Islamic organisations (Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah) provide security to the church and Catholic faithful.