Indonesian Catholics urged to stay alert during Holy Week due to church attacks

(Photo: Daniel Sinaga)Seminary students from Pematang Siantar with their bicycles - the project in 2017 mobilized 50 students in a country where bicycles are expensive and considered an unusual means of transportation.

Church officials have called on Catholics in Indonesia to stay alert during Holy Week following an upsurge in violence against Christians and some attacks on churches in several parts of the country.

"We call on each parish and mission station to stay alert ahead of the observance of Holy Week and Easter. This is very important," Fr. Felix Atmojo, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Palembang, March 13.

"We don't want the church attack to reoccur," he said, according to UCA News.

Holy Week, the most sacred week, begins for many Christians begins on March 25 this year.

A month earlier on Feb. 11, a man armed with a sword burst in on a Sunday Mass at a church in Yogyakarta's, Sleman district and attacked a Dutch priest and three parishioners, UCA News reported.

Then on March 8, six men smashed their way into a chapel in Ogan Ilir district in South Sumatra and burned statues and liturgical ornaments before escaping.

A few weeks earlier, on Feb. 27, two Indonesian Christians were publicly flogged in Aceh province. Each man had been whipped a dozen times for reportedly violating Islamic law by playing a children's game.

Additionally, a man armed with a sword attacked members of St Lidwina's Church during Mass Feb. 11, Catholic New Agency reported.

The man injured two parishioners, a Dutch priest, and a policeman at the church in Sleman, Yogyakarta. The man was then shot by the police.

Following the attack at St. Lidwina's, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Semarang, Fr. Franciscus Wignyosumarta, encouraged Catholics to stay alert and to increase security measures.

"Security in churches must be tightened and cooperation with police and security personnel must be improved," he said.

Atmojo encouraged Catholics to seek peace with people of other religions, saying, "we can learn from [the attacks], we need to continue to promote togetherness. Let it become our common goal."

Archbishop Anicetus Sinaga of Medan also urged Catholics to avoid actions that would create enemies.

"Be inclusive, don't create enemies," he said.

According to UCA News, Archbishop Sinaga said a 12-member security force was created for the Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral in Medan.

That was after a nearby church was attacked by a teen in August 2016. The attacker had attacked a priest with an axe after a bomb in his backpack failed to detonate.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in population. Alongside the 87 percent of its 260 million population who are Muslim, 10 percent of the population is Christian, and 2 percent are Hindu.

Discrimination and attacks on religious minorities occur frequently.

Holy Week in Christianity is the week just before Easter.

In the West, it is also the last week of Lent, and includes Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday (Spy Wednesday), Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), Good Friday (Holy Friday), and Holy Saturday.

It does not include Easter Sunday, which begins the season of Eastertide, when Chrisitans celebrate the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion.

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