Pope Francis expressed his closeness to “the dear people of Indonesia” and “in a special way to the Christian community of the city of Surabaya that was hard hit by the grave attack against places of worship.”
He was referring to coordinated terrorist attacks against three churches early this Sunday morning, May 13, that killed at least 13 people and injured dozens more, including worshippers and two police guarding those places of worship.
The suicide bombers who carried out deadly attacks in Indonesia’s second-largest city were a family of six that included two young children, police said, as the world’s most populous Muslim nation recoiled in horror at one of the worst attacks on its Christian minority. All six family members were among the dead.
A family of six that included two young children carried out deadly attacks on three churches in Indonesia on Sunday.
National police chief Tito Karnavian said that the father exploded a car bomb, two sons aged 18 and 16 used a motorcycle for their attack, and the mother was with daughters aged 12 and 9 for her attack.
Karnavian said the family had returned to Indonesia from Syria, where until recently the Islamic State group controlled significant territory.
The extremist group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks in a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency.
The first attack was on Santa Maria Catholic Church, which killed four people, at 7:30 a.m. (local time). This was followed 10 minutes later by attacks at the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal church and the Kristen Indonesia (G.K.I.) Diponegoro church, according to local and international media reports.
“I pray for the victims and their relatives”, the pope told the 45,000 Romans and pilgrims from around the world gathered in St. Peter’s Square on May 13 to pray with him and receive his blessing.
“Together let us invoke the God of peace that he may put a stop to these violent actions.”
He invited everyone to pray for an end to such violence in this southeast Asian country, saying “together let us invoke the God of peace that he may put a stop to these violent actions and that sentiments of reconciliation and fraternity may find space in the hearts of everyone, not sentiments of hate and violence.”
The coordinated attacks came days before the start of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Police ordered the temporary closure of all churches in Surabaya on Sunday.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world after China, India and the United States, with a population of 266 million people. It is the largest majority-Muslim country in the world. Eighty-seven percent of its inhabitants profess to be Muslim; 10 percent are Christian, and 3 percent are Catholic (almost 8 million faithful). Less than 2 percent are Hindu and 0.7 percent Buddhist, while a smaller number of people practice other faiths.
While the Indonesian Constitution guarantees religious freedom, there are growing concerns over the rise of intolerance in the country. Extremists have mounted a series of attacks against Christians and other minorities in recent years. Last February, Indonesian police shot and wounded a radical Islamist man who attacked a church congregation with a sword during Mass, injuring four people, in the town of Sleman.
Today’s coordinated attacks were at a different level. Sidney Jones, a terrorism analyst, told The Guardian that “this is the deadliest attack that ISIS supporters have been able to mount so far. Most of their earlier bombing attempts failed.” Today’s attacks were the deadliest since 2005 when a series of car bombs killed 23 people on the resort island of Bali. The worst terror attack was the Bali bombing in 2002, which killed 202 people.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.