The damaged St. Zechariah church (CC 4.0/Agenzia Fidez/Sesawi)
The damaged St. Zechariah church (CC 4.0/Agenzia Fidez/Sesawi)

An attack on a church in Indonesia by vandals has been described as a “political warning” ahead of upcoming regional elections in June, reports Asia News.

Vandals destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary and set fire to benches when they broke into St. Zechariah church just after midnight on 8 March. The remote church, a three-hour drive from Palembang, capital of South Sumatra province, has since been repaired with the help of local government funds.

Local Catholics were told not to be disturbed by the incident by the Archbishop of Palembang, Aloysius Sudarso, who told Agenzia Fides: “The church was built following all the regulations and the necessary legal process. This act of gratuitous violence surprises us, but we believe it is the work of few radical members who want to fuel, here and throughout Indonesia, religious hatred, intolerance and violence.”

A local source recently told World Watch Monitor that “in [Indonesian] politics, targeting Christians is a classic manoeuvre to garner votes and support from Muslims”.

St. Zechariah is in an isolated area on the island of Sumatra, where Christians make up eight per cent of the population – lower than the national average of 12 per cent. The consecration of the new church in March last year was a “celebration in an atmosphere of supreme cordiality, with the heartfelt participation of village leaders, civil authorities and Muslim religious leaders,” Archbishop Sudarso said.