ACN News, Monday, 6th April 2009
Philippines - A year after the murder of Father Roda, Christians in Jolo are still living in fear
By Eva-Maria Kolmann
Even now, more than a year after the murder of Father Rey Roda, the situation has not improved for the Catholic Church in the apostolic vicariate of Jolo, in the southern Philippines, for the attacks on Christians by Islamic extremists still regularly continue. The local bishop, Angelito Lampon, recently told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Christians in the region are still living in fear. The fact that the situation is "relatively peaceful" for the present especially in the Island of Tabawan where Fr. Roda was murdered is above all due to the fact that units of the Marines are now stationed there, he said. The point has come where even those priests who in the past refused the protection of the security escort because they felt this was a counter-witness to our presence have now "been obliged, by force of circumstances because they have no other choice", have now accepted to be escorted, Bishop Lampon observed.
The activities of the Church have likewise been curtailed by the fact that people now have to return home before darkness falls, since it is otherwise too dangerous. This has also affected pastoral and liturgical gatherings, weddings and funerals, as well as everyday secular events. Again and again there have been abductions carried out in order to demand ransom money – though the bishop emphasised that to date not a single Muslim has been abducted. Equally, other forms of violent attack are no rarity, he told ACN. Thus, only in the past month for example, no fewer than three mortar bombs were fired in Jolo, one of which killed several people, while another damaged the roof of the gymnasium of the Notre Dame Boys run by the Marist Brothers and a third exploded close to the base of the Marines Third Brigade, not far from the Bishop's residence. For days on end people had to be evacuated every night to places of safety, including among others the classrooms of the Catholic Notre Dame school.
Bishop Lampon emphasised however that he does also see some positive aspects to this difficult situation. "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."
A variety of activities have been organised, aimed at promoting peace, including joint actions by Christians and Muslims. Nonetheless, a great many obstacles have had to be overcome in the process. Although relations between the Church and the local authorities are "excellent", the bishop said, there is nonetheless strong resistance on the part of "small groups of Islamic fundamentalists". Dialogue is made harder by the fact that every mosque is independent and hence the Muslims have no overall authorised representatives unlike the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church in spite of the fact that they have the Uluma League of the Philippines, he added. Bishop Lampon also pointed out the need not only to reach a rapid resolution of the conflict, but also to achieve a lasting change that takes account of the underlying social causes of the hostilities. There are profound structural relationships, cultural and religious values and intellectual attitudes that have to be addressed, he explained to ACN.
The apostolic vicariate of Jolo covers not only the province of Sulu in the southern Philippines but also the Province of Tawi Tawi Archipelago which comprise 457 Islands and islets. Catholics in this region make up only a little over 3% in an overwhelmingly Muslim population. The islands of Jolo and Basilan are widely seen as a hideaway and base for the Abbu Sayyaf militias, who describe themselves as Islamic warriors but who are regarded by the Philippines population and by the wider international community as terrorists, or quite simply ordinary criminals.
In January 15, 2008 a Filipino priest, Father Reynado Jesus Roda was shot dead by armed Muslims. He was the third Catholic priest to have been murdered in this region in the last 11 years, and there continue to be repeated abductions of Christians.
Quite recently Jolo made international headlines, following the abduction of three foreign Red Cross workers on January 15, 2009, whose fate is still unknown. As Regina Lynch, Head of Projects at ACN remarked, "It is regrettable that the media barely notice when native Filipinos are abducted. We at ACN call on people around the world not to forget the oppressed Christians in Jolo!"
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 45 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org