As Eastern and Western Christians share Easter, Indonesians wary of protests around the feast

(Photo: REUTERS / Dwi Oblo)A Muslim woman casts her ballot at a polling station in a Catholic hospital in Yogyakarta April 9, 2014. Indonesians voted for a new parliament on Wednesday in a poll expected to be dominated by the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), boosting the chances of its popular candidate in a presidential election three months later.

Easter throughout the world is special this year because both Eastern and Western Christians are to celebrate the day of Christ's resurrection on the same day, April 16.

Many Eastern Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar which often celebrates Easter at a slightly different time to Western believers, who follow the newer Gregorian calendar.

Unfortunately it is not as easy for Christians to follow Easter in some countries where they are a numerical minority and other dominant religions exist.

This is the case in Indonesia where Christians celebrate Holy Week despite the threat of protests from hardline Muslim groups over church building permits, Ucannews reports.

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Easter is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar and it has been regularly observed from the earliest days of the Church.

Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, following his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

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It marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, a period of sacrifice and fasting for Christians.

For Christians Easter is important as the resurrection represents the triumph of good over evil, sin, death, and the physical body.

But in parts of Indonesia parishioners and congregations have had to endure harassment and protests at several churches in recent weeks by Muslims demanding their places of worship be closed down.

This is despite the Christians holding legal permits and Ucan reports its as another example of religious intolerance in the overhwlemingly Muslim majority, yet secular country.

Last week, violence flared when hundreds of Muslims protested against the construction of a Catholic church in St. Clara Parish in North Bekasi, West Java.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who tried to force their way into the church.

"Such protests challenge our efforts to maintain diversity," Rasnius Pasaribu, secretary of the parish's pastoral council, told ucanews.com.

"No matter what. We will celebrate Holy Week in a shop-house where we have been holding Sunday services," he said.

The parish was established in 1996 and has some 9,400 parishioners who have held Sunday services in the shop-house.

The parish had in 2015 obtained a building permit from local authorities to build a church in terms of the requirements stipulated in Indonesian law.

With a population of some 258 million people, Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic nation, with Muslims accounting for 87 percent of the people, Christians making up  almost 10 percent and Hindus 1.7 percent.

Indonesian law stipulates that church officials must provide authorities with a list of names and signatures of 90 worshippers along with written support from at least 60 local residents, as well as the approval by a village head.

Although construction began in November, Muslim hardliners have intimidated the Christians since then.

"We will work with police and local people to guard the celebrations," Pasaribu said.

The Methodist Church Indonesia in Parung Panjang has also experienced problems.

In its case, local authorities bowed to pressure by the extremists and authorities banned the congregation from holding religious activities inside a housing complex where it regularly met, a church official has said.

"We have no other place. We will hold the celebrations in the house even though there might be protests," Rev. Abdi Saragih said. "It is not easy being a Christian. Carrying a cross is our task."

Registered with the Religious Affairs Ministry since 2001, the church has 116 members, but it is still waiting for the granting of permission to build a church.

In another case Tyas Utomo, deputy chairman of the parish council at St. John the Baptist Parish in Parung, said celebrations there will be in a tent "as this is the only facility we have."

The parish with more than 3,000 Catholics has endured frequent intimidation from radical Muslims since its establishment in 2000.

Local authorities have not yet issued a permit even though the parish submitted applications in 2009 and 2011.

"We cannot guarantee that Easter celebrations will be safe as there is potential threat," Utomo said.

According to Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, religious freedom violations are still rampant in Indonesia, including the banning of religious activities.

In its latest report, the group recorded 208 violations in 2016, up from 196 in 2015 and 134 in 2014.

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