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Peace Without a Cross at the Top of the Church

Emanuel Dapa Loka still remembers how he and thousands of members of the Santa Clara Parish Church, Bekasi City, West Java held the Good Friday service under the pouring rain. It was April 2018 — when the chapel was still a two-story shop house in the Wisma Asri housing complex. According to a member of the Santa Clara Parish Council for the 2014-2020 period, the prayer room can only accommodate two hundreds of congregants, causing thousands more to crowd the overhang of the church.

"Just when the ritual of kissing the cross on Good Friday, it rained. My friends and I who did not get to the roof were soaked, but could still kiss the cross, ”said Emanuel, stretching his memories to at Santa Clara Church on Friday, March 6, 2020.

The Santa Clara congregation has held services with limited conditions for years. Since its establishment as a parish in 1998, the congregation, which initially numbered 3 thousand people, has used shop houses and meeting halls to hold worship services. It was so crowded that the church often set up additional tents to accommodate congregants who could not enter the building.

“It becomes a common sight when the congregation spills out onto the street. The streets must also be closed, ”said another Santa Clara congregation, Arya Yudha Priyadi to, Saturday, May 16, 2020.

Mass at the Santa Clara Church congregation at Wisma Asri Housing, 14 August 2016. (Photo: Andreas Harsono)

That is because the Pastoral plans to build a much bigger house of worship. The land chosen was the rice fields belonging to Haji Mochtar Tabrani, the founder of the Bekasi An-Nur Islamic Boarding School, which Pastoral purchased from in 2001. However, since the church construction committee (PPG) was first formed in 2004, the church has not been able to proceed with construction.

One of the reasons is that the application for a permit to build a house of worship has only been processed after 10 years. The files received by the Harapan Baru Village on 23 November 2014 included letters of support from Muslim residents totaling 65 out of 60 signatures. This is in accordance with the Joint Ministerial Regulation (PBM) of Religion and Home Affairs Number 9 and 8 of 2006 concerning Guidelines for Implementing Regional Heads' Duties in Maintaining Religious Harmony, Empowering Religious Harmony Forums and Establishing Houses of Worship.

A tent is set up to accommodate congregants who have no place in the church, 14 August 2016. (Photo: Andreas Harsono)

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However, the fulfillment of the conditions does not always continue smoothly. Some people who act in the name of a certain religion oppose expansion. The protest at that time was like a soliton wave — it continued to roll and roll from year to year. Especially when the church got a building permit (IMB) number 203/0535 / 1.B BPPT.2 on July 28, 2015.

The demonstration in August 2015 was one of many mass actions launched by the protesters. Hundreds of people from various community organizations raided the office of the Mayor of Bekasi, Rahmat Effendi, on Jalan Jenderal Ahmad Yani. They urged Rahmat to revoke the Santa Clara IMB because he was in the middle of an Islamic boarding school.

Apart from screaming out of disappointment, anger was also recorded in a number of banners carried by the students and representatives of the Mosque Forum and Mushola for the residents of Duta Harapan, Telaga Mas and Harapan Baru housing estates. Even in 2017, opposing masses clashed with the police, resulting in injuries to a number of people.

Soleh — currently serving as the Head of the Rukun Tetangga (RT) 003 Kelurahan Harapan Baru-is one of the people who joined the ranks of opponents. At that time he said he was surprised by the plan to build a church. Especially when they heard of alleged manipulation by the Church Development Committee (PPG) to gain community support.

"There are residents whose KTPs were taken and asked to sign without explaining what the purpose was for," said Soleh when met at his residence on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

Meanwhile Nari, the former head of RT 003 Kelurahan Harapan Baru, denied the accusation from his colleague. According to him, residents around the church construction were willing to support after receiving an explanation of the purpose of building the church. One of the points conveyed is the condition of the Wisma Asri Chapel which is no longer suitable to accommodate religious activities.

In addition, the number of congregants has far exceeded the internal requirement for the establishment of a Catholic church, which is not less than three thousand inhabitants. Receiving this explanation, according to Nari, residents volunteered to fill out and provide their own support forms to the committee.

After the letter of support was completed, Nari's house was never devoid of visits by religious leaders in North Bekasi. Primarily the leaders of the Al Mucthar Islamic boarding school, the Attaqwa Putra Islamic Boarding School and the Attaqwa Putri Islamic Boarding School. They asked Nari to withdraw the development recommendation letters given by residents.

"I am a public servant. Whoever I serve, regardless of religion. I do not only serve people who are Muslim. I said that to them, ”explained Nari, repeating his statement several years ago to

In the records of the Setara Institute, the Santa Clara congregation is a minority who has received violations of freedom of belief (KBB) in West Java. Throughout 2018, this province was the area where the KBB was most prevalent than the other 24 provinces. Of the 160 violations accompanied by 202 acts, there were about 24 incidents that occurred in West Java.

Most of the opponents used the administrative requirements for the construction of places of worship as a weapon. That is what happened to the Santa Clara congregation. Due to mass pressure, the IMB signed by the mayor on July 28 2015 was postponed until re-verification was carried out.

Head of PPG Santa Clara Church for the period 2012-2015, Setyo Lelono showing the IMB document given by the Bekasi City Government, March 7, 2020 (Photo: Debora Sinambela)

The Head of PPG Santa Clara Church for the period 2012-2015, Setyo Lelono, told of the incident five years ago. According to him, the verification hearing which was held in the hall of North Bekasi District did not only check the completeness of the files. The verification team also directly confirmed the letter of support to each resident. Of the 65 people recorded, one of them is known to have died. However, the development process was declared to be sustainable because the other 64 people had no intention of withdrawing support.

"The residents were then gathered. Mayor Rahmat Effendi and the Forum for Religious Harmony immediately gave a statement that all administration was in accordance with procedures, "said Setyo when met at his home on Friday, March 6, 2020.

Vegetable Garden Diplomacy

The new building for the Santa Clara Church is located on Jalan Lingkar Utara, Kelurahan Harapan Baru, Bekasi City. The white two-story building covering an area of 1600 square meters rises about 20 meters on an area of 6500 square meters. While the ground floor functions as a parking lot, office and residence for the pastor, the prayer room with a capacity of 3 thousand congregants occupies half of the room at the top. The other two parts are made into a vertical garden with a maria cave and a memorabilia room containing rows of paintings of Jesus carrying the cross, as well as a replica of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Unlike most Catholic churches, Santa Clara was built without a cross at the top of the building. The entrance to the prayer room was deliberately made with its back to the main road. In fact, it has been almost a year since August 2019, there is no sign that states that the building is a church.

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"I don't know when people can find this church easily," said Emanuel Dapa Loka, a member of the Santa Clara Parish Council for the 2014-2020 period.

Even so, Emanuel added, the church prioritizes persuasion rather than imposing its will. Since the beginning, according to him, Santa Clara has tried to integrate with the surrounding community. Even long before the church building was built, the land that Pastoral had owned since 2001 was not immediately concreted. They chose to cultivate the land as a space for growing various kinds of vegetables. The crops obtained, such as corn, are sold to the congregation and distributed to local residents and Islamic boarding schools. This is what makes Pastor Santa Clara, Raymond Simandjorang well received when visiting An-Nur Islamic boarding school.

"It's like vegetable garden diplomacy. Sometimes when someone asks whose land it is, it becomes our chance to explain that it belongs to the Church of Santa Clara. That is a way so that people will not be surprised if a church is built there, "said Emanuel.

Santa Clara Church documentation when residents of RT 002-003 RW 006 signed their support for the construction of the church. (Photo: Deborah Sinambela)

Exploration to residents was also carried out through the church youth organization. In 2003, a congregation member, Rasnius Pasaribu and his colleagues began to build interfaith dialogue, both with mosque youth, religious teachers and youth organizations. This forum for dialogue later took the form of Community Care for Peoples Action (KAPAS).

The KAPAS management structure is filled with Muslim and Catholic youth. His first mission was to distribute aid to flood victims in Muara Gembong. According to Emanuel, this organization is not the first forum to unite Islamic groups and the Santa Clara congregation. Prior to that, they had together built a bridge connecting the Indah Permai Villa Complex with Bulak Perwira. The bridge was later given the name "Iskat" or the Islam-Catholic Bridge.

While the church and the surrounding Muslim community are working together, other groups have raised the issue that the Church of Santa Clara is Christianizing. This is what led the Chairman of the Church Development Committee (PPG) for the 2004-2011 period, Heribertus P. Budriawan to approach the community at the RT / RW level. He began to actively stay in touch while distributing staples for major religious holidays, such as Eid al-Fitr and Qurban.

"But not all received it, some returned it," he recalled when contacted on March 13, 2020.

In this process, he said, the committee also tried to convince residents that the issue of Christianization that was developing at that time was only a thumbs up.

"We tell them it's not that easy to become Catholics. Minimum two years of study are required. At the end, there is a test to determine whether a person is eligible to enter Catholicism or not, "Heribertus told by telephone.

Furthermore, Heribertus explained, the church has an ecclesiastic membership structure. For example, if a Muslim-majority area has one mosque, more than one church can be established because they follow different synods or streams. In other words, Christians need a church in accordance with their membership. This is what is often misunderstood.

Local Government Firmness

Joint Decree (SKB) of Two Ministers and Three Ministers Number 9 of 2006 concerning the Establishment of Places of Worship has often been the basis for community rejection of plans for church construction. Apart from having to pocket dozens of letters of support signed by local residents, the establishment of houses of worship is also required to attach development recommendations from the RT, RW, sub-district, sub-district, Religious Communication Forum (FKUB), Ministry of Religion and the Bekasi City National Unity and Political Body (Kesbangpol). .

To get a letter of recommendation, according to Heribertus, letters of support from citizens must be verified in stages by the respective institutions concerned. This often takes time. Even before the verification process is completed, it is not uncommon for the citizen's identity cards (KTP) to expire.

"Then the committee will have to repeat the process all over again to replace residents who do not meet the requirements," said Heribertus.

Mayor of Bekasi, Rahmat Effendi (covered green sarong) after celebrating Bekasi City's anniversary, March 10, 2020 (Photo: Debora Sinambela)

The building permit process (IMB) for the Santa Clara Church also stalled at the sub-district level and FKUB Bekasi City. In 2009, FKUB even failed to issue a recommendation letter because there were still groups that refused to attend church.

However, the long road seemed to have shrunk when the seat of Bekasi mayor in 2013 changed hands from Mochtar Mohammad to Rahmat Effendi. To all citizens, Rahchmat guarantees religious diversity and tolerance. This is proven by the issuance of a construction implementation certificate from the Bekasi City Integrated Licensing Service Agency (BPPT) on July 28, 2015. Four years later, on August 11, 2019, Rahmat inaugurated the church building witnessed by the Archbishop of Jakarta, Ignasius Suharyo.

To, Rahmat emphasized that the regional government would not obstruct the establishment of places of worship as long as all requirements were met. If there are parties who do not agree with the issuance of the IMB, then they can file a lawsuit at the State Administrative Court (PTUN).

"As long as the norms are met, there will be no problem in Bekasi City," he said when met by in Bekasi City Square.

And today, it has been almost a year since the Bekasi Santa Clara Church congregation has been praying without the disturbance of hot or wet weather. Last December was the first Christmas they celebrated amidst the side of the new church building. It took 21 years for the Bekasi Santa Clara Church congregation to manage the construction of a house of worship. Even though there is no signboard and cross on the top of the building, Arya Yudha Priyadi cannot but be happy with the establishment of the Santa Clara Church in Bekasi City.

"I was touched when the building was finally able to stand up and be used for worship. Hopefully the presence of a new church will become a new spirit in serving and worshiping. Especially young Catholics who need to be more sensitive to ecclesiastical services, "hoped Arya to, May 16, 2020.Deborah B. Sinambela)

* This text is the final part of three stories about the peaceful way of building houses of worship. In limited conditions, we tried to use a solution journalism approach to explore the church's experience in resolving chronic conflicts. Check out other stories that have been published by before, namely Seteru Menahun Old Church Rejuvenation and Lobby Road End Tengkarah.

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