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Indonesian groups target children to tackle intolerance

Interfaith organizations build religious harmony by engaging young children in interreligious activities

Indonesian groups target children to tackle intolerance

Fifty children from different religious backgrounds visit Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Temanggung on April 7. (Photo supplied)

Two interfaith groups in Indonesia are looking to stem what they say is a growing tide of intolerance by trying to steer young children away from sectarianism.

One such effort was staged in Temanggung district of Central Java on April 7.

Archipelago Peace Narration and the Smiling Troops, two groups promoting pluralism in Indonesia, held a special peace-building gathering featuring 50 kindergarten and elementary school children from various faiths, including Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.

The children visited various places of worship, including Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Temanggung, where they learned about the values of each religion and played games with messages of religious tolerance.       

"We are concerned about rising religious intolerance in Indonesia. As a result, there is fear of growing divisions in society," Khoirul Anam, secretary-general of the Archipelago Peace Narration, told ucanews.com.

He said this is especially so in the run up to elections where campaigns are increasingly becoming more sectarian. Indonesia is holding local elections in June.

"We target children as they're still pure. It's important to boost religious tolerance among them at a very early age," Anam said, adding that the April 7 program aimed at encouraging the children to make as many friends from different religious backgrounds as possible.

Holy Family Father Johanes Baptista Ibnu Fajar Muhammad from Sts. Peter and Paul Church, who helped organize the program, said the district was no stranger to sectarian violence.

He said three churches in the district, including his own parish church, were destroyed in an outbreak of violence in February 2011.

Mobs attacked the churches after a court jailed a Christian writer for five years for blasphemy.    

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"It's hoped that by encouraging children we can spread the seeds [of religious tolerance] to other regions," he said. 

Parents backed the initiative.

Diah Krisnawati, said she wants her son to have friends from different religious backgrounds.

"The program is good for my son's future. He is a Muslim, but he will be able to make friends with people from other religions more easily the future. This bond should be instilled at a very early age," she said.

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