Vatican City (Fides Service) – Despite an armed escort for his protection in the area infested with armed groups and fighting between army and rebels, Bishop Angelito Lampon Apostolic Vicar of Jolo goes ahead with this pastoral ministry. Jolo is a mainly Muslim area and the stronghold of Abu Sayyaf rebels known for kidnapping and murder in the southern Philippines.
His predecessor Bishop Benjamin De Jesus, assassinated in February 1997, is one of many martyrs in southern Philippines who have paid with their life witness to the faith and commitment to mission. Since that tragedy the Philippines government has imposed an armed escort on the Bishop and stationed army troops at churches and Catholic centres.
Bishop Lampon told Fides Service: “In Jolo, Tawi-Tawi and the Sulu archipelago there is a situation of widespread violence. Rebels are active and they often clash with the army. We try to carry on daily life and ministry with humility and prudence, striving to keep alight the lamp of faith in this mainly Muslim region”.
Assistance to the Catholic community, the Bishop explains "consists mainly in the administration of the Sacraments, running Catholic schools and a Catholic radio in Jolo, most important for the life of our Vicariate. We try to serve our people despite constant danger. My faith helps me carry out the mission entrusted to me, as the Bishops who went before me, like Bishop Benjamin De Jesus a man of peace who gave his life for the faith.”
Bishop Lampon tells Fides Service about the life of the small Catholic community in Jolo, about 24,000 among one million Muslims: “People live in fear: a number of Catholics have been killed, others kidnapped. At present two Catholic doctors are in the hands of kidnappers, they were taken hostage on 3 September. Their families are in deep anguish and we are trying to negotiate the men's release. We have no choice but to go ahead despite the difficult situation. However our faith is strong”.
Life on the island is militarised and terror is tangible. The Bishops explains: "I am forced to have an escort of soldiers to protect me day and night. There are military guards permanently outside the Cathedral and the school. The government provides this protection to unarmed civilians after the violence against the Church in this region in recent years”.
“The mission of the Church in this situation – Bishop Lampon notes – is to build peace. We are directly involved in interreligious dialogue. We are in contact with Muslim groups at the local level and we try to help the peace process in the region, acting as mediators between government and rebels, trying to build good relations between Christians and Muslims”.
The Bishop concludes: “Hope never dies, but it is all we have left. Our hope is that peace will be obtained through dialogue and relations of trust. The main problem is posed by small groups of Muslim extremists which foment hatred and fight for the Islamisation of the territory. There are also Christian groups which regard the Muslims with too much diffidence, judging them to be incapable of promoting peace: this is also a mistake”. PA (Fides Service 26/9/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 529)