Fadli, Batam – The renovation of the 92-year-old Santo Joseph Catholic Church in Karimun, Riau Islands, has been halted following protests from local groups.
The church, which was established in 1928, obtained a building license (IMB) for the renovation last October but had postponed starting the process after objections from the local United Muslim Forum (FUIB) and the Karimun Regency Caring Alliance (APKK), who objected to the church's location in Karimun's capital of Tanjung Balai.
Parish head, Kristiono Widodo, said that when workers were about to start the renovation last week, a group of around 20 people started yelling from outside the church, demanding that they stop working.
"They wanted to go inside and look for the church management whom they considered to be provocative, and asked for the work to stop," Widodo told The Jakarta Post.
After a heated discussion, Widodo said that church officials agreed to go to the Karimun Police headquarters with the group.
"When we got there, it turned out that the Karimun regent, an APKK representative and customary leaders were already there," Widodo said.
At the police headquarters, the representatives discussed the APKK and FUIB's objections and Karimun Regent Aunur Rofiq asked the church to temporarily halt the renovation work.
The APKK has also filed a lawsuit against the Karimun administration at the State Administrative Court seeking to revoke the church's building permit. The lawsuit's first hearing was held at the end of last month.
Separately, Aunur said that local Muslims, as represented by the APKK and FUIB, proposed three demands to his administration, namely relocating the church, turning the church into a historical site or revoking the permit already issued for the church renovation.
"As an IMB is a legal product, we have to wait for the ongoing legal process," he said, calling on all sides to exercise restraint to maintain the tranquility of the region.
APKK chairman Hasyim Tugiran said the group wanted the church to refrain from starting the renovation work while the lawsuit was still ongoing.
Meanwhile, Widodo said that the congregation remained determined to renovate the church in accordance with the IMB they had already obtained.
He said that the APKK and FUIB's demands to turn the church into a heritage site and relocate the church to another location were not the solution that his side wanted.
"The church's current capacity can no longer accommodate [the congregation] during mass, that is why why renovation is urgent," he said, expressing the hope that a planned meeting to be held in the Religious Affairs Ministry in Jakarta between the Karimun regent and the Pangkal Pinang bishop could result in a decision that was in line with the prevailing law.
Head of the Religious Affairs Ministry's Karimun regency office, Zamzuri, was not available for comment.
In May 2012, the church's renovation committee wrote a letter to ask for support from the local community. It collected 107 signatures to be enclosed with the renovation proposal, based on which the RT (neighborhood unit) 01, RW (community unit) 01, Tanjung Balai subdistrict, in July 2012 issued a recommendation letter for the renovation.
The church began pursuing a building permit in 2012 by collecting 107 signatures of non-Catholic residents in Tanjung Balai who supported the renovation. This was in line with a 2006 joint ministerial decree on places of worship, which requires a congregation to get 90 signatures from its members and another 60 from other residents before building a house of worship.
The Tanjung Balai district office issued a recommendation letter on the renovation on July 2, 2012.