09/23/2013, 00.00
INDONESIA - ISLAM

Java: Islamic extremists against the reopening of Saint Bernadette Parish Church

by Mathias Hariyadi
After nine years, the authorities issued a building permit. Outside Islamist groups mount protests and issue threats. A priest says he was forced to cancel a second Mass yesterday because of the demonstrations.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - After long peaceful battles and nine and years of waiting, the Catholic community in Ciledug, Tangerang Regency (Banten province) rejoiced after local authorities authorised the reopening of Saint Bernadette Catholic Church. However, their joy lasted only a few hours because Islamic extremist groups quickly mounted a protest campaign, demanding that the place of worship be sealed up again even though it holds a building permit (IMB). According to some witnesses, many of the protesters (pictured) who had gathered yesterday near the building to prevent Sunday celebrations were not locals, but members of the so-called Islamic Forum who came "from elsewhere" to fuel the protest.

Sources, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that in recent days, outgoing Tangerang Mayor Wahid Halid issued the permit to reopen the church shut down in 2004. Yet, he was the same one who had seals placed on the church's entrances to placate fundamentalist protests opposed to the presence of a Christian place of worship.

In Indonesia, getting a permit to build a Catholic or a Protestant church is complicated and may take five to ten years. Construction requires a building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan or IMB) issued by local authorities plus a certain number of signatures from local residents and the local Interfaith Dialogue Group. Unfortunately, often local officials block projects for "unspecified reasons" under pressure from radical Islamic movements.

"Yes, news (about the reopening) are true," a source in Saint Bernadette parish told AsiaNews. The permit "arrived last week" with the signature of Mayor Halid, who will soon leave the post to the current deputy.

However, as soon as news of the release of the permit began circulating protests began, reaching a crescendo yesterday, Sunday. Members of self-styled Islamist extremist groups took to the streets with slogans, signs and chants, making threats in case plans to build the church went ahead.

"We had to cancel the second Mass of the day," a priest said, amid the dismay and anger of many parishioners in a community that has now reached the 11,000 people. For far too long, they have been forced to conduct services at "makeshift" locations or in neighbouring parishes.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation. Whilst upholding the principle of religious freedom in its constitution, it has become more and more the scene of attacks and violence against minorities, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or other faiths.

Although Aceh is the only province in the country that enforces Islamic law (Sharia), religious radicalism has increased in many other regions as the influence of Islam increases in the lives of people.

Some issues, such as building permits to Christian groups, have been used to deny Christians the right to build or reopen their churches, as with the Yasmin Church in Bogor regency, West Java.

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