In Aceh, Australian Undeterred by Fundamentalists

Post-Tsunami Efforts Continue Despite Extremists’ Threats

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BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, JAN. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Threats from a radical Muslim group against Christians are hindering relief workers trying to help the victims of the tsunami in Indonesia.

The Fides agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples reported that “religious fundamentalism exasperated by ideological reasoning hinders those who ask for nothing and are animated only by humanitarian principles.”

Father Christ Riley, an Australian, arrived in the province of Aceh on Jan. 7 to open an orphanage, but the local Muslim fundamentalists warned him not to try to convert Muslim children to Christianity.

Threats by members of the radical Islamic Defenders Front “reveal the obstacles placed by Islamic fundamentalists with regard to people who wish only to help and to protect Indonesia’s endangered young generation in an authentic spirit of solidarity,” warned Fides.

Father Riley is head of the Australian charity Youth Off the Streets, which works to save street children and provide them with education.

He told Fides that the Sydney-based organization, which also enjoys the collaboration of Muslims, is nondenominational.

“There is no religious component to any of our programs to help orphans,” Father Riley said. He added that he “came to offer humanitarian aid,” not to teach catechism.

Caritas-Australia told Fides that the radical Muslims’ reaction might hinder humanitarian aid in the province.

For his part, Father Riley emphasized the need to work with caution and openness to dissipate fears that Christians might want to convert Muslim children. There are more than 35,000 children who were orphaned in Aceh, officials estimate.

Volunteers of Youth Off the Streets said that they carry out their work with the support of the local population, including Muslims, “so as not to cause any more tension in the region.”

In this first phase of the emergency, the organization hopes to launch a campaign for an orphanage for street children of Aceh’s most remote areas, building a large camp specifically designed for children.

“Our purpose in Indonesia has always been to help as many children as possible through the establishment of an orphanage,” Father Riley said.

The priest, who had just returned from Indonesia, confirmed that “the establishment of a Youth Off the Streets orphanage in Aceh, which acts in collaboration with Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim association in Indonesia, and with the support of the Indonesia government, will soon be a reality.”

Muhammadiyah represents 40 million Muslims in Indonesia and is involved in supporting the distribution of aid in Aceh.

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ZENIT Staff

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