Christian Families Torn by Philippine Bombings

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COTABATO, Philippines - Christians in countries like Iraq have faced increased attacks lately, but it's not only in Muslim nations where believers are seeing violence.

In the southern Philippines, Islamic radicals carried out a string of attacks against the population, including bombing a Christian church.

Pat Diaz said he never imagined that a typical Sunday morning for his family would turn out to be the greatest tragedy of their lives.

Diaz, his wife and three children were about to enter the Catholic cathedral in the Muslim-dominated city of Cotabato when a bomb exploded nearby, instantly killing his 12-year-old son, Prince Allen, and injuring his two other children. 

"I had thoughts about death," Diaz said. "The Lord prepared me for this during the message last Sunday."

"Abraham was asked to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and (I thought) 'when this happens to me, will I give my son' and I said yes," he continued. "But what I could not accept is why my son died in such a senseless manner at such an early age."

Muslim rebels are being blamed for the violent attacks, but most people believe there are underlying political motives behind the chaos.

Authorities said recent bombings in two other cities could be the work of al Qaida connected terrorist groups or a local separatist group called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MILF has attacked and burned Christian villages in the past, mainly in retaliation against the Philippine government.

Edwin DeGracia of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral condemns the terrorist acts. He said the bombings are motivated by politics, not a religious war between Muslims and Christians.

"There are people who want to create the scenario of war between Christians and Muslims," he said. "But through the years we have co-existed in harmony, and so this is not a conflict that is based on religion."

DeGracia said there has been a dramatic decline in people attending church.

"But we are here to continue to encourage the people to be stronger in their faith especially at this difficult time," he added.

Pastor Jewel Lumasag has lived in Cotabato City all his life. He said it is frustrating that a string of kidnappings and bombings have remained unsolved through the years.

"I think our government lacks the political will to act and solve these problems," he said. "It is sad to hear from witnesses who have seen the rebels buying their ammunition from the police and the military. It's all about power."

The violence has caused economic trouble as merchants and businessmen leave the area. Local residents are also ready to flee the city.

"I loved this city but because of what happened, not for me, but for my family," Diaz said. "We are moving out of this city and I am not even promoting this city."

The city legal officer, Naguib Sinarimbo, said the government is taking measures to try to restore peace and order.

Meanwhile, in the midst of the hostilities, Christians have become more determined to sow seeds of hope through God's word. 

DeGracia said he would not have survived if not for his mission to preach the word of God and encourage the people to stand on their faith.

"I dream of this city where there will be peace, justice and equality," he said. "And even if there will only be a few righteous people who will remain and pray, I believe it is Christ who will change this place."

*Originally published July 18, 2009 

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