When worshipers poured out of Maranatha Church in Ambon, Indonesia, around 9 p.m. Christmas Eve, dozens of Muslim youth lined up to greet them and shake their hands.
Similar scenes were repeated at other churches in Ambon and in many parts of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, where Christmas services unfolded without incident despite reported plots to target such gatherings, and a series of arrests of alleged militants in recent days.
“Our hope is that Christmas brings peace for all of us, not only Christian people but all people,” said Daim Baco Rahwarin, chairman of the Maluku Region Ansor Youth Movement, one of the Muslim groups that turned out to boost security outside the church.
Muslims and other non-Christians also turned out for Christmas Carols in Ambon, a musical event presented at the church on Dec. 22 and 23 for the last five years. At the close of the performance, Christian singer Sierra Latuperissa and Muslim crooner Nurul Tosiuta sang duets.
Jacky Manuputty, a priest who organized the event, said about 1,000 people participated. He said he hoped the presence of people of multiple faiths would serve as a good example of tolerance and brotherhood.
“We emphasized universal, humanitarian themes. We also prayed for the people of Aleppo, because there are not only Muslims there, but Christians as well,” he said.
About 10 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people are Christian.
Some 5,000 people were killed and more than 700,000 displaced by Muslim-Christian violence on Ambon between 1999 and 2002.
‘The trauma is still there’
More than 1,000 km (700 miles) west of Ambon, worshippers gathered for Christmas services at Oikumene Church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, the site of a Molotov cocktail attack on Nov. 13 that killed 2-year-old Intan Olivia Banjarnahor and injured three other children.
Poppi Siregar, 28, and Friadi Samosir, 31, felt uneasy as they hurried into the church with their 8-month-old child, Tiur April Samosir.
“The trauma is still there. Who can forget it?” said Poppi.
Another parishioner, 24-year-old Ririn, said she had braced herself to come to church.
“Of course we’re worried. The marks of the Molotov cocktail are still visible in front of the church,”she said.
East Kalimantan police deployed 2,336 personnel to protect Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in the province.
“Christians should carry out their worship in tranquility,” said East Kalimantan police chief Safaruddin.
Ansor, the youth wing of moderate Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), sent 250 young men to stand guard outside churches in the area, one local leader said.
“Our members are outside every church. Their presence is inconspicuous,”said Herman Hasan, secretary general of the East Kalimantan branch of Ansor.
A policeman stands outside Oikumene Church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, Dec. 24, 2016. (Gunawan/BenarNews)
‘Pluralism should be maintained’
As many as 1.7 million Ansor members were on standby to help secure Christmas celebrations throughout Indonesia, according to Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, the general secretary of Ansor, based in Jakarta.
“We are ready if security officials or church authorities ask us to help facilitate smooth worship for our Christian brothers,” he told BenarNews on Dec. 23.
He said Ansor was prepared to do so as an expression of Islam, which seeks to be a blessing for the whole of society.
“The majority giving comfort to the minority, and at the same time expressing the message that all citizens, whatever their religion, have the right to express and carry out the teachings of their faith calmy and safely,” he said.
“The diversity and pluralism of Indonesia should be maintained. That is the commitment of the Ansor Youth Movement,” he added.
At least 20 people have been arrested and five killed by police in Java and Sumatra, in the western part of Indonesia, since Dec. 10. Police said they had thwarted planned terrorist attacks.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo deployed more than 150,000 security forces from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1 to guard Christmas and New Year’s holidays, similar to the number in recent years.
“What is different this year is the fact that IS is being pushed back in the Middle East and there have been strong exhortations on a repeated basis coming out of IS media that if you can’t do something in Syria, if you can’t join us in Syria or Iraq, then wage war at home,” Jakarta-based security expert Sidney Jones told Voice of America (VOA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Jakarta contributed to this report.