03/09/2018, 10.01
INDONESIA
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Attack on St. Zechariah church, Archbishop of Palembang: 'Render investigations public' (Photo)

by Mathias Hariyadi

A group of six vandals entered the church, consecrated just last March 4, blowing a a hole in the wall. A statue of the Virgin smashed, chairs stacked and set on fire. The faithful rushed to extinguish the flames. Political analysts consider this type of incident "political warming" in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

A group of six vandals entered the church, consecrated just last March 4, blowing a a hole in the wall. A statue of the Virgin smashed, chairs stacked and set on fire. The faithful rushed to extinguish the flames. Political analysts consider this type of incident "political warming" in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - "We need to quickly proceed with an all-out investigation and the result should be made public so that such an act does not happen again, “ says Msgr. Aloysius Sudarso, Archbishop of Palembang (province of South Sumatera), following the attack on the chapel of San Zaccaria in Rantau Alai, a hamlet of Seberang Ulu, in the territory of the parish of Santa Maria Regina del Rosario.

"This act is very strange. Nothing like this has ever happened in past decades. Why would people want to destroy this chapel?” continues the prelate, who invites local Catholics not to be disturbed by the incident.

Shortly after midnight yesterday, a group of six vandals blew a hole through the wall of the church, consecrated just last March 4 by Msgr. Sudarso. The strangers then destroyed a statue of the Virgin and stacked some chairs setting them on fire. The noise woke the faithful who live nearby. They rushed to extinguish the flames, while the thugs fled from the place of worship.

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Fr. Frans de Sales, head of the Social Communication Commission of the diocese of Palembang, declares: "Seberang Ulu is located 50km from the center of Palembang, the provincial capital of South Sumatera". "Reaching the village requires a two to three hour car journey if the roads are in good condition," adds Fr. Sigit Pranoto.

The latest episode of violence against the Indonesian Catholic community, however, seems different to the last cases of intolerance, such as the Islamist attack of 11 February on the church of Santa Lidwina, in Kabupaten, Sleman District (Yogyakarta). The perpetrator of the attack, 23-year-old extremist, Suliyono had wounded an elderly German priest with a sword, Fr. Karl-Edmund Prier, and three other people, before being stopped by the police.

For years, Christians and Catholics in Indonesia have been targeted by Islamist groups, who openly oppose the construction of churches or houses of prayer, accusing communities of failing to meet the requirements for obtaining the Izin Mendirikan Bangunan ( permission to build). Nonetheless, no gatherings or hostile gestures by extremists took place before the chapel was built and consecrated.

Political analysts consider this type of incident "political warming", targeting the Christians and religious of the largest and most moderate Muslim organizations in the country, in view of the upcoming elections. On June 27th this year, local elections will be held to elect 17 governors, 39 mayors and 115 regents across the country. They include government elections for Indonesia's four most populous provinces: West Java, East Java, Central Java, and North Sumatra.

The promotion of any primordial identity, including religion and ethnicity, as a political expedient of the extremists has divided the Indonesians into two opposing sides. In recent years Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country in the world, has seen its reputation for religious tolerance subjected to scrutiny, since radical Islamic groups are making headway in the public and political life of the young democracy. Indonesia has attempted to inculcate a strong sense of pluralism and dialogue between the different communities. Analysts call it "Ahok effect", from the nickname of the former Jakarta Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, convicted of blasphemy in a flawed trail subject to political pressure.

(Fr Frans de Sales scj collaborated)

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