The Jakarta Post
The festive season has, once again, passed safely as Christians celebrated Christmas this year without any major disturbances or incidents.
The solemn atmosphere of Christmas meant that Elitha Evinora Tarigan, a 31-year-old Jakarta-based business owner, listened carefully to the priest's sermon at Christmas Eve mass in Jakarta Cathedral on Sunday.
The sermon continued until one of the bishops arrived at the church’s main hall with a number of officials, including Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, and interrupted the sermon so the minister could give his speech to the thousands of attendees at the Catholic Church.
“I have no problem with these officials coming to the church during Christmas eve mass. However, I think they should come at a more appropriate time, such as after mass has finished, as the church provides time for additional announcements,” Elitha told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
In the speech, Tjahjo passed a greeting on behalf of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who was unable to go to the cathedral himself. At Christmas, the president normally visits Jakarta Cathedral, among the oldest and largest churches in the country.
The minister also apologized to Christians across the country if they have felt uncomfortable with the government's heavy security measures implemented to safeguard churches during the Christmas holiday.
"We apologize if the [Christmas celebrations] seemed heavily guarded," the minister said.
Security was heightened, the minister said, "solely to provide assurances so that people can worship peacefully and solemnly without interference."
Tjahjo’s apology was made after the deployment of more law enforcement personnel to ensure that this year’s Christmas celebrations could take place peacefully. The National Police and the Indonesian Military (TNI) have deployed about 180,000 personnel in anticipation of possible terror attacks.
The number of personnel is larger than in 2016, when the combined security forces deployed only 150,000 personnel to secure the festive season.
Elitha, who had to go through security checks to attend mass in the cathedral, said the security measures affected the atmosphere during the service. “It’s actually fine, but deep down, I feel sad. Why should we have to be guarded so tight during mass?”
The increased security measures were also felt by Eleny Marsha Claudia, 24, who witnessed more law enforcers guarding St. August Catholic Church in Cawang, East Jakarta. “There were around 10 to 15 fully-equipped police and military personnel compared to last year’s five to seven police officers.”
The law enforcers, however, seemed to overlook securing a congregation at St. John's Catholic Church in Kebayoran Lama subdistrict in South Jakarta, as attendees claimed that a smaller number of law enforcement officers had guarded the church.
“There were only two police officers who stood guard at the front door,” said Afriani Liliani, a 28-year-old housewife, who went to the church. “I didn’t know about it until I finally realized upon entering the church that the police were gone!”
The number personnel guarding the church, however, made Afriani feel more relaxed upon attending Christmas mass. “I personally felt more insecure last year as there were more security issues such as the threat of suicide bombers.”
In January 2016 a suicide bombing and gun attack, claimed to have been carried out by the Islamic State movement (IS), took place in Jakarta, killing eight people, including police officers.
The increased security measures this year yielded a positive result: there were no major incidents across the country, especially during Christmas Eve.
“As of tonight, there have not been any major incidents reported. Everything is safe,” National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian told reporters on Sunday. “The only problem is traffic congestion [going out of Jakarta].”
State-owned toll road operator Jasa Marga recorded that around 312,000 vehicles had left Jakarta as of Dec. 24, a 10 percent increase in the number of vehicles leaving Jakarta than usual.
The situation across the country has echoed the message of peace delivered by prominent figures, including President Jokowi, who delivered on Monday his Christmas message to all Christians, emphasizing that the country’s religious diversity should be embraced.
“To all Christians in Indonesia, I wish you a Merry Christmas. The country’s religious diversity is a blessing for us all,” Jokowi said on his official Twitter account @Jokowi.
The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) and the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) also issued a joint Christmas message calling for the strengthening of national unity according to Pancasila, the state ideology. (wit)