Burglars set fire to a church on the Filipino island of Mindanao last week as they sought to make their escape after stealing belongings in the adjacent student accommodation. The church door, lectern, and altar cloths of St Justin the Martyr Episcopal Church were badly damaged in the blaze. As they sped away, the burglars fired warning shots, but one student managed to raise the alarm at the security office of the nearby university of Southern Mindanao and one of the attackers was detained by police. He has since been charged.
Brother Gilbert Martinez, the Administrative Secretary to the Bishop of Davao, told ACNS that the attack took place in the early hours of Saturday 17 February. “Student residents woke up to thick smoke and sound of gunfire in a threatening night that bewildered them no end,” he said. “In this act of desecration, the main door of the church was burned as thieves broke in. The lectern and altar cloths were not spared as these sanctuary appointments and blessed linens were contemptuously burned inside the church.”
The thieves attempted to break into the neighbouring rectory and student centre, but were unable to gain access through the security grills on the windows. They used an up-turned table to climb to the first floor of the student centre. They made away with a laptop, mobile phone, ATM card and cash.
As the students woke up, the thieves jumped through a window to escape. “The burglars fired two gunshots as warning to the pursuing students not to follow them as they made their escape,” Martinez said. “Fortunately . . . one of the students managed to run towards the guardhouse of nearby University of Southern Mindanao and alerted the security officer.
The fire-damaged lectern at St Julian The Martyr Church on the island of Mindanao.
Photo: Diocese of Davao
“Police officers began their search for the burglars. One of the burglars was caught not far away and was clearly identified by one of the student victims through the distinctive design of the black cap he was wearing, while his accomplice managed to escape.”
Police have charged the one suspect and the search continues for the other attacker.
St Justin the Martyr Episcopal Church, is a local church of the Diocese of Davao, part of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. In addition to serving the spiritual needs of the local community, it runs a student ministry at the nearby University of Southern Mindanao. The Church has a rectory and student centre near the University of Southern Mindanao, one of the largest state universities in the island of Mindanao, Philippines. Its priest, the Very Reverend Shirlee Ann V Casiano, also serves as the Dean of the Episcopal Deanery of Northeastern Mindanao and the Visayas.
Martinez commented: “It is lamentable that at this time some people no longer respect holy ground and spare sacred places like churches from desecration setting it on fire in their act of arson and looting”. He said that the St Justin’s priest, Shirlee Ann Casiano, “hoped that this incident will not happen again as the church had been a spiritual home for the community and students.”