Islamic extremists stop Catholics in West Java from holding Mass

(Photo: REUTERS / Dwi Oblo)A Muslim woman casts her ballot at a polling station in a Catholic hospital in Yogyakarta April 9, 2014. Indonesians voted for a new parliament on Wednesday in a poll expected to be dominated by the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P), boosting the chances of its popular candidate in a presidential election three months later.

Islamic extremists in Indonesia have trained their sights on Catholics after members of two Islamic groups stopped a community from holding a Mass in West Java.

Catholics said members of the Islamic Defenders Front and the Forum of Indonesian Islamic community attacked the Protestant community there, preventing them from holding services.

Father Saptono, parish priest of St. Odilia in Cinunuk, said he received a series of text messages warning about the consequence the community could experience should it continue to hold services reported November 13.

On November 9, members from both groups stormed at the complex of St. Charles Borromeo, crying out derogatory slogans and prevented the Catholics to hold Mass there.

They threatened to raze the building if Masses and other Christians services were held in the area, the priest recalled.

To prevent violence from further escalating, Saptono negotiated with the extremists, and later on, asked the faithful to hide sacred objects and other symbols of faith.

The priest also promised not to hold any other celebration in the area, which apparently convinced the extremists not to continue with their plans of setting the structure on fire.

Later, Saptono lamented the shocking development to worshipers, saying that it was the turn of Catholics to have their freedom of worship curtailed "after 16 years of peaceful existence."

He recalled that Catholics began inhabiting the area in 1995, and despite the lingering threat of intolerance and sectarian violence in West Java, they have been able to practice their faith.

Aside from Catholics, other minorities like the Ahmadis and the Shia Muslims have also been targeted by the Sunni Muslim majority.

Minorities are keeping their hopes the newly-elected administration of President Joko Widodo could turn the rising tide of Islamism into tolerance and understanding.

Muslims account for 87 percent of Indonesia's population of some 254 million while Catholics are nearly 3 percent in the world's nation with the largest Islamic population.

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