As many of you know, through my family and denominational connections I have a special relationship with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. The UCCP has long stood for the poor, marginalized and oppressed in the Philippines despite generations of persecution by the government and military. This is the church of my family origin and why I am Presbyterian today. This past week one of the UCCP churches in North Cotabato on the island on Mindanao was bombed. And while this region is not a stranger to violence and conflict, this is the first time a UCCP church has been attacked in recent memory.
There is still much to learn about what happened and why, but there is always a need for faithful calls for peace.
In response to the Pikit church bombing, Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) issued a letter of support to UCCP.
We are shocked and saddened by the bombing of the UCCP Pikit in Pikit, Cotabato. Our hearts ache at the deaths of Felomena Nacario-Ferolin and Gina Cabiluna. We grieve with their families and friends. We pray for God’s healing for Virginia Manolid, Jeremias and Jerome Dandan, and other church members who were wounded. We ask God to strengthen and sustain the congregation and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in the aftermath of this attack and for the living of these days.
And this evening, my friend, colleague, and General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Bishop Reuel Marigza, has just released the following statement as the leader of the UCCP.
A CALL FOR PRAYER IN PIKIT
A CALL FOR PRAYER FOR PEACE
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Jesus (Matt. 5:43-44)
Last Wednesday, during the Midweek Prayer service, an M203 grenade was fired inside the UCCP-Pikit in Pikit, North Cotabato, resulting in the death of two of our worshipping members and caused injuries to several others. Two men riding in tandem aboard a motorcycle were seen speeding away from the church immediately after the bombing.
As this time, there is no evidence as to who were responsible and what their motives were. There are theories and speculations but no concrete proof as of yet.
In times like this, when emotions and passion tend to run high, we call for sobriety. Let us avoid speculations and a rush to judgment that are unwarranted and which may just lead to further escalation of tension and of violence.
In times like this when are are in the dark and do not know for certain who the perpetrators are, our best recourse is prayer. Prayer has always been the best refuge for believers, whether Christians, Muslims or of other faiths. Our God does not slumber or sleep and hears the cries of the oppressed.
One thing that unites us, whether Christians, Muslims or Lumads, is our high respect for houses of worship. Time and again those who work against peace and who would turn the conflict into a religious war have violated holy places by violence. This is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated nor countenanced by any group or religion. As in the past, we have called on our churches as sanctuaries of peace and have protested the putting up of detachments and camps in places of worship.
We are heartened in this hour of our grief, that as we condemn the attack on our church in the strongest term possible, that Muslim leaders in the area have joined us in condemning this despicable act.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters in the area are fully aware of the inter-faith and ecumenical posture of our Church and how our Church people and institutions, like the Southern Christian College, had been in the forefront of promoting peace in Mindanao.
This may be an opportune time to show to the world that we, as a people – whether Christians, Muslims or Lumads – long for peace by calling for an inter-faith, tri-people prayer rally for unity, justice and peace.
I ask our leaders in Mindanao, from Bishops to Conference Ministers and local church leaders to consider doing so. I call on our ecumenical and inter-faith partners to consider doing so.
I urge all our local churches throughout the Philippines to designate a time in their worship services this Sunday to remember those who died and those who are in need of healing and to pray for peace as well as for justice for the victims and comfort for their families.
We continue to implore on the authorities to speed up their investigations and to leave no stones unturned to bring the perpetrators to account for their crime. We call on witnesses to this dastardly act to surface and to cooperate with investigators.
Let us pray for God’s comfort upon those whose loved ones have perished. To the families of Felomena Nacario-Ferolin and Gina Cabiluna, we lift you up in prayer that God’s consoling presence dwell with you in these difficult times. For those who were injured, that God would heal your wounds, both physical and emotional. For those who have done this cowardly act, while you may escape human justice, you can never escape God’s judgment.
Let us pray for our beloved country that peace and justice may soon inhabit the land, where there is an end to senseless violence and injustice, and where instruments of violence may be converted into tools for the well-being of its people.
(Sgd.) Bishop REUEL NORMAN O. MARIGZA
UCCP General Secretary