By BosNewsLife Asia Service
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– Thousands of Christians have celebrated Christmas in a volatile area of Indonesia’s West Java province, despite concerns of more attacks against them, Christians said Saturday, December 26.
At least 5,000 worshipers living in the city of Bekasi reportedly gathered in the unfinished St. Albertus Church for a Christmas Eve mass, a week after it was attacked by an angry Muslim mob.
Christians said hundreds of Muslims began the Islamic New Year last Thursday, December 17, by attacking the Catholic church, throwing stones and setting fires to it. Kristina Maria Rentetana, head of the church building committee, told reporters that the crowed shouted “Destroy it” and that “even women carrying babies” participated in stone throwing. Most damage was reportedly done to the makeshift security post and the developer’s office.
The Indonesian Committee of Religions for Peace has urged authorities to increase security for Christians, who comprise a minority in this mainly Muslim nation. “Attacks directed at churches are frequent in parts of West Java,” said Committee Secretary General Theophilus Bela in comments published by The Jakarta Post news paper. Several areas in Greater Jakarta are also included in this category, Bela added.
ATMPOSPHERE OF CALM
Despite the attack, Thursday night’s service proceeded in an atmosphere of calm and even joy, Christians said. Most of worshipers were seen with their families, including small children. “We leave it to the One above,” said a man, only identified as Philippus, watching his daughter play in the church yard, when asked by The Jakarta Post about the possibility of more violence that night.
Yet, last week’s attack impacted other churches in the region. “In Tambun Utara, Bekasi, worshipers at the Friday morning service at the HKBP Filadelfia Church endured threats from a group demanding the service be stopped,” The Jakarta Post said.
“There were hundreds of them, they were there before the service began,” Rev. Palti Pandjaitan was quoted as saying adding they “threw objects” at the church. “They also prevented several of our members from coming inside.”
The church service reportedly went ahead as some churchgoers brushed aside the threats “as being empty”. However in Parung the Yohanes Baptista Church moved its planned Christmas celebrations from its property to a government building over half an hour away citing security concerns, The Jakarta Post reported.
“We had it all prepared, with decorations and a church-shaped tent,” congregation member Gabriel Tolok told reporters. The tent was to serve as church because the congregation’s building permit, had reportedly been withdrawn in 2005.
But shortly before Christmas, Gabriel said, local government, police and military officials warned congregation members against celebrating Christmas on their property for fear of an attack similar to the violence directed against the St. Albertus Church. Evening and morning services took place without incident at the Yohanes Baptista Church, elsewhere worshipers reported threats, The Jakarta Post reported.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to come to the house of God,” reportedly said a Christian identified only as Stella, who attended the Christmas Eve mass at St. Albertus. These are no isolated incidents, several churches and rights groups say, as there have been numerous incidents of anti-Christian violence in recent years reported.