It had taken 23 years for the parishioners of Saint Bernadet to be granted a permit to build a church in Ciledug, South Tangerang. They may have to wait another 23 before the building is actually able to open, after a group of Islamic hard-liners shuttered the proposed site on Sunday before even a stone had been laid.
“A group of people, calling themselves 'residents,' rallied against the church construction,” Paulus Dalu Lubur, a community priest, told the Jakarta Globe on Monday
Hundreds of people, wearing white shirts and thawbs (traditional Arab religious garments), rallied in front of the land where the Catholic community, which has 11,000 members, had long hoped to build a church.
Congregants currently meet at six different locations and have no permanent place of worship.
“I believe the majority of the protestors... are not local residents,” Paulus said. “We're supported by some religious figures in our environment.”
Before the protest, leaflets were spread among residents of Sudimara Pinang urban ward, Ciledug, asking them to join in.
The leaflets said that the church construction would violate some articles of the Joint Ministerial Decree on Houses of Worship, that the construction of religious buildings should reflect the demographics of the region and that the parish should obtain 60 signatures from local residents, validated by the urban ward chief.
The leaflets also argued that the parish's temporary usage of a hall in the Tarakanita complex, in absence of a proper church, was a violation of the decree; that church construction is forbidden by the Koran; and that the church's activities could result in conversions to Christianity.
Antonius Benny Susetyo, secretary of the interfaith commission of the Indonesian Bishop Council, told the Jakarta Globe that the parish had obtained a building permit for the church on Sept. 11, 2013, and that construction had been about to commence.
“The residents have approved it,” Benny said. “We hope the security officers will provide security.”
The parish has faced intolerance before. In 2004, protestors forced the church to relocate from the Sang Timur school in Ciledug. Protestors built a wall across a road, blocking access to the school. The wall still stands.
Paulus said that the objections were baseless because the majority of residents in the area were Catholic. However, he said he would keep trying to forge strong relationships with the local community.
“We're maintaining good relations,” he said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, told the Jakarta Globe that those promoting intolerance were a mobile, opportunist group that had traveled to the site and were not drawn from the local community.
“They always use the issue of 'Christinization' to influence residents with the argument that if there's a church nearby, it will later convert people because of the church's social activities,” Bonar said. “This group moves from one place to another, actively seeking information on churches in the process of trying to get a permit or those that don't have a permit. They usually rally in the name of the residents, even if only one or two residents is involved.”
Bonar said the problem was the result of local governments' failures to take action against intolerant groups.
“Moreover, the central government often washes its hands by saying that local governments should be the ones to find solutions,” Bonar said.