Irish missionaries have condemned the actions of an Islamist terrorist group who detonated two bombs at a cathedral in the Philippines killing 20 people and leaving over 100 injured.
Fr Shay Cullen, who has worked in the Philippines for 50 years defending human rights under the PREDA Foundation, said he was “shocked”.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic from Olongapo City, he said the bombing on Jolo Island was “very bad” and that the area where it occurred “is the most violent island in southern Philippines”.
Philippines-based extremist group Abu Sayyaf is believed to be the culprits as they have aligned themselves with ISIS, who claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack.
“Everyone is shocked, there were two bombs and it was well planned – obviously a terrorist group, who specifically targeted a Catholic cathedral,” said Fr Cullen.
He added that these incidents are generally perpetrated by a very small minority of individuals.
The first bomb exploded inside Jolo Cathedral during Mass and the second blast occurred outside the compound.
The island has been plagued with violence over the years with two priests and a bishop, all Oblates of Mary Immaculate, being killed in the dicastery since 1997.
Columban missionary Fr Seán Coyle who spent decades in the Philippines, only returning in 2017, said: “I am deeply shocked, any attack on a place of worship and while people are praying is utterly horrible. There is a history of violence in that region.”
Fr Seán said he doesn’t believe any Irish missionary has been stationed on Jolo Island, which he described as “missionary territory”, but added that in nearby Mindanao, where several Irish Columbans have served, “there has been an awful lot of violence in the last 50 years”.
The church attack came nearly a week after more than 1.5 million Muslims in the predominantly Catholic nation overwhelmingly approved a more powerful autonomous region in the south.
They voted for the new region called Bangsamoro, or nation of Moros, in hopes of ending nearly five decades of separatist rebellion and reining in a new wave of Islamist extremism.