ROME, ITALY – A small delegation of representatives from the papal charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) stood witness to the Holy Father’s blessing of the icon of the Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians. The icon was made in August by Fr. Spiridon Kabbash, a Greek Orthodox priest from Homs in Syria. Present in this initiative is the organization’s National Director for the Philippines, Jonathan Luciano.
Our Lady of Sorrows, Consoler of Syrians was designated to bring a dawn of hope, peace, and consolation to all Christians of the world. It shows the beloved Virgin Mary, Mother of God, seated on a throne, with the Lord Jesus Christ on her lap. Holding an orb, the icon depicts that He entrusts the care of the world to his Mother, similar to what he did with all humankind under the cross. Also in visible detail is war-stricken Syria, very much destroyed and wounded with all the unheard and unknown battles plaguing its grounds. According to an interview with Fr. Kabbash, the icon is a message of hope. “We will send it to many places of the world, because they need consolation from God. The war is too heavy for the people,” he mentioned.
“I was personally, deeply moved by the message of the icon. It strengthened in me the challenge to rise to the mission to help the suffering Church, especially our persecuted brothers and sisters,” ACN Philippines Director Luciano shared. The icon will be travelling to all the dioceses of Syria and the whole of Middle East to spread the message of peace and consolation to all war victims. This is part of the “Console My People” campaign, an ACN initiative for Syrians. Last August, 6,000 rosaries were also blessed by the Pope for the relatives of the victims.
“There is a greater need to be sensitive and aware of the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters, and the icon of the sorrowful mother, who, in her tears, consoles her children. Which is why I also asked the Pope to pray for the Philippines, especially the persecuted and the oppressed. He agreed, and Pope Francis requests that we pray for him as well,” Luciano added.
On July 31, the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan organized a Mass and a candle-lighting ceremony to express solidarity for the faithful leaders accused of inciting sedition, cyber libel, libel, and obstruction of justice. Involved in the sedition charge are the Vice President of the Philippines and 35 others, including four bishops and several priests. The bishops cited include Archbishop Socrates Villegas, President of ACN Philippines and Member of the Supervisory Board of the International Foundation and retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao and Bishop Pablo David of Caloocan.
Held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Dagupan, hundreds of people marched in prayer after Mass on Wednesday in support of Archbishop Villegas and the other three bishops innocently charged.
Jonathan Luciano, ACN National Director for the Philippines, attended the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the candle-lighting procession together with ACN volunteers as sign of solidarity with his president.
The sedition complaint was filed on 18 July by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG). This was in connection to the “Ang Totoong Narco List”, a video series by a man named Peter Joemel Advincula, more widely known as “Bikoy”. In the videos, he linked President Duterte, a few family members and numerous constituents to alleged involvement in illegal drug syndicates. “Bikoy” also confessed that he was a former member of a large syndicate himself. But on surrendering himself to police custody, “Bikoy” retracted his statements and stated the opposite. He claimed that everything in the videos was scripted and orchestrated by the opposing Liberal Party in connivance with a leaders of religious organizations. In a press briefing, he cited Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Bishop Pablo David as among those behind the plot to oust the President.
Expressing his concern and sadness the director of ACN said: “Around the world, cases of religious persecution continue to rise and become more rampant. Ambushes, murders, bombings – these are only a few of the violent means used by persecutors. A subtle yet more dangerous method, however, continues to exist. This comes in the form of political persecution, now directed to innocent servants of the Catholic Church”.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27)
“As emphasized by the Pope’s prayer intentions for July, we continue to pray and hope that the government and the respectful officials involved will wield justice with truth and integrity. As the preliminary investigations against the accused commence on August 9, we call for vigilance. Let us stand in solidarity and unity in our prayers. We pray for the safety of the bishops and all those wrongfully charged, and that they find strength in these trying times,” concluded Jonathan Luciano.
In an interview with Rappler, this was how Father Jeff Nadua, a priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, described his reaction towards the deadly bombing incident which occurred during the Sunday Mass of January 27, 2019. Father Nadua, however, was not in the premises of the church. The mass was officiated by Father Ricky Bacolcol.
The cathedral was simultaneously blasted with two improvised explosive devices (IED), with approximately 100 victims in the vicinity. It was at the Second Reading when the first IED was detonated inside. According to MindaNews, the bomb went off from the “right side fronting the altar, at the back portion”. Police and military men stationed nearby hurried for rescue. Civilians, on the other hand, scrambled for safety. But then, another unthinkable horror happened.
A twin IED exploded outside.
“Nakita ko may mga matatanda na nandoon sa lupa na humihingi ng tulong sa amin. Gusto ko sana kunin ‘yung isang matanda noon. Eh, pumutok na. Tumilapon na rin ako doon.”
[The elderly were ducked down on the ground, asking for help. I wanted to save them, get one of them, but there was a sudden explosion. I was thrown back by the impact.]
Catching them off guard, 5 soldiers died in an instant. It was believed that the second IED was placed in a utility box of a parked motorcycle just beside the cathedral. Both bombs were confirmed to be electronically-controlled through a mobile device from a remote area. The official casualty count of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WESTMINCOM) reached about 21 deaths and approximately 100 injured.
History of Devastation
The twin blasts left the interior of the church in shambles. The pews were scattered and pieces of shrapnel flew everywhere. The once ocean-hued windows of the cathedral became broken glass.
The Sunday explosion, however, wasn’t the first. Throughout the previous decade, the cathedral, and its surrounding area, has been the target of many extremist attacks.
In 2000, a bomb was thrown outside the church. Six years later, a blast occurred in the ground floor of a two-storey commercial building near the cathedral. Investigations later revealed that the cathedral has been the original target of the explosion, with the culprits changing their plans at the last minute.
Three explosions rocked Jolo in 2009. In July, about 6 civilians were killed when an IED exploded a hundred meters away from the church. The October explosion involved a grenade blast which left damaged properties. A New Year’s Eve blast also occurred in the same year, killing one soldier. From 2010-2013, a series of four explosions were tallied.
Considered the worst and the deadliest one yet, the 2019 twin blasts was the first to happen inside the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral.
Fr. Jeff Nadua, in his interview with News5, stressed that the attack was directed to the community and is clearly an “attack against our faith”. However, he also emphasized with Zenit that “we need to help our Christians recover from this trauma and see all this in the eyes of faith. Then we can focus our energies on rebuilding the structure which is heavily damaged by the twin bombing.”
And indeed, the rebuilding and the restoration of the church happened. On February 4 and 5, 2019, Jonathan Luciano, National Director of ACN Philippines, immediately paid a solidarity visit to the relatives of the victims and to the site. Aid efforts to rehabilitate the cathedral were on board and slowly developed. Together with the help of many organizations and benefactors led by Aid to the Church in Need, the cathedral was repaired.
Six months after the deadly explosion, the renewed Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel once again held Mass on July 16, 2019. Together with retired Cardinal Orlando Quevedo and other bishops and priests, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Archbishop Gabrielle Caccia led the reconsecration. The day of celebration coincided with the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the church’s patroness.
The process of the Cathedral’s rebuild is only the start of its restoration. Standing with faith and love, Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public – that the strength and the faith of the lay and of our fellowmen be renewed and strengthened. Moreover, that the souls of those who passed away find peace and justice.
Christians around the world are being targeted because of religious beliefs. Persecution and violence have been rampant and the number of cases continue to rise. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, is a pontifical organization with a mission to support the faithful whenever and wherever they face injustice and persecution. The persecuted will never be forgotten, and the suffering will be aided.
As one, let us pray for the victims of the twin bombing on January 27, 2019: