A cathedral in the Philippines, destroyed by a bomb planted by extremists linked to Al Qaeda, is to be rebuilt with help from a leading Catholic charity.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) announced a grant on Monday, May 10, towards the reconstruction of Santa Isabel Cathedral, in Isabela city, Basilan – a building which was 70 percent destroyed by the blast.
It is widely reported that Abu Sayyaf – an Islamist terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda – was responsible for the attack, which took place on April 13th.
In a letter to ACN requesting urgent help to start rebuilding work as soon as possible, Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela de Basilan stressed that the cathedral was a sign of hope in a region of widespread oppression and poverty.
He wrote: “We have to fix this cathedral because this is a very important sign of our Catholic faith here in Basilan. I ask [for help to rebuild] because we have no means to reconstruct this cathedral.”
ACN’s contribution to the reconstruction work is more than $19,000.
In his letter to ACN, the bishop pointed out that Catholics are a minority in Basilan, which is a largely Muslim state in the southern-most part of the country.
Taken as a whole, Catholics in the Philippines are 81 percent of a population which totals 88.7 million, but Basilan state is only 27 percent Catholic.
This is not the first time that the Christian community in Basilan has been targeted by extremists.
In 2008, Bishop Jumoad was among local Christians who received letters demanding they convert to Islam or pay the Islamic Jizya tax. Now the bishop fears the latest attacks may herald a renewed campaign of terror.
Speaking shortly after the cathedral bomb blast, Bishop Jumoad told news agency Fides: “These terrorist acts seek to make life difficult for Christians and drive them out of Basilan.”
He added: “It is the first time we are attacked so directly and with such force.”
“In the past, I received several threatening letters and intimidation. There have been other smaller attacks, but now it is very different. This could be a tragedy. I seriously fear for my life and the lives of the faithful.”
Bishop Jumoad went on to encourage the faithful, issuing a pastoral letter calling on Catholics to remain in Basilan and organizing a peace procession.
The cathedral bomb blast on April 13th was part of a wider attack on Isabela city, reportedly by at least 25 members of Abu Sayyaf who were dressed as police and soldiers.
Another bomb damaged the education department building, while other explosives, planted near a Catholic school and a judge’s house, were safely defused. The bomb that devastated the cathedral was hidden in a motorcycle parked at the back of the building.
In Bishop Jumoad’s letter to ACN, he described how the blast shattered the cathedral’s stained glass windows, took out half the ceiling and caused heavy damage to the structure. Administrative offices were also destroyed.
The total cost of rebuilding the cathedral, which was originally completed in 1970 and had a capacity for 1,400 worshipers, will be just over $100,000.
Buildings near the cathedral were also damaged, including the presbytery. Mass is now being celebrated in the nearby Catechetical Center.
A gun battle between terrorists and security forces later in the day brought the number of deaths to 10. Bensar Indama, the brother of Abu Sayyaf leader Furuju Indama, was among five militants who died, apparently in the first blast.
The region is no stranger to violence by extremists.
Five people died in July 2009 – including a five-year-old boy – when a bomb went off outside the cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Cotabato City, Mindanao, which is also in the south of the Philippines.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was blamed for the attack.
In 2009, ACN provided over $1.3 million to help the suffering Church in the Philippines.