Don't convert our children, Muslim group warns
The arrival of an Australian Catholic priest Fr Chris Riley (pictured) in the tsunami-ravaged Indonesian province of Aceh has sparked a warning from a hardline Islamic group not to try to convert Muslim children.
Fr Riley, who heads the Australian charity Youth Off The Streets, arrived in Aceh on Friday with plans to set up an orphanage to house some of the reported 35,000 Acehnese children whose parents are dead or missing.
According to The Sun Herald, radical Islamic Defenders Front chief Hilmy Bakar Almascaty warned him to stick purely to humanitarian work in Aceh, the only Indonesian province to have fully implemented Muslim sharia law.
Fr Riley responded by saying he has no interest in converting those he helps to Christianity. He said his charity was non-denominational and even had Muslims working in it.
"There is no religious component to any of our programs," he said.
There is extreme sensitivity in the largely Muslim region to any suggestion of a Christian organisation running an orphanage because of the fear it could convert the children.
Muslim groups in Aceh plan to set up their own orphanage for 1000 children. The Indonesian Government has given the go-ahead for the orphanage, to be set up by Muhammadiyah, the country's second-largest Muslim group, on the outskirts of devastated Banda Aceh, where more than 50,000 people died on Boxing Day.
Muhammadiyah's vice-chairman Din Syamsuddin, told The Sun-Herald yesterday his group estimated that 15,000 Acehnese children up to the age of 15 were orphaned in the disaster.
After Father Riley spent a day on the ground in Banda Aceh, his plan to set up a tent orphanage appears to have been put on hold while needs for the region are assessed.
After seeing that parts of the city were operating normally and with aid appearing to flow to children in need, his charity might look at directing its aid elsewhere. Fr Riley said the charity would put the funds where they were most needed by the victims. That might include help with orphans in more remote areas.
Fr Riley arrived in Banda Aceh with state Member for Bankstown Tony Stewart. Mr Stewart phoned Father Riley in the days following the tsunami disaster asking what he was going to do to help the victims.
Fr Riley said initially he felt there was nothing he could do, thinking his charity was too small.
But after the phone call he turned on the television to see an interview with a doctor, who was looking after children, only to find that, after their medical needs were taken care of, they were discharged, leaving them with nowhere to go.
"Homeless kids, that's my core business," Fr Riley said. Mr Stewart was then able to secure a $100,000 donation from Clubs NSW, which was given to the charity last Monday.
Don't convert our children, Muslim group warns (Sun Herald 9/1/05)
Youth Off The Streets
Caritas Australia Asian Eathquake/Tsunami Appeal
Fr Chris Riley and Youth Off The Streets
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Islamic groups' orphan plan raises doubts (The Age 9/1/05)
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Help orphans stay in Asia, missionary group asks (Catholic World News 7/1/05)
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10 Jan 2005