Widodo gives nod to 'tunnel of friendship' in Jakarta

Underground link connecting Istiqlal Mosque with Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral aims to be a 'symbol of harmony'
Widodo gives nod to 'tunnel of friendship' in Jakarta

Muslim devotees arrive at Istiqlal Mosque located across from Jakarta Cathedral to attend prayers. (Photo: Romeo Gacad/AFP)

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has approved the construction of an underground tunnel connecting Istiqlal Mosque with Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral Church, both national cultural heritages. 

The two places of worship in capital Jakarta are very close to each other and have long been known as symbols of how religions coexist in Indonesia.

Muslims and Catholics often share facilities at the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and the city’s oldest Catholic church during major religious festivals such as Eid al-Fitr and Christmas.

“There was a suggestion to build a tunnel from Istiqlal Mosque to the Cathedral Church, and I have agreed,” President Widodo told journalists on Feb. 7 after visiting the mosque to inspect renovation work there.

“It will be a tunnel of friendship, an underground tunnel. Therefore, [people do not need] to cross the busy street. [They] can use the tunnel of friendship.” 

Its construction will be part of the renovation work on the mosque, which was designed by a Christian architect named Friedrich Silaban. 

The 475-billion-rupiah (about US$34 million) renovation project began in May last year and also includes replacing the existing flooring and sound system.

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo of Jakarta welcomed the move.

“This tunnel of friendship is a continuation of the idea behind the construction of Istiqlal Mosque by former president Sukarno, which is to make it symbol of harmony and friendship among the children of the state,” the prelate said. “If this is realized, it will be a meaningful eternal monument.” 

However, Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Nahdlaltul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, was more skeptical.

“There must be a clear target of value. What is the cultural value? What is the religious value? Or is it just a political ploy?” he asked journalists.

Similar criticism came from Rev. Gomar Gultom, head of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, who called the tunnel “unsubstantial.”

He called on Widodo to focus on overcoming obstacles to religious worship such as intolerant groups preventing the building of many houses of worship.

The Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded 398 cases in which religious groups were hindered or prevented from worshipping between 2007 and 2018.

Half involved the non-issuing of building permits for Christian churches following opposition by intolerant groups.

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) is the leading independent Catholic news source from Asia.Support our network of Catholic journalists and editors who daily provide accurate, independent reports and commentaries on issues affecting the Church across the Asian region.

Or choose your own donation amount
© Copyright 2020, UCA News All rights reserved.
© Copyright 2020, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.