Christian Group in Indonesia Promotes Dialogue to Halt Violence

Java a Particular Trouble Spot, Says Forum Secretary

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ROME, OCT. 8, 2002 ( Indonesia has proved that dialogue can overcome interreligious hatred and violence, says the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum.

Interreligious violence has been around since Indonesia’s independence in 1945. Between then and last August, 878 churches have been set on fire or attacked.

The provinces with the highest rate of fires are Western Java, the Moluccas, Eastern Java and Central Java. The burning of churches in the Moluccas is related to ethnic and religious conflicts in the province.

The religious conflict that broke out in the Molucca Islands in early 1999 has resulted in thousands of victims and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

Given the dire situation, especially the objectives of Muslim fundamentalist groups, early in 1999 the Catholic bishops’ conference and the National Council of Churches created the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum. The forum is supported by churches and denominations, including Catholics, Protestants, Salvation Army members and Orthodox.

The forum’s president is Bonar Simangunsong, a Protestant. The secretary-general is Theophilus Bela, a Catholic.

Bela told ZENIT that many of the disturbances “take place very often in the overpopulated and highly urbanized main island of Java, with a high rate of unemployment and poverty.”

If a church is in trouble or a pastor is harassed, “we, from the forum, instantly send our volunteers to visit the place of the trouble,” Bela said. They assess the problem and take photographs to document what happened, he added.

The incidents may be reported to the local authority, the Lord Mayor, a national Minister, or “even to the president of the country,” Bela continued. If churches are threatened, the forum appeals to “the president of the municipal police of Jakarta to ask for protection,” he said.

In addition to the above activities, the Christian Communication Forum fosters dialogue with Muslims.

In April 1999 Jakarta’s largest mosque was bombed by terrorists. The forum visited the mosque and offered a small donation “as a sign of sincere concern and sympathy,” Bela said.

As a follow-up to the meeting with the mosque’s management, the forum “set up a new interfaith dialogue with members of other religious groups,” he added.

Christians constitute about 10% of Indonesia’s population of 212 million. In 1998, Catholics numbered 5.8 million. Muslims make up about 88% of the population, according to U.S. government figures.

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