The reopening of a bomb-blasted cathedral in the Philippines, six months on from terror attacks which killed 20 people, has been hailed as a testimony to the local Church’s faith and resilience despite the ongoing threat of Islamic extremism.
Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need’s national director in the Philippines Jonathan Luciano described witnessing the local Christian community’s faith and courage at the re-dedication Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo.
Mr Luciano said: “Security was really tight – police and soldiers locked down an entire block of the city.
“Yet the cathedral was packed. The dedication was attended by hundreds. It was inspiring to see the families of the victims and the survivors of the blasts there.”
The re-dedication ceremony last week was led by Archbishop Gabrielle Caccia, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, and Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop Emeritus of Cotabato, another diocese in the country which also has a large Muslim population.
Mr Luciano said: “Cardinal Orlando described how inspiring the people of Jolo were because of their faith and resilience despite constant persecution.”
He stressed the need for ongoing dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
He said: “At the re-dedication, the Muslim Governor of Jolo spoke of the partnership between Christians and Muslims. With this rebuilding and this re-consecration, dialogue can restart.
“At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Caccia assured people that the Church of Christ and the Christian community is with them.
“They are not forgotten or neglected. This is not only manifested with financial assistance, but through the solidarity of prayer all over the world.”
Militant group Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the bomb attack on the cathedral, which took place during Sunday Mass last January with more than 100 injured as well as 20 killed.
Speaking about ACN’s work following the blast, Mr Luciano said: “ACN was the first organisation to visit two weeks after the bombing and we promised to help in the very costly repairs.”
Mr Luciano also described the programme for survivors and their families, based on the Church’s Duyog Marawi rehabilitation and interreligious outreach initiatives which were set up following the siege of Marawi by Islamist terrorists in 2017.
He said: “When we visited after the bombing, I suggested to Brother Rey Barnido, executive director of Duyog Marawi, to consider helping in Jolo and now the Duyog Marawi team and the Apostolic Vicariate in Jolo are in collaboration.
“What happened in Marawi is how we should respond to this crisis – rebuild the Christian community first then rebuild the actual church.”
Mr Luciano warned that the threat of violence by a small number of radical Muslims would get worse unless the Church acted.
He said: “This is a message to our mission partners and benefactors – I hope what happened in Jolo will really spark their interest in helping persecuted Christians in the Philippines…
“We have to reinforce the relationship between Christians and Muslims. We can live harmoniously together.”