Monday, January 08, 2007

Religious tolerance prevails in Kampung Sawah

Friday, January 05, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Jacobus Napiun, a Betawi with a Catholic upbringing, considers himself blessed to have experienced such a rich, religious life in his birthplace of Kampung Sawah in Pondok Gede, Bekasi.

Kampung Sawah, some two hours drive from Jakarta, is home to St. Servatius Catholic Church, which has 6,500 parishioners and four Protestant churches, which have a combined membership of 2,600.

The village has offered considerable scope for the proliferation of churches, which stand side-by-side with mosques and pesantren (Islamic boarding schools).

Fifty-year-old Jacobus said the Catholic parish of Kampung Sawah dated back to Oct. 6, 1896, when Father Bernardus Schweitz baptized 18 residents, most of whom were Betawi.

The village's Catholic community has had its ups and downs, its good times and bad; witnessing many milestones in history.

On Oct. 7, 1945, St. Servatius was torched and looted by a group of nationalists who associated churches with the Dutch.

The incident, known as gedoran, caused the parishioners to scatter.

Jacobus said that during the long absence of a Catholic priest in the area, Protestant and Methodist church pews began filling up.

The Muslim community at that time was relatively small.

"As far as I remember, until the early sixties, when I was about eight years old, there was only one mosque here in Pasar Kecapi," Jacobus said.

However, there is a history of religious tolerance in Kampung Sawah.

"For us, natives to Kampung Sawah, brotherhood is more important than which religion we follow," said Jacobus, whose younger sister married a Muslim and whose younger brother is a Protestant.

"When she wanted to marry a Muslim, I said to her 'if you promise to be better than when you were a Catholic, my heart will let you marry without any regrets',"
Jacobus said.

The key to maintaining religious tolerance, he said, was to respect people's different characteristics and cultural backgrounds.

"Culture knows no limits and is not always based on religion. Preserving culture preserves diversity and creates bonds between the people of different religions," Jacobus said.

Established in 1878, Pasundan Protestant Church is situated about 50 meters away from St. Servatius.

During the gedoran, the house of the Reverend Mika Rikin was looted.

"Though the people here follow a number of religions, many of them are related to each other. It is not uncommon to find more than one faith being practiced within a single family," said Pasundan's minister, Anna Marjani Sarniem.

"This is, perhaps, why the people here are more tolerant than in other parts of the country," she added.

It is relatively easy to establish houses of worship in Kampung Sawah, despite the growing religious intolerance elsewhere.

"Many Muslims and Christians in Kampung Sawah are in one way or another related to one another. We are the descendants of several big families.

"However, there are some outsiders, who, unaware of the reason and tolerance that has prevailed in this village for many years, try to destroy our customs. We have always greeted our neighbors on holy days, but now, some people don't like it," Jacobus said.

The Reverend Anna, who has led the congregation of the Protestant church for the last eight years, shares Jacobus' view.

She said they had received multiple threats related to the establishment of churches in Kampung Sawah.

"We are really welcoming and do not fear for our safety, or worry about losing members, because people know we have been here (Christianity in Indonesia) for hundreds of years,"
the minister said.

"Here we can breathe easily and carry out our activities, healing the trauma of being cast out several times," said the Reverend Pieter Napitupulu of GPI Petra, a Pentecostal Church in Kampung Sawah that has more than 300 members.

Pieter said they had been evicted more than once from their place of worship before building a permanent church in June 2005 on a block of land in Kampung Sawah.

Not far away from GPI Petra, the Protestant Church of Java, which also has 300 parishioners, recently held its first Christmas service in its new building,

Established 15 years ago, it moved to Kampung Sawah in August, where it will start holding regular services this month.

Gunadi, a member of the church council, said they had received many threats when they applied for a license from their neighborhood unit, but thanks to some neighbors, they eventually secured a license from the district authority.

The strong tolerance that exists in Kampung Sawah is partly the legacy of a previous village head, known as Haji Encip or Haji Gocep.

He had allowed Christmas services to be held in the village hall long before a church had been built.

"He knew how to bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians," Jacobus said. (02)

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