Indonesian Christians, Muslims create Covid Christmas tree

Nur Kholis Saleh (left), a Nahdlatul Ulama cleric, helps Catholics of Christ the King Parish in Surabaya, East Java, decorate a Christmas tree using masks and hand-sanitizer bottles. (Photo supplied)

Christians and Muslims in Indonesia's East Java province have decorated a Christmas tree using masks and hand-sanitizer bottles to remind people to follow health protocols and show unity amid the Covid-19 pandemic

The tree, decorated with 1,000 masks and bottles, was a joint effort between the Association of Nahdlatul Ulama Intellectuals (ISNU), part of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organization, and Catholics of Christ the King Parish in Surabaya, East Java’s capital.

They worked on the 3.5-meter-high Christmas tree for 12 days and put it at the entrance to the church where it would be most visible.     

Nur Kholis Saleh, a Muslim cleric and chairman of the ISNU, said that helping decorate the tree was a way of building interreligious harmony.

Several churches in Surabaya were bombed in May 2018 in a series of attacks that killed 12 people.

Before that, a 19-year-old Nahlatul Ulama member called Riyanto was killed during a Christmas Eve bombing while providing security at a Protestant church in Mojokerto in 2000.  

"When Muslims celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, Christians help to provide security for that event," Saleh said.  

Saleh said Christmas is a celebration for all people, not only Christians, as is Eid Al-Fitr, which also provides inspiration to build peace and reconciliation.  

"Celebrating Christmas is like celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, so we must show unity with our brothers and sisters. This is Indonesia, we have to maintain diversity," he said.  

Theresia Mariani, coordinator of Christ the King Parish’s Christmas celebration, said the use of masks and hand-sanitizer bottles was meant to encourage Catholics and the public to follow health protocols to prevent them from becoming spreaders of the virus.

“It warns Catholics to always use masks, keep physical distancing and wash hands with soap,” Mariani told UCA News. 

She also thanked the Muslim volunteers who helped decorate the Christmas tree.

Father Antonius Benny Susetyo, a member of a presidential unit promoting sectarian ties, said such cooperation is seen in many parts of Indonesia and is a good tradition to build communal fraternity.

“They [Christians and Muslims] want a peaceful and successful Christmas,” Father Susetyo told UCA News.

According to him, all religions should welcome people with different views by loving, respecting and sharing, especially in this difficult time caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

“I hope religious people make religion an inner inspiration for the common good,” he said.    

As of Dec 22, Indonesia had recorded 678,125 Covid-19 cases and 20,257 deaths. - UCA News