July 20th, 2011
02:35 PM ET
By Kathy Quiano, CNN
Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) - More than 4,500 Indonesian couples tied the knot at a Jarkarta sports stadium on Tuesday, in what the event’s organizers claim was the world's largest interfaith wedding event.
The couples were married in Islamic, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies – with each participating in whichever rites were appropriate. The event’s organizers said the mass wedding was aimed at helping poor couples who couldn’t afford to pay for their own weddings.
A humanitarian organization, Pondok Kasih Foundation, initiated the event and worked with Jakarta’s government and private sponsors to stage the mass wedding.
In a press release, organizers said the event was focused on promoting Pancasila, Indonesia’s state philosophy, which encompasses five basic principles that include belief in one God, just and civilized society, unity and democracy.
“Our value of Pancasila is facing increasing challenges,” the release said. “Our harmonious society is facing increasing threats from extremism and disturbance of public peace.”
Indonesia has seen an uptick in violent attacks from radical Muslim groups in recent years and some human rights groups warn of a general rise in religious intolerance. The Setara Peace and Democracy Institute has recorded a significant rise in attacks on religious minorities.
“We can all be united despite our differences in belief,” the organizers’ statement said, “and we can make a difference in our community that is in need. It is hard to imagine that in our modern society, we have instances of our community that could not afford marriage registration due to their economic circumstances.”
The organizers said the mass wedding record was certified by a United Kingdom-based group called Royal World Records. A search of the Guinness Book of World Records' website did not turn up records on mass weddings.
The 4,541 couples at Tuesday’s Jakarta event were dressed in colorful traditional wear, reflecting diverse ethnic origins.
Asmar Salim and Marsiem, both 69, were teenagers when they first married in Muslim ceremony in 1960. Fifteen years ago, a fire gutted their home and destroyed their marriage records. “When our marriage certificate got burned, we had no money to get a new one because I was unemployed,” Asmar says. “I just got a job recently.”
After 13 children and 10 grand children, they married again on Tuesday. Asmar is a street food vendor and his wife is a baby sitter.
Aprianus Taneo, 30, and his wife Jendelina, 27, got married in a Protestant church last year but couldn't afford the fees for a civil ceremony.
Aprianus says they participated in Tuesday’s ceremony to get a marriage license, which gives their son legal status.
"We heard about this from our church and it was for free so we decided to register,” he said. “We'll need our marriage certificate for our son when he goes to school. It'll just be easier for him. We’re happy we have this opportunity”.
While many couples were getting married for the first time on Tuesday, many were also looking to legalize previous unions. News media were barred from the section where couples getting married for the first time were seated because that section was the focus of a live television broadcast.
Under Indonesia’s 1974 Marriage Law, a marriage ceremony must be conducted in accordance with a recognized religion before it could be registered. Muslim marriages must be registered with the local Office of Religious Affairs, while non-Muslim marriages must be registered with the Civil Registry Office.
While the law does not explicitly prohibit inter-religious marriages, the regulations make such unions almost impossible.
Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia’s constitution recognizes six religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
"It is just different, a lot of different tribes, traditions, and traditional wedding costumes,” said Aprianus, as he watched clerics from various faith traditions marry couples on a stage in the stadium. “So we know that even though we're from various traditions; we are still the same, brothers and sisters."
–CNN's Meidyana Rayana contributed to this report.
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