Survival is a long, lonely struggle for Indonesian diocese

With the government often refusing to allow the building of churches, Indonesia’s Denpasar Diocese faces ‘tough’ evangelization challenges. 

Trying to build a church in Indonesia for Catholics to worship in is a complicated and painstaking experience, according to Bishop Silvester Tung Kiem San of Denpasar.

Even if a diocese owns the land for a designated church with all the required resources to be built upon, in most cases the government is reluctant to give permission, he told LICAS News.

One reason is that Christians are a minority living among an overwhelming majority of Muslims.  

Even though Indonesia is known for having the world’s largest Muslim population, freedom to follow a religion is guaranteed by the state through the constitution.

There are five major official religions in Indonesia: Islam 87.2 percent, Christianity 9.9 percent, Hinduism 1.7 percent, Buddhism 0.7 percent and Confucianism 0.2 percent. The rest are a number of indigenous beliefs.

Moreover, government officials require a diocese to obtain clearance from local people, or a non-objection letter, Divine Word Father Joseph Kasius Wora told LICAS News.

“There is another difficulty, too. Even if the government gives the go-ahead for construction, there are local people often belonging to other religions who raise objections,” said the priest, who is also vicar-general of the diocese. 

Father Wora said the main problem a diocese has is that the Catholic Church is still viewed with suspicion and is considered a competitor by religions that arrived in Indonesia first.

“That’s why it is difficult to get official permission to build a church,” Father Wora said.

Wherever permission is not granted, Sunday Masses and prayers are held in the homes of Catholic families in some parts of this diocese, he said. 

Despite these challenges, the diocese maintains dialogue with people of other religions and government officials. 

“Dialogue sometimes means that Catholics should acknowledge and respect the existence of other religions, but not the other way around,” Father Wora said. 

“We are in danger of compromising too much with them to a certain extent for the sake of our existence, for example, signing agreements not to pray in the homes of Catholics,” he said.

However, “we are still working to overcome that situation. We continue to work for people’s development and evangelization,” he added.

Denpasar Diocese covers the predominantly Hindu province of Bali and the Muslim majority province of West Nusa Tenggara.

According to the diocese, there were 45,809 Catholics in 23 parishes and 26 mission stations served by 54 priests, as of 2017. The Hindu population is 3.8 million, while Muslims make up 4.9 million. Protestants number about 48,000.

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