12/10/2007, 00.00
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The authorities in West Jakarta stop a parish priest from celebrating mass

by Mathias Hariyadi
The Christ’s Peace Parish Church was shut down under pressure from Muslim extremists who have challenged its legal status. Its resident priest wanted to celebrate at least Sunday mass, but local authorities have “strongly advised” him against it. Some 4,000 local Catholics now feel like they have been forced “underground,” denied the right to practice their faith.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Indonesian authorities have prevented the parish priest of Christ’s Peace Church in South Duri (West Jakarta) from celebrating mass. The Catholic parish church in which the function was supposed to take place is at the centre of controversy ever since a group of Muslims have challenged its legal status. As a result of strong pressures from Muslim extremists Tambura Sub-district officials banned all activities in the church to avoid “social tensions.”

The parish priest, Fr Matthew Widyalestari MSC, signed an agreement forcing him to cease all activities in the church but expressed a desire to celebrate a Sunday mass for his 4,000 parishioners who now find themselves unable to practice their faith.

On Friday after a meeting between local Catholic leaders and officials from the West Jakarta District and the Tambura Sub-district, local political authorities insisted on cancelling the Eucharistic function as well. The same reason or excuse was given, “public order,” and the fear of sectarian clashes as Father Widyalestari told AsiaNews.

“The faithful want their spiritual needs fulfilled; they feel like they are on a most wanted list, forced underground to find another place to practice their religion,” the priest said.

But “technically it is difficult to find the right place”, said another priest, Father Lestari, MSC. “Some parishioners go to mass at the Provincial House of the Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but that place is not big enough for thousands of people.”

The Christ’s Peace Parish has at least 4,000 members and usually held three masses on week-ends. It has used the same building since 1968.

Some weeks ago a group of local Muslims calling themselves the Cooperation Forum for Mosque, Prayer Rooms and Koranic Group of Duri Selatan, challenged the legal status of the church and its presence in the area because it does not have the right permits required by places of worship.

In 2005 the Interior and Religious Affairs Ministries issued a joint decree designed to put a stop to violent attacks against so-called “illegal churches” by making it easier to get building permits.

However, attacks have not stopped and local Christian communities are still in a legal no man’s land, at risk of having to give up all forms of religious practice.

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