Indonesian Christians Celebrate Christmas in Peace
Bayu Marhaenjati, Rachmat & Ronna Nirmala
Jakarta/Makassar. A heavy police presence at churches across the capital helped ensure that Christians in Jakarta were able to celebrate Christmas Eve mass and Christmas Day prayers in peace.
Police deployed 10 to 75 personnel each to churches throughout the city, and 100 each to the Jakarta Cathedral and Immanuel Church, the city’s biggest Catholic and Protestant houses of worship.
Sr. Comr. Rikwanto, a spokesman for the city police, said the security measures also included thorough sweeps at these two places and 15 other large churches, in anticipation of possible bomb threats.
“This is the procedure that we have in place each year. We check all the pews, all the belongings that the worshipers bring into the churches,” he said. “We ensure that the entire radius between the church and the nearest parking lot is completely free of anything that could constitute a security risk. That way, we hope to ensure that the worshipers can pray in peace.”
As part of the National Police’s Operation Candle 2012, aimed at tightening security during the Christmas and New Year period, the Jakarta Police mobilized around 6,000 personnel to guard churches and other sites deemed a potential target for a security threat.
Rikwanto said this number included personnel from the police and Mobile Brigade (Brimob) bomb squads and members of Densus 88, the National Police’s elite counterterrorism squad.
“We haven’t received any word of terrorist threats yet and hopefully we won’t, so that the whole holiday period through to the new year can be enjoyed in peace,” he said.
The Jakarta Police also enlisted the services of Banser, the security wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s biggest Islamic organization, to help secure churches across the capital.
“The Banser officials have already reported to us. They’re providing around 1,000 to 1,500 personnel, who have been assigned to various churches throughout Jakarta,” Rikwanto said.
“The community organizations that we know of who are helping out include Banser and some local community groups. All of them will be under the police’s command and supervision.”
Banser was also involved in helping securing churches in Makassar, South Sulawesi, where they were joined by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a notoriously hard-line group that has in the past attacked members of religious minorities.
Muchsin Al-Habsyi, head of the FPI’s South Sulawesi chapter, said some 200 members of the group joined Brimob officers in guarding churches during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day worship.
“This is the first time that we’ve been involved in security efforts aimed at preventing terrorist incidents,” he said.
He added his organization was committed to ensuring that local Christians could worship in peace
Adj. Sr. Comr. Endi Sutendi, a spokesman for the provincial police, called the FPI’s involvement in helping with security arrangements a “positive interaction in interreligious relations in South Sulawesi.”
“We hope that this kind of initiative will continue well into the future so that whatever differences exist between both sides can be bridged,” he said.
Back in Jakarta, meanwhile, Governor Joko Widodo also called for greater religious tolerance as he visited the home of his Christian deputy, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, on Christmas morning. “I believe there’s a good deal of religious tolerance, as we saw the night before with Islamic groups helping to guard churches,” he said. “There’s always the potential for friction, but if we act mature and respect one another, then we can avoid that friction.”