MANILA, March 4, 2014—Being a shepherd in a Muslim dominated territory is a very challenging task, a Catholic bishop said.
Bishop Angelito Lampon of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo said it has always been a challenge for him to be in Jolo, the capital town of Sulu Province.
Lampon describes the situation in his area as “medyo masalimuot” (quite complex) as he emphasized the need for the Catholic church, local government units, the police and the Marines to work together.
“We have to work harder and be pro-active with the required political will from local government officials, (to put an end to the kidnap-for-ransom activities),” the 64-year old prelate said.
However, he also cautioned everyone to be extra careful as the possibility exists that armed intervention or military operations may end up in rido or clan war.
Lampon is one of the country’s two bishops from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The other OMI bishop, Archbishop of Cotabato Orlando Beltran Cardinal Quevedo was recently appointed by Pope Francis as the first Cardinal from Mindanao.
Lampon said still unidentified armed men involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities have again made their presence felt when two Moslem girls, aged nine and 11 years old from Notre Dame of Jolo School for Girls were kidnapped yesterday morning.
“Last February 16, our special minister for the Eucharist Engr. Bonifacio and his wife Claire Salinas were kidnapped at 5:30 a.m.,” the bishop said.
There are about 16 kidnap-for-ransom victims kept in a town somewhere in the province, some of whom were taken about two years ago. Several of the victims were foreign bird watchers.
Lampon was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Jolo on November 21, 1997 by Pope John Paul II. He was at that time working at the OMI Generalate in Rome. He succeeded fellow OMI Bishop Benjamin D. De Jesus who was shot dead outside the Mt. Carmel Cathedral in downtown Jolo.
Two other Oblate missionaries have been killed while serving the Vicariate Apostolic of Jolo in separate incidents, the most recent of which was in 2008. Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda resisted kidnappers and was stabbed and hacked dead in Tabawan town.
The Oblates have maintained close relations with Tabawan residents despite the incident. It was learned later Fr. Roda’s killers were not legitimate residents of Tabawan town.
Fr. Benjie Inocencio was also killed in Sulu province in 2000.
Lampon said they will remain in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces and serve the communities.
“We will celebrate our 75th Anniversary in September this year,” he added.
Lampon, who serves as chairman of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue, said the Bishop-Ulama Conference have been engaged in dialogue for the more than a decade.
However, with the rash of kidnap-for-ransom incidents which have been almost a regular fare, he acknowledged it is in a way difficult to just sit down and talk.
Being bishop to a place where 97% of the residents are Moslems is doubly hard because the Apostolic Vicariate still subsidizes the six parishes and five mission stations.
The ecclesial province also extends services to physically-challenged children, most of who are Moslems.
Despite the difficulties and security concerns that go along with their priestly functions, the bishop looks forward to a more peaceful vicariate which he described as rich in natural resources and potential tourist spots. (Melo M. Acuna)