“I can see their faces, I could remember everything.”
(Father Jeff Nadua to Rappler)
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.]
(Corporal Ruel Diaz to GMA News)
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.
Renewed by Faith: Jolo Cathedral Restored After Twin Bombing.
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.”
Aid to the Church in Need continues its Appeal for Prayer to the public.
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:
(Source: AFP WESTMINCOM)
On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul. Some 120,000 Christians had to flee overnight. Many of them found refuge around the Kurdish city of Erbil. For the following three years, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, was one of the pillars in the maintenance and support of the community. Early 2016 Iraqi forces and their allies were able to recover the territories and tens of thousands of displaced Christians returned to the ruins of their home cities. Others decided to stay in Erbil or emigrate out of the country. The ACN Foundation together with the local churches significantly supports the reconstruction. Five years after the invasion of the Nineveh Plain, ACN interviews Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda – an eye-witness of all these events – about the consequences for Christians in Iraq but also for the entire Middle East and for Western countries.
The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano.
It has been five years of Calvary. Looking back what would be the lesson you have taken?
When a people have nothing left to lose, in some sense it is very liberating, and from this position of clarity and new-found courage I can speak on behalf of my people and tell you the truth. But I would like to remark that we are a people who have endured persecution in patience and faith for 1,400 years confronting an existential struggle, our final struggle in Iraq. The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians from historical homelands and rendered us, in a single night, without shelter and refuge, without work or properties, without churches and monasteries, without the ability to participate in any of the normal things of life that give dignity; family visits, celebration of weddings and births, sharing of sorrows. Our tormentors confiscated our present while seeking to wipe out our history and destroy our future. This was an exceptional situation, but not an isolated one. It was part of the recurring cycle of violence in the Middle East over 1,400 years.
Mgr. Bashar Matti Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil.
So in fact, the ISIS invasion was just the “tip of the iceberg”?
With each successive cycle the number of Christians falls away, till today we are at the point of extinction. Argue as you will, but extinction is coming, and then what will anyone say? That we were made extinct by natural disaster, or gentle migration? That the ISIS attacks were unexpected, and we were taken by surprise? –That is what the media will say. Or will the truth emerge after our disappearance: that we were persistently and steadily eliminated over the course of 1,400 years by a belief system which allowed for regular and recurring cycles of violence against us – like the Ottoman genocide of 1916-1922.
But during these 1,400 years of Christian oppression, were there periods of Muslim tolerance as an alternative to violence and persecution?
One cannot deny the existence of times of relative tolerance. Under al Rashid, the House of Wisdom, the great library, was founded in Baghdad. There was a time of relative prosperity while Christian and Jewish scholarship was valued, and a flowering of science, mathematics and medicine was made possible by Nestorian Christian scholars who translated Greek texts, already ancient in the ninth century. Our Christian ancestors shared with Muslim Arabs a deep tradition of thought and philosophy and engaged with them in respectful dialogue from the 8th century onwards. The Arab Golden Age, as historian Philip Jenkins has noted, was built on Chaldean and Syriac scholarship. Christian scholarship. The imposition of Shari’a law saw the decline of great learning, and the end of the “Golden Age” of Arab culture. A style of scholastic dialogue had developed, and which could only occur, because a succession of caliphs tolerated minorities. As toleration ended, so did the culture and wealth which flowed from it.
“The most immediate cause is the ISIS attack that led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Christians”.
So, would you say that peaceful coexistence is possible and tolerance is the key to the development of peoples?
Exactly. But these moments of toleration have been a one-way experience: Islamic rulers decide, according to their own judgment and whim, whether Christians and other non-Muslims are to be tolerated and to what degree. It is not, and has never, ever, been a question of equality. Fundamentally, in the eyes of Islam, Christians are not equal. We are not to be treated as equal; we are only to be tolerated or not tolerated, depending upon the intensity of the prevailing Jihadi spirit. Yes; the root of all of this is the teachings of Jihad, the justification for acts of violence.
Iraqi Christians are going back to their villages again. Is the situation now improving? How is life for the Christians and other minorities?
There are still extremist groups, growing in number, asserting that killing Christians and Yazidis helps spread Islam. By strictly adhering to Koranic teaching they prescribe Dhimmi status (second class citizenship) to minorities, allowing confiscation of property and enforcement of jizya Islamic tax. But it is not just this. If you were a Christian in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, you would never accept for one moment the shadow under which we Iraqis live – and under which we have lived for centuries. By my country’s constitution we are lesser citizens, we live at the discretion of our self-appointed superiors. Our humanity gives us no rights.
In Western countries you stand equal under the law. This basic principle of European and American life is a foundation of Christian civic order, in which we are all children under a loving God, created in His image and likeness, which gives us all dignity, and urges on us mutual respect. Civic security grows out of a worldview that values every individual human not for their position or role, but simply because they are human. This view has been the great gift of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Rebuilding civil society means rebuilding it for everybody. Everyone has a place, and everyone has a chance to thrive.
The truth is, there is a foundational crisis within Islam itself, and if this crisis is not acknowledged, addressed and fixed then there can be no future for civil society in the Middle East, or indeed any- where where Islam brings itself to bare upon a host nation.
Some voices said that the brutality and the violence of ISIS have changed the Islamic world, too. What do you think?
Clearly, ISIS shocked the conscience of the world, and has shocked the conscience of the Islamic-majority world as well. The question now is whether or not Islam will continue on a political trajectory, in which Shari’a is the basis for civil law and nearly every aspect of life is circumscribed by religion, or whether a more civil, tolerant movement will develop.
The defeat of Daesh has not seen the defeat of the idea of the re-establishment of the Caliphate. This has re-awoken and is now firmly implanted in minds throughout the Muslim world. And with this idea of the Caliphate there comes all the formal historical structures of intentional inequality and discrimination against non-Muslims. I speak here not only of Iraq. We see leaders in other countries in the Middle East who are clearly acting in a way consistent with the re-establishment of the Caliphate.
How do you think that the West will react to this?
This is a crucial question and the religious minorities of the Middle East want to know the answer. Will you continue to condone this never-ending, organised persecution against us? When the next wave of violence begins to hit us, will anyone on your campuses hold demonstrations and carry signs that say, “we are all Christians”? And yes I do say, the “next wave of violence”, for this is simply the natural result of a ruling system that preaches inequality, and justifies persecution. The equation is not complicated. One group is taught that they are superior and legally entitled to treat others as inferior human beings on the sole basis of their faith and religious practices. This teaching inevitably leads to violence against any “inferiors” who refuse to change their faith. And there you have it – the history of Christians in the Middle East for the last 1,400 years.
On August 6, 2014, IS units razed and conquered the Christian settlements of the Nineveh Plain, north of Mosul.
But what would be the solution? How are we to build a better future?
This change must come about as the conscious work of the Muslim world itself. We see the small beginnings, perhaps, of this recognition in Egypt, in Jordan, in Asia, even in Saudi Arabia. Certainly much remains to be seen as to whether there is actual sincerity in this.
Has Christianity in Middle East a prophetic mission?
Mine is a missionary role: to give daily witness to the teachings of Christ, to show the truth of Christ and to provide a living example to our Muslim neighbours of a path to a world of forgiveness, of humility, of love, of peace. Lest there be any confusion here I am not speaking of conversion. Rather, I am speaking of the fundamental truth of forgiveness which we Christians of Iraq can share, and share from a position of historically unique moral clarity. We forgive those who murdered us, who tortured us, who raped us, who sought to destroy everything about us. We forgive them. In the name of Christ, we forgive them. And so we say to our Muslim neighbours, learn this from us. Let us help you heal. Your wounds are as deep as ours. We know this. We pray for your healing. Let us heal our wounded and tortured country together.
And what about our Western secular society, according to your opinion, what would our task be?
We ask that you consider our situation truthfully, as it actually exists, and not in stretched attempts at historical relativism, which diminishes, or more honestly, insults, the reality of our suffering, and thereby robs us even of the dignity of our continued faith. The heart of the struggle is to understand the nature of the battle. You will have to ask yourselves, how long can a moderate and decent society survive without the influence of Christian institutions? How long can the tradition exist after the faith has died? What will flow into the vacuum? The role Christian communities play, or have played, in Islamic societies has been overlooked. It is an important part of the formation of civil society in most of the world. It needs highlighting because the situation in Iraq has been woefully misread by Western decision makers. There is no reason to believe they will not misread the same signs and portents in their own countries. You think you are a long way from the chaos of Iraq? Let me assure you; it is only six hours away.
Speaking about decision makers, what would be the role of politicians?
We ask them to support efforts to ensure equal treatment for all minorities in Iraq and elsewhere. We pray that policy makers can find in themselves the humility to recognize that their theories, which over the past decades have become our horrific reality, have been almost universally wrong, based on fundamentally flawed assessments of the Iraqi people and situation. And in these mistaken policies, designed in comfort and safety from afar, argued over in the media as partisan intellectual talking points, hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died. An entire country has been ripped apart and left to the jackals. This horror all began with policy, and we beg those of you who continue to have access in shaping policy for your country, to daily remember that your policy assessments and those of your allies have life or death consequences. Please, walk humbly and make sure that you truly understand the people on whom you are passing sentence. Understanding what has happened in Iraq means being truthful about the nature and purpose of Christian civil order. It means being truthful about the nature and purpose of the laws of Islam. It means being truthful about what happens when these two come together in one place. I appreciate that this is an uncomfortable subject to discuss in the comfort of a peaceful country. But for Iraqi Christians this is no abstract matter.
The most painful question: Are we facing the end of Christianity in Iraq?
It could be. We acknowledge this. Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, is perilously close to extinction. In the years prior to 2003, we numbered as many as one-and-a-half million: six percent of Iraq’s population. Today, there are perhaps as few as 250,000 of us left. Maybe less. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom.
In the end, the entire world faces a moment of truth. Will a peaceful and innocent people be allowed to be persecuted and eliminated because of their faith? And, for the sake of not wanting to speak the truth to the persecutors, will the world be complicit in our elimination? The world should understand, in our path to extinction we will not go quietly any further. From this point we will speak the truth, and live out the truth, in full embrace of our Christian witness and mission, so that if someday we are gone no one will be able to say: how did this happen? We Christians are a people of Hope. But facing the end also brings us clarity, and with it the courage to finally speak the truth. Our hope to remain in our ancient homeland now rests on the ability of ourselves, our oppressors, and the world to acknowledge these truths. Violence and discrimination against the innocents must end. Those who teach it must stop. We Christians of Iraq, who have faced 1,400 years of persecution, violence and genocide, are prepared to speak out and bear witness to our oppressors and to the world, whatever the consequence.
The congregation of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara has been blessed with many vocations in Ukraine. Currently there are no fewer than 13 young novices undergoing formation in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk, desiring to consecrate their lives for ever to the service of God and their fellow men. Most of them are young, being aged no more than around 20.
The sisters of the congregation accompany young people, organise retreat days, provide catechetical formation and care for orphans, the sick and elderly, who often live in great need in Ukraine.
Ukraine: Help for the formation of 13 novices of the congregation of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara.
Among other things, the young novices help in summer to organise holiday camps for children and young people, giving them an opportunity to take a break and enjoy themselves, but at the same time to deepen their understanding and faith in God. For these young sisters it is also a good exercise in the work of catechesis. Last year some of them travelled with a group of 50 or so young people to attend a youth meeting in Italy. Although the bus journey was long and tiring, they were all enthusiastic and inspired. Sister Maria Christiana, the novice mistress, recalls: „I have never seen young people so filled with enthusiasm at the truth and the experience of community.“ The sisters also organise walking pilgrimages to the shrine of Krylos, in Ukraine in the diocese of Ivano-Frankivsk itself. During the pilgrimage, a walk of around 25 km, they pray and sing, and the sisters are also available for personal counselling sessions, at which the young people can unburden themselves freely and put all their many questions about the Christian faith or their own personal problems. Last year some 400 young people took part.
ACN regularly supports the congregation for the formation of these young sisters, and this year we are proposing to do so again, with a contribution of 7800 Euros.
The landlocked state of Zambia in southern Africa is one of the more stable countries on the continent. Christians make up the overwhelming majority (90%) of its population of around 17 million people. However, only around one fifth of the population are Catholics, the majority belonging to a range of different Protestant communities.
The Catholic Church here is facing major challenges. In the past the life of the Church was steered above all by foreign missionaries, who were able to obtain support from their home countries, but today it is the native African bishops and priests who are increasingly shouldering the responsibility. In many places the infrastructure is poor, the parishes cover vast areas and the Catholic faithful often live widely scattered, so that many more priests are needed in order to minister to them all. At the same time the sects are very active in proselytising, drawing away many of the faithful with their easy promises and simplistic messages of salvation. They promise people health, wealth and material success and so manage to entice many people, including Catholics. They are successful above all where, owing to the lack of financial means and the vast distances, the pastoral outreach of the Church is not sufficiently intensive to make people feel truly rooted and at home in the Church.
Zambia: Renovation of the Saint Augustine‘s seminary in Kabwe.
What the Church in Zambia needs above all, therefore, is more priests. But in order to train these priests, the appropriate infrastructure and facilities have to be present. In the Saint Augustine‘s seminary in Kabwe there are almost 90 young men training for the priesthood. But the seminary building, which dates back to the 1950s, had for some years now been in urgent need of renovation. There were cracks in the walls, falling ceiling tiles and roof panels, a hopelessly outdated plumbing system… All these things were making life here difficult and in some cases even dangerous. Above all the toilet and sanitary facilities needed urgent repair and renovation. Thanks to the help of our generous benefactors, ACN was able to contribute 14,900 Euros, thereby enabling the bathroom facilities to be properly refurbished and the rusting pipework replaced. The seminarians are delighted with the results and send their heartfelt thanks to all who have helped.
Honduras is the second largest country in Central America. With the exception of those countries where there are ongoing wars, it has the unenviable distinction of having the second highest number of murders anywhere, second only to its close neighbour, El Salvador. Violence is an ever present reality, with robberies, murders and abductions a daily occurrence. Gang warfare, drug cartels and crime have made it a dangerous country to live in. The social and political inequalities are glaringly apparent, and around 70% of the population currently live below the poverty threshold. Many people, especially the young, dream only of leaving the country.
Honduras: 3000 Bibles and 3000 copies of the „DOCAT“.
Although only 37% of the population are Catholics – an extremely low percentage for Latin America – the Catholic Church is one of the few signs of hope in this violence-plagued land, in which many people can see no future for themselves. But at the same time the Church herself faces massive problems, including the fact that within the last 50 years the population has grown from 2.5 to 9 million souls. Hence there is a great need for pastoral care and evangelization, but far too few priests to minister to all the people. Lay catechists pray a vital role here, but there is also a great shortage even of these well-instructed laity.
ACN is helping here by sending 3000 Bibles and 3000 copies of the DOCAT – a handbook of the Social Teaching of the Church aimed specially at young people. For the formation of young people is very important, above all in a country facing so many major social problems, so that they can help contribute to a better and more humane society in the future, where God‘s laws are observed by all. ACN has agreed to help with 23,000 Euros towards the cost of these books.
Paraguay faces many major challenges. The gulf between rich and poor is growing ever greater, and many people, above all in the rural regions, can see little future for themselves and are migrating to the major cities, where more often than not the hoped-for improvement in their living conditions turns out to be little more than a dream. Not infrequently in fact, the country people are even evicted from their land by large landowners wanting to extend their holdings. The Catholic Church is for many people the only credible institution in a country racked with all kinds of economic and political problems.
Traditionally, the Catholic faith is deeply rooted among the majority of the people, with over 90% of its 5 million or so inhabitants professing the Catholic faith and – in contrast to its larger neighbour Brazil and a number of other Latin American countries – they are much less inclined to be drawn away by the sects. The Church in the country is poor, however, and goodwill on its own is not enough. Resources are needed in order to be able to pursue the pastoral and evangelising mission of the Church, and as a result the Church is very much dependent on outside support.
Paraguay: Mass stipends for 20 Franciscan priests.
The Franciscans have been present in Paraguay for 67 years now. Today they number 47 brothers, of whom 20 are priests. They are working in eight parishes and four schools and also run four centres for street children in which they care for around 500 young boys and girls who are otherwise homeless or abandoned by their parents.
The Franciscan provincial, Father Miguel Angel Cáceres has written to ACN. „We rejoice in our pastoral work, which the good God has always abundantly blessed“, he writes. „We want to continue this work, but the harvest is great and the workers are few.“ He is particularly grateful for the Mass stipends our generous benefactors have provided, to a total value of 8040 Euros, by means of which we have been able to help the work of his 20 Franciscan priests in Paraguay. These Mass stipends are not only for the benefit of the priests themselves, but are also used to support the training of the upcoming younger vocations. We pass on to you his heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed!