04/04/2018, 15.12
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Catholics and Protestants refused to take part in public Easter celebrations

by Mathias Hariyadi

Most Churches stayed away from the religious event meant to boost support for Islamist governor among Christian voters. Critics attack the latter’s political use of Easter. Organisers had announced the presence of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Protestant Christian Synod without their consent.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church and several Protestant denominations refused to take part in Easter celebrations that the Bethel Church of Indonesia (GBI) organised at the Monumen Nasional (National Monument) or Monas.

Referred to affectionately by Indonesians as Lapangan Monas (Monas Field), the monumental complex, which includes a tower, is located in the middle of Medan Merdeka (Independence Square) and is the symbol of the Indonesia’s struggle for independence.

As it did during the Christmas holidays, the choice of site, backed by Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and his deputy Sandiaga Uno, seemed to many inopportune. The suspicions it raised about the ulterior motives of the Islamist politician led to a refusal to participate.

Moderate nationalists have accused the governor of promoting the Islamism and identity politics, which have divided the country, undermining its pluralist vocation.

Baswedan’s policies have proven controversial since he took office, especially in transportation and trade, drawing criticism from civil society groups.

Thus, for many, the Easter invitation by some of his supporters seemed to be a political ploy to use the religious holiday to gain support among Christian voters.

Among the latter, many are still outraged at Baswedan’s election campaign in April 2017, when he attacked his predecessor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian.

At Christmas the Gerindra Party supported the governor’s initiative. This party backs the governor together with the more extremist Justice and Prosperous Party.

At Easter, the Bethel Church of Indonesia (GBI) organised the event. Rev Gillbert Lumoindong heads the community whose members met on Sunday at 5 am to celebrate Easter at Monas. The governor was present.

In February, the Catholic and other Protestant leaders dissociated themselves from the initiative. Fr Agus Ulahayanan, of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops 'Conference of Indonesia issued a statement (picture 3) calling on the Bethel Church to remove the symbol of the Bishops’ Conference from its announcement (picture 2) since it was included without its consent.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference had no prior knowledge as to the reasons and type of meeting planned, but the latter’s organisers had announced the presence of the Catholic Church and the Protestant Christian Synod (PGI).

Two days before Easter, Fr Suyadi, of the Commission for inter-religious dialogue of the Archdiocese of Jakarta, told AsiaNews that Catholics in the capital would not take part in the event. Instead, they would celebrate Easter "in their respective churches, as usual".

At the end of the solemn service on Easter Sunday in Jakarta cathedral, Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo (picture 1) reiterated that "Catholics would never celebrate the solemnities of Easter in the open air".

"Never! We have our tradition of observing it in church,” the archbishop said. “There are many liturgical symbols that must be presented and that can only be experienced in a place of worship".

The day before, the Protestant Synod also issued a statement stating that Monas, which is located in front of the State Palace, should not be used by anyone to host "religious gatherings".

"Lapangan Monas is a public space that belongs to everyone and should not be exploited to generate bad feelings among religious communities," the statement read.

Inaugurated in 1975, the monumental complex became the site of many Islamic events and celebrations over the years, until former governor Ahok decided to make it a "neutral" public space.

Anies Baswedan, who took office last October, changed regulations that banned religious and cultural ceremonies in the park.

On 29 November he allowed some Islamic organisations to hold a rally in which he and some important radical leaders participated.

The rally was held on 2 December 2017, exactly one year after violent protests in 2016 against his predecessor.

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