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Prelate to gov’t, AFP: Avoid collateral damage in clash vs. BIFF, ASG

Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin M. Bagaforo (CBCP News File Photo)

COTABATO City, Mar. 2, 2015—A prelate from Mindanao has pleaded with government and military authorities to avoid causing collateral damage in the ongoing clearing operations launched recently against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao and of the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) in Sulu.

Safety first

In an interview with Catholic Radyo Veritas, Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo has echoed the Church’s appeal to government officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to ensure the safety of civilians and their properties in mounting military offensive in the conflict areas.

The prelate said several roads between Cotabato City and Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat had already been blocked due to the intensified clash between AFP and BIFF.

Bracing for evacuation

Colin, meanwhile, said the Cotabato archdiocese is already preparing for the possible evacuation of locals at risk of being caught in the crossfire.

According to a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) article today, the AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ordered troops to press the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF to downgrade the two groups’ capability to inflict harm on civilians.

Lessen violence

Catapang reportedly ordered field commanders in Sulu and Maguindanao provinces to pursue the two groups without letup but to avoid collateral damage involving civilians.

“I want to significantly lessen the bandits’ ability to carry out violent attacks against civilians before I retire in July 2015,” PDI quoted Catapang as saying.

Protect civilians

“We can protect the civilian populace by isolating them from armed groups, and we also need accurate information from the people themselves,” he added.

BIFF members are believed to be among those allegedly responsible for the deaths of 44 commandos of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) in what has been dubbed the “Mamasapano Massacre” in Jan. 30. (Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)

Time to pray for peace!—missionary brother

NORZAGARAY, Bulacan, March 2, 2015—For a missionary brother working among the Dumagats of Sierra Madre in Bulacan, the “Prayer for Peace” issued recently by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is a timely reminder for Catholic Filipinos to keep their faith in peace alive amid the many conflicts besetting the country.

Br. Martin Francisco, BSMP distributes school bags, school supplies and slippers to over 100 Dumagat children. (Photo taken from Francisco's Facebook)

It’s about time

“It’s about time we pray for our Christian brothers, especially in the Middle East, who are suffering persecution left and right in the hands of religious extremists,” Br. Martin Francisco, a missionary of the Blessed Sacrament of the Poor (BSMP), indigenous people (IP)’s rights activist, and environmentalist, told CBCP New in an interview.

According to him, the prayer, which he noted seems to have been inspired by that of St. Francis of Assisi, the unofficial patron of peacemakers, also enjoins the faithful to look back to and reflect on the tragic event that left 44 commandos of the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Special Action Force (SAF) dead at Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25.

Giving up on peace?

“With almost everyone calling for an all-out war against the rebels to avenge their deaths, it has become obvious that many Filipinos have lost or are starting to lose hope in peace,” added Francisco, who has been in the mountains of Bulacan for years doing mission work.

In view of the lawlessness that continues to endanger the country’s as well as the world’s peace, the Philippine Church’s policy-making body issued a “Prayer for Peace,” entrusting the Filipino faithful to the mercy and compassion of the “Lord of Peace.”

Calming anxieties

In a letter dated Feb. 23, Monday, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, CBCP president, requests pastors of the country’s various dioceses and parishes, to recite a proposed “Oratio Imperata for Peace” starting Mar. 1 until Mar. 28, 2015, before the post-Communion prayer in each Eucharistic celebration, in the hope that it can “calm the anxieties of our long suffering people and touch the hearts of the enemies of peace.”

He explains, “The situation of the country and the world right now calls on all of us to turn to the Lord in humble supplication and gather our people to pray.”

Grief, war, terror

Given the grief caused by the tragedy in Mamasapano, as well as the war and terror threatening the family of nations, the prelate stresses the best contribution to the nation and to the world the Church has at her disposal is to encourage people to pray.

Quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14, Villegas shares, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Up to bishops

Villegas makes it clear, however, that the decision whether to consider his proposal rests on the better judgment and pastoral wisdom of his brother priests.

According to him, the authority to declare an Oratio Imperata for the various dioceses is the sole prerogative of the local ordinaries.

“If this proposal will merit your pastoral approval, I humbly request that you issue a circular to the clergy and Catholic faithful in your jurisdiction to make this prayer for peace mandatory,” he adds.

Text of prayer

The Oratio Imperata for Peace reads as follows:

Before the Post Communion Prayer in every Mass
Lord of Peace, we come to You in our need
Create in us an awareness
of the massive forces of violence and terrorism
that threaten our world today.
Grant us a sense of urgency
to activate the forces of goodness, of justice,
of love and of peace in our communities.
Where there is armed conflict,
let us stretch out our arms to our
brothers and sisters.
Where there is abundance and luxury,
let there be simple lifestyle and sharing.
Where there is poverty and misery,
let there be dignified living and constant striving for just structures.
Where there is selfish ambition, let there be humble service.
Where there is injustice, let there be humble atonement.
Where there is despair, let there be hope in the Good News.
Where there are wounds of division, let there be unity and wholeness.
Where there are lies and deceit, let your Truth set us all of us free.
Where there are thoughts of vengeance, let there be healing and forgiveness.
Help us to be committed to the Gospel of peace.
In spite of our differences in faith traditions and ethnic roots,
Teach us Your spirit of mercy and compassion.
For it is only in loving imitation of you, Lord of Peace,
that we can discover the healing springs of life
that will bring about new birth to our earth
a new era of peace
and a new harmony among all
Forever and ever. Amen.

(Raymond A. Sebastián/CBCP News)