Growing Islamist violence threatens Church in Indonesia

Bishop Martinus Situmorang, OFM Cap.
Bishop Martinus Situmorang, OFM Cap.

.- The President of the Bishops Conference of Indonesia says the rise of radical Islam is resulting in increasing problems for the local Catholic Church.

“I have to say that we’ve become worried over the last 10 to 15 years because these groups really are making themselves present and felt amongst Indonesians,” said Bishop Martinus Situmorang in an Oct. 6 interview with CNA .

Catholics make up about 3 percent of Indonesia’s 245 million-strong population. According to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Asian country has seen a rise in Islamic fundamentalism since early 2009, with reported violence ranging from church buildings being burnt down to fundamentalists forcing the cancellation of Easter services.
“It is quite alarming in a sense, but it’s also alarming our Muslim brothers and our Muslim leaders are not happy with them. But they don’t know who they are or how to deal with them,” he said.
Bishop Situmorang stressed that relations with Muslims in Indonesia – who make up 85 percent of the population – are generally very good. He said that there are “bad incidents” of Christians being targeted but qualified that “(we) are not persecuted.” Indonesia is “a free country and very democratic,” he added.

His fear, though, is that some elements within the national and local governments are struggling or unwilling to uphold a national constitution that enshrines the principle of religious freedom.

“The authorities at all levels are not always dealing with Muslim fanatics,” he said, suggesting that such groups are given “too much space to do what they want” which allows them to avoid arrest and punishment.

While only one province is Indonesia is completely governed by Islamic Sharia law, more than 50 districts in 16 of the country’s 32 provinces have passed Sharia-inspired legislation. This has made it more difficult for Catholics to build churches in certain areas.

Bishop Situmorang says the response of Catholics is “to be always friendly and with a high spirit of dialogue,” while working with other religions to “eradicate poverty, illiteracy and this spirit of fanaticism.”

At the same time, he also wants to see better law enforcement by security forces and a greater commitment to the constitution by the civil government.
Along with the rest of the Indonesian bishops, Bishop Situmorang is in Rome for their regular “ad limina” visit to update the Pope and the Vatican on the health of their dioceses.
He said they told Pope Benedict that “the Church in Indonesia is alive and we know we have to do a lot more to make the Catholic Church in Indonesia the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Despite that, he told the Pope that they were “thanking God because we see his graces, his blessings in the number of vocations,” as well as “the number of lay people who are very committed in all fields,” including public life.
In response, Bishop Situmorang said Pope Benedict told them that “it is true that the Church in Indonesia will be a significant contributor for the goodness of the universal Church now and in the future.”
The Indonesian bishops are now on pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy, before returning home over the weekend.

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