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Indonesia's Christian Worshippers Pack Easter Services Despite Bomb Threat


Christian worshippers fill St. Theresia Church for Easter Sunday services, Central Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2011

Christian worshippers fill St. Theresia Church for Easter Sunday services, Central Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2011

Christian worshipers packed Easter services in Jakarta on Sunday, despite a bomb scare at a church days earlier that put police on the highest alert and added to concerns that minority religions are being targeted by increasingly active Islamic hardliners.

Hundreds of people stand together singing at Gereja St. Theresia, while children play with colorful plastic eggs and mothers cradle infants. The celebration here was one of many across Jakarta, where churches overflowed with worshipers undeterred by security threats after police defused several massive bombs on Thursday at a church on the outskirts of the capital.

To safeguard Easter celebrations, police deployed around 20,000 officers to Christian worship sites, and many churches set up security checks at their entrances.

Michael Kawulusan, who attends services at St. Theresia every Sunday, says the increased police presence was reassuring.

"We come to the church for praying so we’re hoping nothing will happen," said Kawulusan. "Of course we are worried, but with these policemen over here guarding the church, I think it should be fine."

Anti-terror police foiled a plot to bomb the church on Good Friday thanks to information obtained after the arrest of 20 people suspected of sending parcel bombs to several prominent figures in Jakarta last month.

The discovery of those devices followed a suicide bombing at a mosque inside a police compound on April 15 that injured around 30 people.

Indonesia is a politically secular country with the world’s largest Muslim population. But increasing attacks against Christians and minority Islamic sects considered deviant have raised concerns of rising intolerance.

Security officials say the string of recent incidents also illustrates the changing face of extremism in Indonesia. Islamic terrorist groups have previously focused attacks on Westerners in large hotels and embassies.

An International Crisis Group report published last week noted that recent events highlight a shifting trend toward small groups of militants acting independently of large jihadi organizations to attack Indonesians rather than foreigners.

The potential threat has not deterred Anastasia Veronica, who says she has been worshipping at St. Theresia since she was a child, and plans to continue attending with her husband and six-month-old daughter.

"If there was a bomb that exploded here," she said. "We’ve already received guidance by coming to celebrate this day, so I’m not scared."

Across town at the historic Cathedral Church, sounds of hallelujah mix with the Islamic call to prayer. A spokesman for the church estimates the crowd at more than 2,500, still far less than the 4,000 people who took part in Good Friday’s services.

Lucia Darpeni says she is not letting the pre-Easter bomb stop her from worshiping as usual.

"We come here to clean our hearts," she said. "So there is nothing to fear. Even a little fear cannot prevent us from our activities."

Other worshipers agree, saying their faith will be enough to protect them.

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