07/06/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Papal appeal, a source of hope for Christians in Cotabato, Cathedral parish priest says

Clergyman deplores the atmosphere of fear which has made the Christian community worry about more attacks. Benedict XVI’s words during the Angelus are a source of “strength and courage.” MILF rebels conduct a parallel investigation to find attack’s authors.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Christians in Cotabato are living in “an atmosphere of fear” because they feel “threatened and are afraid of other attacks.” At the same time the Filipino military and local government are working on a “security plan” to avoid new attacks, this according to Fr Edwin De Gracia, parish priest at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cotabato (Mindanao), who stressed the value of the message issued yesterday by Benedict XVI during the Angelus which is source of “courage and hope” for future.

Yesterday a bomb placed near a food store outside Immaculate Conception Cathedral exploded as Archbishop Orlando Quevedo was conducting Mass, killing five people including a woman street vendor, a security guard stationed outside the church and a three-year-old child, not to mention tens of wounded.

Today Notre Dame University in Cotabato cancelled classes as a sign of protest against the attack which left one of its students dead, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Philippines said in a statement.

“We are still working to increase security around the cathedral and its immediate area,” Father De Gracia told AsiaNews. “This has brought together the military, government and local NGOs. We want to rebuild an atmosphere of trust and a new cooperative relationship with the Muslim community.”

The Catholic priest warns against panicking. Instead the focus should be on the papal message which transmits “strength and courage.”

“Benedict XVI has called on us not let terror, violence and the logic of death win,” the cathedral parish priest said.

“His words are important because they urge Christians and Muslims to work together, despite their differences. We must go beyond fear and restore an atmosphere of dialogue to build a future together.”

In the meantime the investigation continues. According to the military, international organisations linked to Islamic terrorism like Jemaah Islamiyah (the group behind the 2002 Bali massacre) might be involved.

For its part the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rejected charges by the Filipino military that it was involved in the attack.

In a statement by Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, the group said: “We have began our own investigation and we also wanted to know who was behind the bombing or whether the military or other group opposed to the peace process was involved in the attack.”

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