Despite the fresh memory of a deadly terrorist attack in January, the rededication Mass of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, an island in the Philippines, was packed with Catholics, an aid worker said.
“Security was really tight - police and soldiers locked down an entire block of the city...Yet the cathedral was packed. The dedication was attended by hundreds. It was inspiring to see the families of the victims and the survivors of the blasts there,” Jonathan Luciano, national director of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in the Philippines, said in a report from the group.
The cathedral rededication was celebrated by Archbishop Gabrielle Caccia, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, along with Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop Emeritus of Cotabato, which, like Jola, is a Muslim-majority area in the country.
On January 27 of this year, two bombs exploded during Sunday Mass at the cathedral, killing at least 20 people and injuring at least 111 others. The Philippines bishops' conference condemned the attack as an “act of terrorism.” ISIS, which has ties to the local Muslim insurgent group Abu Sayyaf, claimed responsibility for the attack. Attacks by Abu Sayyaf against Catholics in the region are not uncommon.
Jolo is a part of a group of islands called Mindanao. According to the New York Times, the attack happened just days after a referendum was held in Mindanao to establish a “Muslim autonomous region” in the area, an attempt at creating peace that was ratified by voters everywhere except in Jolo.
At the rededication Mass, Cardinal Orlando “described how inspiring the people of Jolo were because of their faith and resilience despite constant persecution,” Luciano said.
“At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Caccia assured people that the Church of Christ and the Christian community [are] with them...They are not forgotten or neglected. This is not only manifested with financial assistance, but through the solidarity of prayer all over the world,” he added. In the ACN report, Luciano said that ACN was the first aid group to offer the cathedral their assistance after the bombings, which included financial assistance for the “costly repairs.”
He said the goal of their response was to “rebuild the Christian community first then rebuild the actual church.”
The Governor of Jolo, Benjamin Loong, a Muslim, also spoke at the rededication ceremony. Luciano said he “spoke of the partnership between Christians and Muslims. With this rebuilding and this re-consecration, dialogue can restart.”
Luciano said he hopes that ACN’s mission partners and benefactors will be interested in helping persecuted Christians in the Philippines after hearing about what happened in Jolo.
“We have to reinforce the relationship between Christians and Muslims,” he said. “We can live harmoniously together.”