12/18/2017, 16.38
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Christians say no the Christmas event organised by Jakarta’s Islamist governor

by Mathias Hariyadi

The choice of the location, symbol of Indonesia’s struggle for independence, is inappropriate. The attempt to gain "political benefits" by exploiting the religious festivity is criticised.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Christians have turned down an invitation by the Governor of Jakarta, Anies Baswedan, to participate in the "Celebration of Christmas" organised at the National Monument (Monumen Nasional, abbreviated Monas), a tower in the centre of Merdeka square, which symbolises Indonesia’s fight for independence.

The choice of the location and the suspected ulterior motives of the Islamist governor led to refusal.

Inaugurated in 1975, over the years the monument has become the venue of many Islamic events and celebrations, until the former governor of the capital, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, decided to make it a "neutral" public space.

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

On 29 November, the new governor authorised some Islamic organisations to hold a rally, in which he participated along with some of the country’s most important radical leaders (picture).

The rally took place on 2 December, exactly one year after violent protests broke out against his predecessor, an ethnic Chinese and a Christian, whom extremists had accused of blasphemy.

The accusation affected the elections to Anies Baswedan’s benefit as well as the controversial trial that led to Ahok’s conviction and two-year sentence in prison.

Most civil society groups have strongly criticised the governor’s "Christmas initiative" and his attempt to "benefit from it" by using the religious festivity to boost his support among Christian voters, still outraged by how he led his election campaign against Ahok in April.

The Council of Churches of Indonesia (PGI) has made public its opposition to the event in a statement released last Saturday by Manuel Raintung, head of PGI Jakarta.

"We must make sure that Monas remains a national monument where the spirit of unity among the different Indonesian peoples can show itself", said the statement, which condemned the use of religion for political ends.

The Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Jakarta and Mgr Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, archbishop of the capital and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia (KWI), agree.

"In our meeting with the city administration, I told them that we Catholics of the Archdiocese of Jakarta are called to celebrate Christmas in our respective parish churches. Celebrating Christmas in churches rather than in open public spaces has been our tradition for decades” said Fr Suyadi, head of the Commission, speaking to AsiaNews.

All 67 parishes in Jakarta are currently busy preparing for Christmas celebrations.

"If the 'Celebration of Christmas' should take place it would be organised by city officials and the place would be closed," the clergyman noted. In this case, "The event should not involve any political figure, neither as an organiser nor as a guest."

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