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Indonesian diocese to build church after 15-year wait

A government rule requires written permission from local people, including Muslims, to get a construction permit
Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung, the president of Indonesian Bishops’ Conference leads a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of St Benedict Church in West Bandung Regency on Jan. 22.

Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung, the president of Indonesian Bishops’ Conference leads a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of St Benedict Church in West Bandung Regency on Jan. 22. (Photo: Bandung Diocese)

Published: January 24, 2024 12:17 PM GMT
Updated: January 25, 2024 03:56 AM GMT

A Catholic diocese in Indonesia started the construction of a church 15 years after its construction license was withheld because of resistance from local Muslims.

Holy Cross Bishop Antonius Subianto Bunjamin of Bandung, the president of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference, led a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of St. Benedict Church in Padalarang subdistrict, West Bandung Regency on Jan. 22.

Local Catholics and government officials attended the event.

"We hope that this church can be used by around 4,000 Catholics around Padalarang, Cipatat, Batujajar, Ngamprah and Cisarua," said Tri Basuki Joewono, chairman of the church construction committee.

"So, the people will no longer need to travel far away to worship," said Joewono, the rector of Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung.

Until now local Catholics had to go to faraway places including the one in the neighboring Cimahi municipality for Church services.

The church officials in 2009 proposed the construction of St. Benedict church, the first Catholic Church in West Bandung Regency but failed to get the construction license.

According to a government rule written consent from local residents, including Muslims, is needed to get a construction permit for a worship place.

The 2006 joint regulations of the Home Ministry and Ministry for Religious Affairs require religious communities to obtain 90 signatures from their own community and 60 signatures from local residents to get permits for places of worship.

The rule was widely criticized by rights groups for making it difficult for minority religious groups to establish places of worship.

Muslim groups, a majority in most areas, often oppose the construction of the church.

In 2015, they put up posters at the proposed site of the church saying a Christian worship place cannot be allowed in a Muslim-majority area.

Joewono said for the past 15 years they have interacted with the residents to get support.

The process took a long time because people had to get to know each other and live side by side first, he said.

"Because we know each other and help each other, we are now appreciated and they are grateful to us," he said.

Arsan Latif, acting Regent (district chief) of West Bandung, said he supports the construction of the church because the constitution guarantees the protection of citizens' rights to religion.

He said the government permitted the construction after all conditions were met.

"The government guarantees the safety and comfort of worship," he said.

West Java is the most populous province in Indonesia with 49.94 million people and 97.29 percent are Muslim.

Many Christian groups in the province have faced difficulties in recent times to obtain permits to build houses of worship.

In recent years, the advocacy group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace ranked it as the most intolerant province because of violations of religious freedom, including disturbances to places of worship.

The province has 83,476 mosques and Muslim prayer rooms, 406 Protestant churches, and 77 Catholic churches.

However, there are still many churches that have not received permission and have been waiting for years, church sources say.

In November last year, St. Theresa Catholic Church in Cikarang, Bekasi Regency received permission after 18 years.

In 2016, the National Human Rights Commission revealed cases of extortion by certain parties against congregations in the province, by questioning permits to build places of worship.

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