MUMBAI, India – A bombing of a cathedral in the southern Philippines is “senseless because it is inhuman,” according to the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
Two bombs exploded at the church in Jolo, killing at least 20 people, and injuring over 100 others.
“That it happened during the Eucharistic celebration on a Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ triumph over death, makes it abominable because it violates the sense of God present in every human heart,” Tagle said in a Jan. 27 statement. “Shock, anger and sadness envelope our hearts. What has happened to humanity? Is there no more room for decency and conscience?”
Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist terrorist group allied with the Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for the attack, which came just days after a plebiscite on the creation of an autonomous region for the predominately-Muslim southern portion of the overwhelmingly-Catholic nation.
Most Muslim areas approved the deal, in hope of ending nearly five decades of a separatist rebellion that has left 150,000 people dead. However, voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it.
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The province is home to a rival rebel faction that’s opposed to the deal as well as smaller militant cells that are not part of any peace process.
The cardinal called on all Filipinos not to abandon the commitment to peace.
“Only good can combat evil. Instead of being discouraged, let us strengthen our resolve to work for peace based on justice, truth, love and respect for human life and dignity. Let us multiply good and honorable thoughts, sentiments, words and actions. Let us not abandon our efforts to dialogue with people who differ from us. Bridges are more useful than walls. We affirm our faith in Jesus who is our peace and reconciliation,” Tagle continued.
President Rodrigo Duterte and his top security officials on Monday visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, after his office vowed to “pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars.”
Archbishop-Elect Angelito R. Lampon, the bishop emeritus of Jolo called the attack an “action of evil people with utter disregard for the sacredness of human life and of human dignity.”
“It is the most heinous desecration of a sacred place, on a sacred day, and at a sacred moment of worship. It is truly a satanic act that all sacred religions must condemn,” he said.
In a statement, the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Romulo G. Valles of Davao, “condemn[ed] this act of terrorism.”
“We condole with the families of the several soldiers and civilians who were killed by the explosions. We also express our sympathies with those who were wounded and extend our solidarity with the rest of the church-goers inside the Cathedral and the rest of the church community in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo,” Valles said.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, the archbishop said the attack was “very sad, very tragic.”
“It is almost difficult to imagine that man can do that to his fellow brothers and sisters, but yet as believers, as Catholics, we must go back to our faith, look inside our hearts how to respond to this evil deed…with good. That is the strength of our faith in this situation especially it’s a Catholic cathedral that was bombed,” Valles continued.
Speaking to reporters, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro said he hoped the peace process will continue in the southern part of the country.
“The Bangsamoro Organic Law which in effect is actually a peace treaty,” Ledesma said, “we hope this bombing of the cathedral will not sidetrack the majority of communities of Muslims and Christians from the path of lasting peace through the Bangsamoro Organic Law.”
The president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo, added his words of support to the Church in the Philippines.
“I strongly condemn this dastardly act in which brothers killed brothers while they are at prayer worshipping God. This cowardly act is utterly inhuman under whatever political or religious claim one makes,” Bo said.
Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen, the general secretary of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), also condemned the attack, reiterating his organization’s “firm rejection of violence, extremism and terrorism in all their forms, whatever their sources or motives.”
This report incorporated material from the Associated Press.