JAKARTA, Indonesia, JUNE 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Christians in Indonesia are expressing concerns regarding numerous attacks on churches and other signs of religious intolerance.
Theophilus Bela, president of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, and secretary general of the Indonesian Committee of Religions for Peace, met with Maria Otero, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs to discuss these issues.
Bela, a Catholic representative from the committee of religions for peace, told L’Osservatore Romano that he submitted a detailed report for the U.S. government officials.
“In the report, I denounced all the cases of churches damaged by attacks, closed, or whose permissions were revoked to carry out their religious functions,” he said. “In addition I described the difficulties met in the construction of new buildings for worship.”
Bela explained that he hopes U.S. government officials will intervene and visit Indonesia to “help to improve relations between the religious communities.”
The tension has been concentrated mainly in the West Java province. Vatican Radio reported May 29 on the words of a prelate from that region, Bishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta Pujasumarta of Bandung.
“We wish to live and to contribute to protect social harmony and harmony between the religions,” the bishop affirmed. “But we are well aware that Indonesia has a constitution that recognizes our rights and that all must be respected, even Muslim extremist groups.”
He noted that there are two ministerial decrees in force, asking the provincial authorities to guarantee harmony between the religious communities. However, the prelate added that “many authorities are easy targets of the pressures of fundamentalist groups and bend to their will, accepting their requests.”
Bela reported on 30 churches that were under attack, burnt down, or threatened with closure since 2009.
Catholics from the Church of St. John Baptist in Bogor have been harassed over the past two years. Last Christmas, the more than 3,000 faithful who belong to that parish were prohibited from celebrating Mass in their church, and had to move the services to a government building. Bela stated that the church was “disturbed” again last Easter, and the Ascension Thursday Mass on May 13 was again prohibited.
He noted that there is a radical cleric from the local Muslim Ulama council who “is always against the church.”
The Catholic Church of St. Albert in Bekasi was attacked December 17 by a groups of Muslims who “brought with them gasoline, but the police was on time to prevent them from burning down the church,” Bela stated.
A Catholic chapel in Cirebon was threatened on Feb. 18 by a radical group that called themselves the “Muslim Reform Movement.”
A church that was being built in Jakarta Barat, St. Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, was halted when a radical Muslim cleric “closed down the access road to the job site of the church on March 12,” Bela reported. “The police did nothing against it.”
On May 7, St. Bellarminus Catholic School in Bekasi was attacked by a Muslim mob, and its windows were broken. The police were able to halt a second attack the next day.
St. Mary Catholic Church in Purwakarta was under construction when a “radical Muslim mob demonstrated against the local authority and asked [them] to stop the building works of the church,” the report noted. “Because the local authority was afraid of the radical Muslim mob the local authority revoked the building license of the church.”
The Batak Protestant Christians, known as the “Huria Kristen Batak Protestan” Church, lost several buildings last year. A church in Dumai was destroyed by the local authorities on March 18, 2009. Another similar church in Palembang was forced by the local authorities to close down on June 6, 2009. In Bogor another was destroyed on July 21, 2009.
The Protestant church and rectory in Tapanuli Selatan was burned down January 22 by “fanatic Muslims” after “their Friday prayer in a nearby mosque,” the report stated.
Last October, there were bomb threats at the Batak Protestant Christian Church in Jakarta and the Indonesia Bethel Church in Bekasi Utara.
The South Sumatera Christian Church, called the “Gereja Kristen Sumatera Bagian Selatan” Church, in Lampung, was stoned on June 5, 2009.
Bela continued his report, describing threats, attacks, demonstrations, and fires at 30 Christian churches or education facilities over the past months.
“I must admit that my list is not yet complete,” he said, “because I got reports from Bandung, West Java that there are other churches having problems in their area.”
Bela continued, “Recently I got also an alarming news from the National Council of Churches that there were about ten Christian churches in Mojokerto, Middle Java province” that had “troubles from the local authorities.”
He concluded, “Please pray for us.”