Pope Francis Prays for Victims of Bombing of Catholic Mass in the Philippines

Police in the Philippines said Monday that they had identified at least two suspects in the terrorist attack.

Governor Mamintal Bombit Alonto Adiong, Jr. second from left, talks with law enforcers at the site of an explosion in Marawi city, southern Philippines on Sunday Dec. 3, 2023. A powerful explosion believed caused by a bomb ripped through a Catholic Mass and killed several people and wounded dozens of others Sunday in a predominantly Muslim city in the southern Philippines, officials said.
Governor Mamintal Bombit Alonto Adiong, Jr. second from left, talks with law enforcers at the site of an explosion in Marawi city, southern Philippines on Sunday Dec. 3, 2023. A powerful explosion believed caused by a bomb ripped through a Catholic Mass and killed several people and wounded dozens of others Sunday in a predominantly Muslim city in the southern Philippines, officials said. (photo: Provincial Government of Lanao Del Sur - Public Information Office / AP)

Pope Francis offered his condolences after at least four people were killed and 54 injured in a bombing at a Catholic Mass on Sunday in the Philippines.

The Pope sent a condolence telegram on Dec. 3 expressing his spiritual closeness to all affected by the bombing of the 7 a.m. Mass held in a gymnasium on the campus of Mindanao State University in the southern Philippines.

Police in the Philippines said Monday that they had identified at least two suspects in the terrorist attack. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing in a telegram message on Dec. 3, a claim that the country’s military has said it is working to verify.

The attack took place in the city of Marawi, which, unlike the rest of the predominantly Catholic Philippines, has a significant Muslim majority. Marawi is located on the island of Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines, and is home to several Islamist militant groups fighting against the Philippine government.

Bishop Edwin Angot de la Peña, the head of the territorial prelature of Marawi, has said that the victims were four Catholic students who were leaders and volunteers in the university’s Catholic community. The bishop added on Dec. 4 that out of the 54 people injured in the bombing, seven were still in the hospital in critical condition. 

“They hit us in the heart, that is, during the Eucharist, the highest moment of our faith. There is so much fear now, but faith accompanies us and supports us. Even in this moment of tribulation, we feel the presence of the Lord,” Bishop de la Peña told Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies.

The bishop also commented on the prompt and widespread solidarity and closeness expressed by local Muslim communities in the wake of the attack.

“Even the first responders, who transported the injured to the hospital, and the doctors themselves, all people of the Muslim faith, gave us concrete help and have been spent on the injured. Others are supporting the families of the victims,” he said. “These gestures give us hope and tell us that this brutal and senseless violence will not have the last word, it will not succeed in demolishing the good works built over many years.”

The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Romeo Brawner, has said that he suspects the bombing could have been a retaliatory attack for recent military operations against the local extremist groups, Dawlah Islamiyah-Maute and Abu Sayyaf, both of which have links to the Islamic State.

As a precaution after the bombing, de la Peña has asked local Catholics to stay home on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8. A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary will still be carried through the streets Friday to mark the solemnity, but instead of the usual crowded procession, Catholics have been asked to place candles in their windows and pray the rosary at home.

“We entrust ourselves in a special way to the Virgin Mary,” the bishop said, noting that the attack took place on the first Sunday of Advent.

Pope Francis’ condolence telegram was addressed to de la Peña. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who sent the telegram on the Pope’s behalf, said Pope Francis “joins you in commending the souls of those who died to almighty God’s loving mercy, and he implores the divine gifts of healing and consolation upon the injured and bereaved.”

“With prayers that Christ, the Prince of Peace, will grant to all the strength to turn from violence and overcome every evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), His Holiness cordially imparts his blessing as a pledge of strength and consolation in the Lord,” the telegram said.

The Pope also said he was praying for the victims and their families in his Angelus message on Sunday. 

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and current bishop of Kalookan, reflected on the spiritual significance of the bombing victims’ deaths during the sacrifice of the Mass.

“We take comfort in the thought that they have participated in the passion of Christ, that their blood has been poured out as a libation like the blood of Christ. They professed their faith at that last Mass that they attended, especially in the ‘communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,’” Bishop David said.

“Through the same Eucharist which we celebrated with them on this day of the Lord, we have united ourselves with them by the same faith that we profess, and in the same grace of baptism through which we participate in the life-giving death of Christ,” he said.

“We pray for the eternal repose of those who have died and for the healing of those who have been injured. We unite ourselves spiritually with their families and draw strength and consolation from our faith in Christ who will ‘restore all things to himself, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col 1:20),’” the bishop said.

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