10/28/2009, 00.00
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Sumatra, Muslims protest against a Catholic chapel

by Mathias Hariyadi
A few days after opening, the Muslim community in Pangkalan Kerinci launched a petition against the structure . Building first started 2002 but protests only mounted in recent days. Thousands of faithful wanted a place to meet and pray.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A petition against the opening of a chapel, a protest movement that has also affected the local forum for interreligious dialogue and an injunction requiring the district chief to move the building. However, the tenacity of thousands of Catholics in Pangkalan Kerinci, Pelalawan district, Sumatra, has defeated Muslim resistance and the inauguration of the place of worship was held without incident.  

On 18 October Mgr. Martinus Situmorang, bishop of Padang, presided at the official opening of the prayer hall of the Sacred Heart Parish in Pangkalan. During the ceremony, the bishop urged Catholics to maintain a strong faith and be patient, stressing that "the work of God the merciful always wins in the end."  

Mgr Situmorang celebrated a Mass in a soccer field adjacent to the chapel, for fear that the protests of the previous days could result in violence. The function – attended by at least 2,500 faithful – was concelebrated by Father sapto Nugroho, Provincial Superior of the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who anticipated the "appointment of 100 local Catholics" wanted by the bishop, to whom " the task of creating a new parish church" was entrusted.

The idea of opening a prayer room was first born in 2002, when three priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus - Fr. Titus Purbasaputra, Fr. Eko and Brother Johannes – were sent to Pangkalan Kerinci in Riau Province (Sumatra Island) for the care of the local faithful. The area is now famous for its wealth of oil and gas, still unknown at the time. The Church entrusted them the task of building a place of worship, not a real church, to avoid triggering protests from the Muslim community. The term "prayer room", in fact, implies a more "neutral" exception in the eyes of the Islamists and local religious leaders.  

Construction work started in 2002 without any sign of protest or anger from the Muslims. Fr. Titus explains that after seven years in the district town of Pelalawan, the number of believers has grown to 4500, with about 1,300 families. The problem, explains the priest, is that "we are scattered in four different districts. Each district may be up to 100 km distant”. For this reason he had decided to build the parish hall of prayer, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

With only a few days to go to its inauguration rumours spread that the Christians wanted to build a church. This started a massive campaign of protest by Muslims in the area, who have drawn up a petition and distributed posters with provocative slogans. 

Local Islamic leaders, having collected more than 243 signatures, have appealed to the Forum for Interfaith Dialogue (Fkub), calling for  the "demolition" of the building. It resulted in a meeting attended by the Pelalawan Chief District, who ordered the move. Despite the pressures and threats, the bishop was able to inaugurate the building, cutting the ribbon so that even the Catholics of Pangkalan Kerinci have a place to congregate and pray.



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