Is Mindanao another Iraq?

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By Marta Petrosillo and Clare Creegan
CHRISTIANS in the Philippine island of Mindanao are suffering “exactly the same” violence and intimidation as in Iraq, according to a long-serving missionary in the country.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Sebastiano D’Ambra highlighted fears of radicalisation in parts of the Philippines after 14 people were killed during attacks on Christmas Day, which included a grenade being thrown at a chapel.
Fr D’Ambra, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) congregation, said: “In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq.
“It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case.
“Without doubt, our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups.”
The attacks last month in the mainly Muslim region of Bangsamoro in the south of Mindanao saw nine people killed when Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked villages in the area.
Two more died following an explosion in a Christian chapel in North Cotabato.
In 2014, BIFF pledged allegiance to Daesh (ISIS) and reports suggest the terrorist organisation has a growing number of supporters in Mindanao.
Fr D’Ambra, who has worked as a missionary in the Philippines for almost 50 years, said the Islamist terrorist group had taken advantage of the uncertainty ahead of the 2016 government elections.
He said: “…radical groups like the BIIF, which have absolutely no desire to negotiate with [the government], are taking advantage of the instability of the situation to engage in terrorist disturbances.”
Fr D’Ambra, who founded the Silsilah movement in 1984, works alongside the local Muslim community to promote interreligious dialogue.
He said: “The growth of radicalism throughout the world is making our mission more difficult and still more necessary than ever at the present time.
“Even some of the Islamic leaders who are working together with us are becoming discouraged.
“We need to have more courage and more faith.
“It is a long process, but I am convinced that through dialogue it is possible to bring about real change and create a climate of mercy just as Pope Francis is inviting us to do in this Holy Year.”

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.

Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in more than 140 countries throughout the world.

The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 176 languages and more than 51 million copies have been distributed all over the world.

Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information, 020 8661 5161 or Clare Creegan, Digital Media and Press Officer on 020 8661 5175.

John Pontifex
Head of Press & Information
Direct dial: 020 8661 5161

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