The Cathedral of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Sulu in southern Philippines became the latest site of Christian persecution when two bomb explosions killed 21 people, mostly churchgoers, and injured more than 100 last January 27, 2019 at around 8:30 in the morning.
ISIS issued a statement claiming responsibility for the two suicide bombers which detonated explosive belts inside the church, one during the mass and the other shortly after at the parking lot. The first blast left bodies in various deformities on the floor and damaged the floor, ceiling and walls of the Cathedral. The second explosion killed at least five soldiers who rushed as first responders.
The damage and the death put the whole Christian minority in the region, roughly 2% of the population in a state of mourning and shock. Father Romeo Saniel, apostolic administrator of Jolo, said those who perished “died for their Christian faith.” The Cathedral community was a small and compact group where everyone knew each other.
“They bravely stayed in Jolo in spite of the threats and insecurities,” said the priest in a public statement, “no words can describe the sorrow and pain that we feel these days.”
Two former pastors of the Church, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo and Archbishop Angelito Lampon of Cotabato, denounced the bombing “the most heinous desecration of a sacred place.” The attack “on a sacred day and at a sacred moment of worship” was “the action of evil people with utter disregard for the sacredness of human life and of human dignity.”
Government, Church leaders, and Muslim leaders around the country condemned the act and call of unity and sobriety. Pope Francis, who was in Panama for the World Youth Day, extended his concern, saying, “I raise my prayers for the dead and wounded.”
Barely two years after Maute-ISIS group destroyed Marawi City, the attack is one of the deadliest in recent years even in Mindanao. It occurred a week after Muslim residents were jubilant after a plebiscite was held on providing Muslims in the Philippines greater autonomy in what will be called the Bangsamoro Region.
Sulu is the base of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) which pledged allegiance to ISIS and whose members have been engaged in various acts of terrorism and kidnapping. Police officers are exploring possibility that the attack was in retaliation for the death of of a leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group last year.
Even as police officers are still conducting investigation and the whole city is put on a military lockdown, President Duterte ordered an all-out war against the Abu Sayyaf Group, “the law will give them no mercy.”
A few days later, a grenade exploded inside a mosque in Zamboanga City killing two people and injuring four others. While there is no direct relation between the two incidents, it is seen as an attempt to fuel animosity between Muslims and Christians, something which leaders from both side dismissed as they called for a new round of cooperation, dialogue, and peace.
These two incidents heightened the security alert in the whole of Mindanao.
Representatives of the Aid to the Church in Need Philippines has already arranged a solidarity visit to Jolo and to do damage and needs assessment of the Cathedral community.
Bro. Reynaldo Barnido
Exec. Director of Duyog Maraiw
ACN Volunteer Writer