.- Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a leading Catholic pastoral charity, will help rebuild a Philippines cathedral destroyed in a bomb attack last month by an Al Qaeda-linked group.
Santa Isabel Cathedral in the state of Basilan was 70 percent destroyed in a series of April 13 attacks attributed to Abu Sayyaf. Attackers hid a bomb in a motorcycle at the back of the cathedral.
At least 25 members of the Islamist extremist group, dressed as police and soldiers, reportedly carried out the attacks. Another bomb damaged the education department building. Explosive devices placed near a Catholic school and near a judge’s house were safely defused.
At least ten were killed in the attack, including some extremists who clashed with security forces. Bensar Indama, brother of Abu Sayyaf leader Furuju Indama, was among the dead.
Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela de Basilan told ACN that the blast shattered the cathedral’s stained glass windows, destroyed half the ceiling and caused heavy damage to the structure. Administrative offices were also destroyed.
Requesting urgent aid to begin rebuilding, the bishop said the cathedral is “a very important sign of our Catholic faith here in Basilan.”
Catholics are a minority in Basilan, he explained, reporting that the state is only 27 percent Catholic.
He said help was necessary because locals have “no means” for reconstruction work.
The cathedral, completed in 1970, has enough capacity for 1,400 congregants. At present Mass is being celebrated in the nearby catechetical center.
ACN has contributed more than $19,000 to the rebuilding effort, but reconstruction costs are estimated at over $100,000.
In 2008, extremists sent letters to Bishop Jumoad and other local Christians which demanded they convert to Islam or pay the Islamic Jizya tax.
In July 2009 five people, including a five-year-old boy, were killed when a bomb exploded outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Cotabato City, located in Mindanao state in the southern Philippines. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was blamed for the attack.
Shortly after the attack on the Isabela City cathedral, Bishop Jumoad told Fides news agency that the terrorist acts seek to “make life difficult for Christians and drive them out of Basilan.”
“It is the first time we are attacked so directly and with such force,” he continued.
“In the past, I received several threatening letters and intimidation. There have been other smaller attacks, but now it is very different.
“This could be a tragedy. I seriously fear for my life and the lives of the faithful,” commented the bishop.
Since the attack Bishop Jumoad has encouraged the faithful, issuing a pastoral letter calling on Catholics to remain in Basilan. He has also organized a peace procession.