Indonesian Church forced to close to prevent 'social tensions'

A Catholic priest in Indonesia has been prevented from celebrating mass by the authorities after a group of Muslims challenged the legal status of Christ's Peace Church in South Duri, West Jakarta.

The pressure by Muslim extremists led the officials of Tambura Sub-district to ban the activities of the church in a bid to avoid "social tensions".

Fr Matthew Widyalestari MSC signed an agreement that forced him to end all activities at the church. The priest, however, expressed his desire to celebrate Sunday mass for his 4,000 parishioners who now cannot practice their faith, reports AsiaNews.

Last week, local Catholic leaders met officials from the West Jakarta District and the Tambura Sub-district. The local authorities also insisted on cancelling the Eucharistic function.

Father Widyalestari told AsiaNews the reason given by the officials was "public order" and fear of sectarian clashes.

Father Widyalestari said, "The faithful want their spiritual needs fulfilled; they feel like they are on a most wanted list, forced underground to find another place to practice their religion."

Father Lestari MSC said, "Technically it is difficult to find the right place. Some parishioners go to mass at the Provincial House of the Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but that place is not big enough for thousands of people," reports AsiaNews.

The Christ's Peace Parish has used the same building since 1968 and has about 4,000 parishioners.

A few weeks ago a Muslim group called the Cooperation Forum for Mosque, Prayer Rooms and Koranic Group of Duri Selatan, challenged the legal status of the church, saying that they do not have the correct permits needed for places of worship.

The Interior and Religious Affairs Ministries issued a joint decree in 2005 which was meant to end violence against "illegal churches" and also make it easier to get building permits.

Despite this, attacks have not stopped and Christians often are not protected and are at risk of having to cease practicing their faith.