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20 February 2006

Faith Under Fire: Christians Refuse to Give-In to Terrorists

CWNews.com A deadly attack leaves six Christians dead in the southern Philippines. The incident took place on the island of Jolo earlier this month. It devastated one Christian community.

But some say it could be one of the last desperate acts of a radical Muslim movement that's losing influence in the area.

Bullet holes fired from an M-14 rifle penetrated a house and killed 19-year-old Emma as she was sleeping on the side of her family’s hut.

The six people died in this Christian community when more than 20 gunmen sprayed bullets at the huts at midnight of February 3rd.

Emma was just one of the fatalities. She was a scholar about to graduate from high school. Her neighbor Fernando Etrata fondly recounts how Emma shared with him her dream to become a nurse.

Fernando told me, “Emma would always tell me, ‘I’d like to be a nurse so I can help Papa and Mama.’"

Emma wanted to alleviate her family’s poverty. But now that dream is gone.

Fernando says he cannot believe how such violence could happen in an area where he and his family have lived peacefully for 20 years.

One thing is certain, he says, they were targeted because they were Christians.

Fernando said to me, “One of my neighbors who survived said that before the attack, the gunmen asked her how many Christians lived in the compound. After she pointed to the huts of Christian families, the gunmen started firing at the houses.”

For more than 30 years, this kind of violence existed in Jolo, a Muslim province in the southernmost Philippines. Most of the time, Christians were the targets. Bishop Angelito Lampon, who is Bishop of Jolo, says grenades have been thrown at the church on different occasions, in the past.

Lampon’s predecessor, co-ministers and other church members were murdered. But amidst ongoing persecution, the Christians have become more resilient and strong in their faith.

Bishop Lampon said, “When life is threatened, as we are in difficult situations like these, it hones our faith. In all of these, we thank God for His grace.”

But Jolo residents, mostly Muslims are tired of the violence. They believe it is time for Jolo to rise up from being the poorest province in the country. While there are those who strongly support the global Islamic renewal, the people of Jolo believe that peace comes with development. And with peace and development, there is a new hope for this region.

The Sultan of Jolo is Sultan Pulalun. The sultan himself initiated a rally in a show of support called the Balikatan. Balikatan is the Philippine RP– U.S. Joint Forces Agreement where American soldiers help bring development to the island.

The Muslims in Jolo are known to resort to violence in demonstrating their sentiments. But today they have gone out to the streets in a peaceful expression of their support to the R.P.-U.S. joint exercises in the fight against terrorism.

Sultan Pulalun is Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo. He told me,
“I support the RP- U.S. Balikatan because the intention is good. The Americans will build schools, hospitals, roads and bring medicines. Now who would not be happy.”

In the aftermath of tragedy comes a new optimism, a spirit of unity and reconciliation—when that happens, the senseless deaths of innocent civilians like Emma are not in vain.

18:20 Posted in PHILIPPINES | Permalink | Comments (0) |  Facebook |

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