Bogor. A Christian community in the Jakarta suburb of Bogor on Sunday could finally hold Christmas mass at their own church which took 15 years to build due to resistance from hardline Muslim groups in the town.
Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto was present at the event to congratulate the church management and offer an apology on behalf of the municipal government that it took a long time to complete the church on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh, West Bogor.
The church was initially built at Yasmin Park housing complex to be famously known as the Yasmin Church after hardline Muslim groups opposed its construction and threatened the congregation to disband, despite the fact that the local government had approved the project.
The long-standing debate earned Bogor the reputation as one of Indonesia’s most intolerant cities, prompting the municipal government to seek a solution by relocating the church about 1 kilometer from its original location.
“I apologized to the whole congregation because they have to wait 15 years before they finally can observe [Christmas] in this new church,” the Muslim mayor told reporters after the mass.
“And I thanked them for their patience during the very uneasy and challenging time and for their trust [in the municipal government]. I believe that we all have learned a lesson from this case,” Bima added.
His remarks came after he attended every churchgoer one by one to shake hands and wish them a merry Christmas.
The church was built on a land of 1,668 square meters as a grant from the current municipal government, which also immediately issued the building construction permit or IMB.
The Yasmin congregation began to build a church on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh in the West Java town in January 2007 under permit from the city government. Then-Mayor Diani Budiarto was present in the cornerstone-laying ceremony.
But the construction soon met opposition from various Muslim groups and several elements of the community who staged protests and blocked the construction process.
Unable to cope with the pressures, Mayor Diani revoked the permit and sealed off the half-finished building, leading to a protracted legal battle between the congregation and the city government.
The congregation has since 2008 been locked out of its church on the grounds that its leaders falsified data needed for the building permit.
The churchgoers, activists, and legal scholars deny this, and the Supreme Court has twice ruled in favor of the congregation, but Bogor authorities continue to bar the worshipers from their church, claiming the local residents, mostly Muslim, are uncomfortable with a church in their midst.
The GKI Yasmin congregation has frequently celebrated Christmas in front of the State Palace in Central Jakarta to voice their protest.
Yasmin Church representative Ari Djuana thanked the current Bogor government for allowing the church to exist and even providing land for it.
"We thank the Bogor municipal government and especially Mr. Bima Arya who have sincerely worked with us to find a solution to the construction of the church in West Bogor," Ari said.