Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Filipino bishops denounce bombing during Sunday Mass in Marawi City

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Filipino bishops denounce bombing during Sunday Mass in Marawi City

EXPLOSION AFTERMATH. Law enforcement officers investigate the scene of an explosion that occurred during a Catholic Mass in a gymnasium at Mindanao State University in Marawi, Philippines, December 3, 2023.

Lanao del Sur Provincial Government/Handout via Reuters

(1st UPDATE) Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, who has long pushed for peace in Mindanao, says the bombing 'is the most terrible and most damnable terroristic crime against innocent worshippers on a Christian holy day'

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) denounced on Sunday, December 3, the bombing of a school gymnasium where a Mass was being held in Marawi City.

In a statement, CBCP president Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said the bombing happened on the First Sunday of Advent, which holds special significance for Catholics because it begins the traditional four-week preparation for Christmas. It also starts a new liturgical cycle, a “new year,” for the Catholic Church. 

The perpetrators, the bishop said, “had chosen that very occasion to detonate a bomb.”

“Surely, the killers who precipitated such a horrendous act of violence have their loved ones too. What would it take to get them to see in the families of their victims their own families?” David said.

“Such violence should not only be denounced; it should also be renounced as a way of seeking redress by every peace-loving Filipino,” the bishop added.

Sunday’s explosion at the gym of Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi killed at least four people and injured at least 45 others. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned the “senseless and most heinous acts perpetrated by foreign terrorists,” an attack that also drew statements of concern from the United States and the European Union.

It also did not escape David, the 64-year-old bishop of the Diocese of Kalookan, that the bombing took place four days after Catholics celebrated Red Wednesday, an annual observance in honor of persecuted Christians. The victims of the Marawi bombing, he said, “are now counted among them.”

“We take comfort in the thought that they have participated in the passion of Christ, that their blood has been poured out as a libation like the blood of Christ. They professed their faith at that last Mass that they attended, especially in the ‘communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,’” David said.

‘Crime that cries out to heaven’

The CBCP president then echoed the MSU statement stating that “violence has no place in a civilized society.” David said, “We could not agree more. With them, we reaffirm our unrelenting commitment to peace and our repudiation of violence.”

The MSU statement said: “Violence has no place in a civilized society, and it is particularly abhorrent in an institution of higher learning like MSU, a bulwark of peace, harmony, solidarity, reverence for life and humanity. This attack is an assault on our core values and our commitment to creating a safe and inclusive community for all.”

“We could not agree more. With them, we reaffirm our unrelenting commitment to peace and our repudiation of violence,” said David.

The MSU also said in its statement: “We stand in solidarity with our Christian community and all those affected by this tragedy. We will not be deterred by this act of violence, and we will continue to work towards building a more peaceful and just MSU community.”

Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of 200,000 people in this mostly Catholic country of 109 million, was the site of a five-month battle in 2017 after a terrorist group linked to the Islamic State seized the city. More than a thousand people, including civilians, died in the 153-day Marawi war that lasted from May 23 to October 23, 2017. (Watch the Rappler documentary “Marawi: 153 Days of War.”)

In a separate statement, Cotabato Archbishop Emeritus Orlando Cardinal Quevedo said the Advent Sunday bombing “is a crime that literally cries out to heaven.” He called on law enforcement to hold accountable the people behind the explosion.

Quevedo, 84, is the first Catholic cardinal from Mindanao and has long pushed for peace in the southern Philippines. He is now a member of the Council of Leaders of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“Perpetrated on the First Sunday of Advent, a season of hope, and at the beginning of the Mindanao Week of Peace, the massacre is the most terrible and most damnable terroristic crime against innocent worshippers on a Christian holy day. It is a tragic reenactment of the insane bombing in the Jolo Cathedral during Sunday Mass several years ago,” Quevedo said.

Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, president of Caritas Philippines, separately said, “I am appalled by the blatant act of terror that the perpetrators were able to commit especially at this time when we are celebrating the Mindanao Week of Peace!”

Bagaforo then urged the government “to ensure the security and safety of Christian gatherings, especially since the Christmas season has started.”

While condemning the attack, however, the Council for Climate and Conflict Action Asia (CCAA) warned against a disturbing increase in hate speech in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy.

‘Christians are family’: Marawi Muslims reach out to devastated families after blast

‘Christians are family’: Marawi Muslims reach out to devastated families after blast

“Let us be vigilant but not vigilantes,” said the CCAA. “We also call for calm and reflection amidst attempts to polarize the situation and sow the seeds of a Muslim-Christian conflict.” – with a report from Robbin M. Dagle/Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com