ZAMBOANGA CITY — Just as they were preparing to hear Ash Wednesday Mass, Catholics in Lamitan City, Basilan province were greeted by desecrated images of saints and other icons in two chapels in the city.
The vandalism shocked many of the faithful.
Fr. Edwin Rivero, spokesperson of the Santa Isabel Prelate of Basilan province, said church staff was preparing for Mass when officials learned about what happened in the chapels of San Isidro Labrador in the city’s Sta. Clara village and San Antonio de Padua in the village of Maganda.
“We are shocked and disturbed,” said Rivero, who is also parish priest of Saint Anthony parish. “We don’t have any idea who are behind this,” he said.
He said all religious items in the chapel had been trashed. A life-size image of San Isidro was “beheaded.”
An image of the Virgin Mary, one of the most beloved by Catholic faithful, was thrown out of the chapel, said Rivero. “There were traces that it was hit or trampled upon many times,” he said.
At the village of Maganda, some 18 km from the Sta. Clara chapel, the San Antonio de Padua chapel was also desecrated, said Lamitan Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay.
Furigay said the desecration happened on Tuesday night. “The culprits removed all religious icons and threw them out of the chapel,” Furigay said.
Furigay said he had sought the help of police to arrest those behind the attack and secure chapels and churches in Lamitan.
Rivero said he believed that those behind the two cases were trying to sow fear and anger in the city.
“I believe they belong to one group,” Rivero said. “I’m worried about the lives of people living near the parish as their safety is also at stake,” he added.
He appealed to all Catholics to stay calm and pray for peace in the city. “Let us allow the investigators to dig deeper and to go after those who were behind these incidents. Let us not allow our emotions to run high over us,” Rivero said.
Col. Domingo Gobway, commander of Joint Task Force Basilan, however, said it was still too early to link the two cases to terrorism.