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Former Indonesian President condemns forced closure of Catholic church

Former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has criticised the forced closure by local Muslim militants of the St Bernadette Catholic School in Cileduk, on the edge of the Jakarta metropolitan area.

AsiaNews reports that Wahid urged local authorities to let the school reopen while speaking before the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country's largest Muslim organisation.

The school is part of a compound managed by the Sisters of the Child Jesus and was forced shut in early October by members of the Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI).

For the past ten years, local Catholics have had to use the gym to say mass because municipal authorities have refused them the necessary permits to build an actual church.

According to Wahid local officials "are responsible for the St Bernadette Compound's closure" and "have forced the priests and the nuns to sign a statement in which they pledged never to use the gym as a temporary church". This is really bad, he said.

"On behalf of myself and the Muslim community in the country, I strongly urge the major of Tangerang and Lurah (village chief) to stop disrupting religious services in the St Bernadette compound. If my demands are not soon met, have no doubts that I shall bring the issue to court," he added. The former president also met the representatives of St Bernadette School, its priests and nuns and some parents to assure them of his support.

Speaking to journalists, he stressed that the perpetrators of the attack against the Catholic school violated Indonesia's constitution. "Every Indonesian citizen," he said, "has the right to express his or her religious beliefs and the state has a duty to facilitate it".

Addressing the country's Muslim religious leaders, he asked: "Where are they now that fellow citizens are violating the human rights of minority Catholics?"

The former president urged all Indonesians to oppose the fundamentalists and fight any form of religious intolerance.

Former Indonesian President defends a Catholic church ( 22/10/04)

Java Muslim militants force closure of Catholic school (CathNews 6/10/04)
Brandishing weapons Muslims demand church and school shut down, a Sang Timur nun says ( 5/10/04)
Religious Freedom in the Majority Islamic Countries 1998 Report (see 'Eight Sisters of the Little Child Jesus, on arriving in Cileduk')

25 Oct 2004