For 15 years, Protestant Church leaders in Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia have organized an Easter Parade the day after Easter Sunday. The parade which includes floats, singing and dancing, has become both a local celebration and a tourist attraction. Thanks to the energetic and creative organizing of young people, this year’s parade was unique.
In response to religious violence and rising community tensions during the past year, youth of different religious backgrounds in West Timor initiated a Peace Torch feature, transforming the parade into an ecumenical celebration with prominent participation of minority religious groups in West Timor.
The idea for the Peace Torch arose from the AFSC sponsored Youth Pluralism workshop held in February in Yogyakarta. The workshop brought together forty youth activists from all over Indonesia to share their experiences with pluralism and to discuss how they could facilitate youth activism around pluralism. Despite a long history of religious tolerance, Indonesia recently has been plagued by outbreaks of religious violence. AFSC has been working with all groups to promote peaceful exchanges.
A group of sixteen interfaith youth played key roles in planning the Peace Torch event. Before the parade, they participated in a radio talk show which highlighted the importance of peace between religions. The Peace Torch also was announced in Sunday services at all Protestant congregations in Kupang in the weeks preceding the Easter Parade. On parade day, the torch lighting ceremony included the Mayor of Kupang and other civic and political leaders, and the recitation of the peace pledge. Youth vowed not to be provoked into discriminatory actions and made a solemn commitment to prevent conflicts through nonviolent dialogue.
They then took their place at the head of the parade and took turns bearing the Peace Torch through the streets of Kupang. When they reached the Muslim village of Solor, residents clapped their hands and spontaneously shouted, “We love peace, we want peace.”
In media interviews, youth organizers stressed that Kupang was only the first stop for the Peace Torch. At the end of May, the torch, again carried by a group of interfaith youth, made its way to Menado, South Sulawesi, at the request of the governor for the national celebration of Pancasila, Indonesia’s national identity. AFSC youth partners in Jogjakarta and in Aceh are also making plans for the Peace Torch to come to their area, and word of the Peace Torch is spreading to other parts of Indonesia.
Now AFSC Indonesia is working closely with the interfaith youth leaders to formulate a nonviolence curriculum which draws on the wisdom and traditions of all Indonesia’s faith groups to protect and promote diversity and tolerance. This curriculum will be piloted in West Timor and then shared to other areas where the Peace Torch has traveled.