Philippines Catholics on alert for Islamic State attacks

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has indicated it may have to cancel services during the Advent and Christmas periods following a bomb attack at a church on the first Sunday of Advent.

The blast happened on November 27 at a church in the city of Esperanza, on the island of Mindanao, and appears to have been timed to target worshippers leaving the church after Sunday Mass. Two people were injured in the blast. 


Just 24 hours later, another device, this one planted near to the US embassy in the capital, Manila, was safely defused, leading investigators to conclude that local terrorists of the Maute group, which is affiliated to so-called Islamic State, is commencing a bombing campaign in its stated pursuit of a caliphate on Mindanao. Two members of Maute were subsequently detained.

In a statement reacting to the Esperanza bombing, Fr Jerome Secillano, a spokesperson for the Filipino bishops conference said: “The Church, for practical purposes, will be more than willing to suspend any liturgical activity if there are threats to the safety of churchgoers.” 

On the possibility of Masses at this most important time in the Catholic year being suspended, he said: “If the security of faithful is threatened then we are prepared to do it.”

Fr Secillano went on to urge the faithful to be vigilant and to report any suspicious activity around churches and said that parish priests should liaise with police if they required additional security around churches, not least during Mass times as Advent continues.

This message was echoed by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, head of the Diocese of Catobato on Mindinao, who went on to urge the authorities to “ferret out those responsible and bring them to justice”.

The heightened state of alert among Catholics is mirrored across the Philippines, where security services have been instructed to increase their visible presence in an effort to thwart further bombings and other attacks.