By Windy Subanto
A local official in West Sumatra says radical Muslims have forced Catholics to worship in secret and has called for assistance in providing protected prayer houses for them.
Deri Susanto, a village leader in Indrapura Utara sub-district, said religious freedoms for non-Muslims in the resettlement area are under threat, and he is unable to give much assistance because he is “just a low ranking official.”
He said Catholic families still pray in secret after their prayer house was burned down eight years ago by a group of radicals, who said the Catholics were outsiders and shouldn’t have used the house.
“Local people, mostly Muslims, did not have a problem with Catholics using the house. They just wanted people to live in harmony,” Susanto told an interfaith forum on April 6 in Painan, capital of Pesisir Selatan district.
Members of the provincial forum later visited Indrapura Utara to talk with local leaders about religious harmony in the area and to find ways of boosting interfaith cooperation.
Father Alexius Sudarmanto, who visits the area once a month, said Eucharistic services were being conducted secretly in the house of a lay Catholic.
“If I did not visit them, they would not have Sunday Mass. Some have to travel 60 kilometers to a neighboring Bengkulu province,” he said.
After the prayer house was destroyed, another place of worship was offered by a local military commander, which was condemned and could not be used anymore, the priest said.