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Catholic bishop calls for unity after beheading of religious images in southern Philippines

Images of Catholic saints and other religious icons were found to have been desecrated in at least two village chapels in Basilan

The Catholic bishop in the Prelature of Isabela de Basilan appealed for peace and unity after unidentified individuals entered a village chapel and beheaded religious images.

“Let us continue to focus on unity in our place,” said Bishop Leo Dalmao, prelate of Isabela in the southern Philippine province of Basilan.

“We should be very careful about this (incident) not to destroy the efforts of the people, of the Church leaders, of civil society, and of the government to continue the cause of unity and peace,” he said.

Images of Catholic saints and other religious icons were found to have been desecrated in at least two village chapels in the city of Lamitan in Basilan province on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

“We are shocked and disturbed,” Father Edwin Rivero, parish priest of Saint Anthony parish, was quoted in a news report that appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“We don’t have any idea who are behind this,” said the priest, adding that the religious items in the chapels had been trashed while a life-size image of San Isidro was “beheaded.”

An image of the Virgin Mary was also reported to have been thrown out of the chapel. “There were traces that it was hit or trampled upon many times,” he said in the newspaper report.

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The priest said those behind the incident might be trying to sow fear and anger. “I’m worried about the lives of people living near the parish as their safety is also at stake,” he said.

Father Rivero appealed to the Catholic faithful to stay calm and pray for peace, and to let authorities to look into the incident and find those behind the act.

“Let us not allow our emotions to run high over us,” said the priest.

A religious image is found beheaded in one village chapel in the province of Basilan on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Dxno-Radyo Komunidad)

Call for sobriety

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, meanwhile, condemned the incident.

“We are quite distressed with the news of vandalism that happened in two village chapels in the Prelature of Basilan especially it happened on a very holy day for us Catholics,” said Jonathan Luciano, national director of ACN in the Philippines.

He said the organization has been a partner of the prelature for a long time “and we have been supporting their evangelization and pastoral efforts especially dialogue with other religions.”

“We pray for love, understanding, and tolerance especially in this season of Lent and that this incident will not happen again,” said Luciano.

“May the Lord touch the hearts of the perpetrators, and we pray for love and peace to prevail,” he said.

Basilan Governor Jim Salliman said described the desecration of the religious images as “atrocious and discriminatory.”

“To our Catholic Faithful, let this be known to you that I stand with you, as your governor, in your sentiment,” said Salliman, a Muslim.

He said the government “despise and condemn in the highest terms the act of defilement.”

“We raise our voice for justice. We demand the relevant authorities to conduct an in-depth investigation on the intent of the perpetrators,” added the governor.

He also called for “sobriety,” saying that the communities in Basilan “have already gone far in the road to peace and development through good governance.”

“We must stay united against any form of evil plot to waste it. The peace in our communities is everybody’s concern,” said Salliman.

Religious images are seen left on the road outside a Catholic village chapel in the province of Basilan on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Dxno-Radyo Komunidad)

In December 2019, a bomb exploded near a church in the city of Cotabato, also in the southern Philippines, during an evening Mass. At least 22 people were injured in the explosion.

In January of the same year, 27 people were killed and more than 700 others were wounded when two bombs exploded during Sunday mass at the cathedral on Jolo Island.

Earlier in May 2017, gunmen claiming to be members of the so-called Islamic State, attacked an seized the city of Marawi, sparking a five-month battle that left more than 1,000 people dead.

The Philippines has bee plagued by violent insurgencies, including a separatist uprising in Mindanao that has killed about 100,000 people.

Although a landmark peace deal with the largest of the rebel groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was sealed in 2019, a number of factions continue to wage war against the government.

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