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Java Muslim militants force closure of Catholic school

In the face of threats by a large band of armed Muslim extremists, the nun in charge of St Bernadette's Catholic compound in a small village 35 km west of Jakarta was forced to close down its church and school.

"When the attack came early in the morning no one could resist the aggressors. We had to obey," Sr Anselma, one of the Sisters of the Child Jesus, told AsiaNews.

Sr Anselma 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 argue they had no choice because they have been consistently denied permission to build a new church.

Catholic eyewitnesses said police stood by while the FPI militants bricked up the compound's front gate.

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 20 October, religious and secular leaders from the Archdiocese of Jakarta plan to ask the government to put pressure on authorities in the area to grant local Catholics the necessary permits to build a church.

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')

6 Oct 2004