(ZENIT News / Marawi, 12.04.2023).- The beginning of Advent in the Philippines was marred by tragedy as a group of Christians was brutally attacked during the celebration of the Eucharist. A severe bombing in the gymnasium of Mindanao State University in Marawi resulted in the death of 4 individuals and left over 40 injured. The explosion occurred during Mass at this significant educational institution in the province of Lanao del Sur, situated in the Muslim autonomous region of Bangsamoro.
The attack is attributed to the local Islamist group Daulah Islamiyah-Maute, which rejects the proposed Bangsamoro solution. This group had recently suffered the loss of 11 militants in a Filipino army operation. It is presumed that the explosion in the gymnasium of the University of Mindanao, one of the country’s major universities, was caused by a grenade or a rudimentary bomb.
With a population of approximately 200,000, mostly Muslims, Marawi still bears the deep scars of the five-month war in 2017. During that period, the Maute Group, linked to the Islamic State, took control of the city. Over a thousand people, including civilians, lost their lives in the clashes between Islamist militias and the Filipino army, which regained control on October 23, 2017. During that time, the local Christian community was directly targeted, with the vicar general, Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, and numerous parishioners from the Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora being held hostage and released after four months. However, promises of reconstruction for Marawi have largely gone unfulfilled, with tens of thousands of people still living in makeshift shelters since then.
Monsignor Pablo Virgilio David, president of the Episcopal Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), emphasized the coincidence between the attack and the first Sunday of Advent, celebrated today by the Church. Msgr. David stated that the perpetrators “chose precisely this occasion to detonate a bomb.” In his statement, the bishop asserted that “surely, the killers who perpetrated such a horrendous act also have loved ones. What would it take for them to see in the families of their victims their own families?”. He urged not only the denunciation but also the rejection of this violence as a means of seeking redress by all Filipinos who love peace.
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, archbishop emeritus of Cotabato and a member of the Council of leaders of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, also commented on the Marawi massacre. He described the bombing as “the most terrible and harmful terrorist crime against innocent believers on a sacred Christian day.” Quevedo called on law enforcement to quickly identify those responsible for the explosion.
The attack in Marawi has elicited condemnation and solidarity internationally, reminding the global community of the importance of defending religious freedom and promoting peace amid cultural and religious diversity.