ASIA/INDONESIA - A priest: "It is important to promote religious tolerance before the general elections"

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 human rights   religious minorities   religious freedom   politics   civil society   elections  

Jakarta (Agenzia Fides) - "It is important that the Indonesian government continues to tirelessly promote religious tolerance in view of the national elections scheduled for April 2019": this is what Fr. Markus Yumartana, 53, parish priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, in Jakarta tells Agenzia Fides.
Fr. Yumartana notes that "Islamic extremism remains a problem in Indonesia" and "especially when it is politically motivated and exploited, it creates various problems especially during the election period".
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, a Muslim, is receiving several appeals from groups and activists who promote the rights of religious minorities in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, with 260 million inhabitants, 90% of whom are Muslims.
"I hope the terrorist attacks are not repeated as in the last few years. If the government manages to keep the situation under control, I am sure there will be no repetition of attacks against churches", says the priest. However, "politicians should use their power and position to maintain social and religious harmony and the spirit of national sharing, which is very important", he adds.
Indonesian Christians have noticed an increase in recent years in the activities of militant groups and terrorists who are inspired by the extremism of the group of the "Islamic State" (ISIS). Local militants have carried out deadly attacks throughout Indonesia, including Jakarta. Their ideological leader Aman Abdurrahman, also known as Oman Rochman, was sentenced to death last July, while police arrested about 300 suspected militants and killed 21 people following the suicide bombings that hit three churches in the second largest city in Indonesia, Surabaya, in May 2018. Police claimed that the coordinated attacks in Surabaya were carried out by members of the same family, including some children. Seven faithful Christians died in churches and another 41 people were injured.
In the last year Islamic extremist groups have also influenced politics, causing the arrest, trial and imprisonment for two years of the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, called "Ahok", accused of blasphemy. Father Yumartana, who followed the case of Ahok closely, told Fides: "I remain optimistic that we can unite as one nation: I am Catholic but I am 100% Indonesian".
Despite these problems, Yumartana confirms the blossoming of Christianity in Indonesia: "We are a young Church. In Jakarta, where we have about half a million Catholics, we build new parishes almost every year. People are enthusiastic about participating in the Mass and enjoy the liturgy". (SD) (Agenzia Fides, 11/9/2018)