.- Months after the abduction of three Red Cross workers at the hands of Muslim militants, Christians in the apostolic vicariate of Jolo in the southern Philippines are still living in fear because of the danger posed by mortar attacks, abductions and other violent acts, a local bishop says.
In the past month no fewer than three mortar bombs were fired in Jolo, one of which killed several people. Another damaged the roof of the gymnasium of the Marist-run Notre Dame Boys School, while a third exploded near the base of the Marines Third Brigade not far from the local bishop’s residence, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports. There continue to be repeated abductions of Christians as well.
On January 15, 2009 Abu Sayyaf militants seized two European and one Filipino Red Cross workers while they were visiting a water sanitation project at a jail. The kidnappers had threatened to behead one of their hostages by March 30, but the threat has apparently not been carried out.
Abductions have been repeatedly perpetrated in order to demand ransom money.
Commenting on the abductions, Regina Lynch, Head of Projects at ACN, said it was “regrettable” that media rarely reported the abduction of native Filipinos.
“We at ACN call on people around the world not to forget the oppressed Christians in Jolo!” she exhorted.
On January 15, 2008 on the Jolo region’s Island of Tabawan, Filipino priest Fr. Reynado Jesus Roda was shot dead by armed Muslims, becoming the third Catholic priest to have been murdered in the region in the last 11 years.
Bishop Angelito Lampon, apostolic vicar of Jolo, spoke about the situation with ACN.
He said that although it was “relatively peaceful” because Marine units are now stationed in the area, priests who in the past declined the protection of a security escort have now been obliged to accept an escort “by force of circumstances because they have no other choice.”
Bishop Lampon emphasized that not one Muslim has been abducted.
Church activities have been curtailed because people now have to return home before darkness falls for fear of danger. This has affected pastoral and liturgical gatherings, weddings and funerals, and everyday secular events, ACN reports.
The dangers have focused the faith of the region’s Christians, the bishop told ACN:
“We have been obliged to take our Faith seriously. Whatever may happen, God is there for us. Our Faith is no longer only a matter of Sunday churchgoing, nor is it limited to praying novenas, asking for the things we need. Instead it is a daily encounter with God in the events of our everyday life.”
He reported that peacemaking activities have been organized, including joint actions by Christians and Muslims.
Though the Church and local authorities have “excellent” relations, there is strong resistance from “small groups of Islamic fundamentalists.”
According to ACN, Christian-Muslim dialogue is made difficult because every mosque is independent. Despite the existence of organizations like the Uluma League for the Philippines, the Muslims have no overall authorized representatives like the Catholic hierarchy.
Bishop Lampon said a rapid resolution of the conflict is needed, as is lasting change that addresses the underlying social causes of the hostilities: the region’s structural relationships, its cultural and religious values, and its intellectual attitudes.