Lenny Tristia Tambun & Camelia Pasandaran
A protest by members of a religious forum that has called on the government to shut down a Catholic church in Tambora, West Jakarta, was staged peacefully on Friday afternoon.
Hundreds of members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Duri Selatan Mosque Forum rallied against the Bunda Hati Kudus Foundation’s plan to convert the social facilities of the Damai school complex into a place of worship.
The protesters came to the school on Friday afternoon and staged a peaceful protest and oration for 30 minutes before continuing their journey to City Hall.
Nandar, the protest coordinator for the Duri Selatan Mosque Forum, urged the leaders of the church to stop the establishment of any church within the school complex, and spoke out against the use of any building within the complex for any church-related activities.
“They should have followed the rules, they can’t provoke the local residents by giving away free stuff every month just to get approval to build a church. The construction of this church must be stopped,” he said.
Some representatives from FPI and the Duri Selatan Mosque Forum were allowed to enter the school complex on Friday to hold a dialogue with the church’s leader, Pastor Matheus Widyolestari. Police officers were in attendance for the discussion.
One of the protesters handed out a stack of copies of ID cards, claiming they were from people who rejected the church’s construction.
The local government has been trying to mediate the conflict involving religious figures from both sides since November 2007. But so far, they have failed to reach an agreement.
Pastor Antonius Benny Susetyo, executive secretary of the Commission of the Indonesian Bishops Conference, told the Jakarta Globe that the protesters misunderstood the problem.
He said that the protesters thought the church used the social facilities of the Damai school complex as a service venue.
“It is a church, in the same complex with the school,” Antonius explained. “It is not a hall as they thought.”
Antonius said that the church had no building permit, but when it was built in 1968, there was no regulation on building permits.
“In 2006, the government issued a joint ministerial decree in which its transitional regulation stated that in the case of a house of worship that has been permanently used and or has historical value but has no building permit, a mayor or district chief should issue the permit,” Antonius said.
“At that time, it was not only churches that had no building permits, but also mosques,” Antonius said. “This is the obligation of the local government to issue decisions that the church is legal as it has existed for 40 years.”
Antonius said that as many as 6,000 congregation members joined Sunday services every week.
“There is no other Catholic church nearby,” he said, adding that the protesters were not residents of Tambora. “The church has good relations with the residents.”
[Updated at 5:27 p.m.]