Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines said on Friday that religious leaders remain committed to “continuing dialogue” after an attack on a Mass by Muslim terrorists on Dec. 3.
Ledesma, the co-president of Pax Christi – Pilipinas, said the pain from the deadly blast that claimed four lives in the southern Philippines will not derail the Church’s commitment to dialogue and peaceful coexistence in Mindanao.
Pax Christi Pilipinas is a member organization of Pax Christi International, a global Catholic peace movement working for peace, respect for human rights.
The explosion happened during a celebration of the first Sunday of Advent at the gymnasium of the Marawi State University (MSU) in Marawi City, which has a Muslim majority. The Mindanao Week of Peace was also taking place at the time.
“We express our condolence and shared grief with the victims and families of those affected by the bombing,” Ledesma said.
But the archbishop said the “most heartening” thing for him was that many Muslim Maranao students immediately took measures to help victims and protect their Christian schoolmates from any further harm.
“May this gesture of solidarity not only affirm the spirit of MSU as an inclusive institution for higher learning but also symbolize the ongoing aspirations for the tri-people of Mindanao in coming home through solidarity and harmony,” he said.
The Order of Friars Minor (OFM) said in a statement that Sunday’s attack on the Mass was “an act of terrorism done in the most inhumane way, devoid of respect for the sacred and the holy.”
“This violent incident was nothing but an act of selfishness and cruelty that must be condemned in the strictest sense of the world,” the Franciscans say, as reported by CBCP News.
However, the congregation urged everyone, regardless of faith, to consciously strive for a culture of peace and harmony “despite dialogue setbacks and frustrations in dialogue.”
“The path toward genuine interreligious dialogue, universal fraternity, and solidarity is difficult and full of challenges. Yet, we draw our hope and strength from our all-powerful, most compassionate, and merciful God, who showed us the way of genuine brotherhood through his Son, Jesus Christ,” the OFM said.
The Franciscans also urged the authorities to use peaceful means “to counteract the forces of evil and violence” and “to hold responsible and accountable those who perpetrated these acts of terrorism.”
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said “foreign terrorists” were behind it.
“We don’t have enough capability to know everything that’s going around us,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Medel Agular said in a telephone interview with reporters on Thursday.
“Because of the incident, there is a need for us to enhance our intelligence capability,” he said, adding that the military “cannot cover everything” in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southern region where militants from various groups have fought government troops for decades.
The Philippine military on Friday announced the Dec. 6 arrest in Marawi of a man suspected of placing the bomb in the gymnasium after he was identified by witnesses.
The army also said at least nine Dawlah Islamiya (DI) terror group members were killed during air and ground assaults by the military in Maguindanao on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the southeast Asian bloc ASEAN on Friday strongly condemned the Dec. 3 incident in the southern Philippines, calling it a “heinous terrorist attack.”
“We extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved families,” the group said in a statement.
“We fully support the efforts of the Government of the Philippines in addressing the situation and bringing the perpetrators to justices,” the statement said.
“We stand in solidarity and are ready to work with the Government and people of the Philippines during this difficult time. We also reaffirm our commitment to continue, strengthen, and enhance regional counterterrorism cooperation to prevent recurrence of terrorist incident in the future,” the southeast Asian nations added.