Brandishing weapons Muslims demand church and school shut down, a Sang Timur nun says
by Mathias Hariyadi

The Archdiocese of Jakarta calls on government to intervene to have church built.


Jakarta (AsiaNews) – In the face of threats by tens of armed Muslim extremists, the Mother Superior of the St. Bernadette compound –located in Cileduk, Tangerang, Banten province (35-40 km west of Jakarta)– had no choice but to follow orders and close down its church and school.

"When the attack came early in the morning no one could resist the aggressors. We had to obey," Sister Anselma, one of the Sisters of the Child Jesus, told AsiaNews. She said that in Sunday's attack Muslim militants from the Islam defender Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI) stormed the compound brandishing weapons and ordered the nuns to close down the Sang Timur (the Child Jesus) church and school.

The FPI accuses Catholics of proselytising because they have been using the school's sport hall as a makeshift church for the past ten years. Catholics counter they have had to since local authorities have hitherto refused them a permit to build a new church. Still, the nuns were forced to sign a statement pledging not to use the hall as a church. And Catholic eye witnesses decried the fact that the police did not forcefully intervene to stop the FPI militants when they started bricking up the compound's front gate.

According to Sister Anselma this type of incident is not new. More importantly, FPI activists are still involved in an anti-Christian campaign, handing out brochures and flyers among local residents. But following Sunday's violence most moderate Muslims have reacted negatively to this kind of propaganda and have come to the nuns' defence. "Using the sport hall has nothing to do with proselytising," some local Muslims said.

Catholic leaders from the St. Bernadette parish urged the community to avoid confrontation with the extremists since Sunday's incident was probably "politically motivated".

A group of Catholic militants from the Jakarta area offered to protect the church and school compound. "If we have to, we shall respond to the attacks by Muslim fundamentalists," some said. But local priests and nuns have pressed for a peaceful solution even if it means stop teaching and performing church functions for a while.

A spokesperson for the local Catholic community suggested that "with the election of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the presidency things are bound to get better". After he takes office on October 20, religious and secular leaders from the Archdiocese of Jakarta plan to ask the government to put pressure on authorities in Cileduk to grant local Catholics the necessary permits to build a church.

Many local residents value highly the work of the Sisters of the Child Jesus, especially in the field of education. Not only do they offer education from kindergarten to high school, but they also run a school for the disabled open to pupils of any confession.

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