Christians 'face growing extremist persecution' in mainly Muslim part of Philippines

(Photo: REUTERS / Romeo Ranoco)President Benigno Aquino (2nd R) and visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre L, back) applaud as they witness the exchange of documents after the signing ceremony of a final peace pact at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila March 27, 2014. The Philippines and its largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), signed a final peace pact, ending about 45 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people in the country's south. ending about 45 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people in the country's south. In photo from L-R: Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles. Pictured in front are (L-R): MILF peace panel chief Mohagher Iqbal, Malaysian Peace Facilitator Tengku Dato Abdul Ghafar Tenku Mohammed and Government of the Philippines Peace Panel Chief Negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer.

Christians in a predominantly Muslim part of the mainly Catholic Philippines are targets of extremist Islamist groups and face persecution similar to their fellow believers in the Middle East, says a missionary priest.

"The situation is a worrying one," said Father Sebastiano D'Ambra in a interview with Aid to the Church in Need, referring to the anti-Christian attacks that took place on Christmas Day in the south of Mindanao.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Sebastiano D'Ambra highlighted fears of radicalization in parts of the Philippines after 14 people were killed during attacks on Christmas Day.

The attack included a grenade being thrown at a chapel.

"It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case.

"Without doubt our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups," said D'Ambra who belongs to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E.) congregation.

"In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq," said the Italian priest who has been in the Philippines nearly 50 years and is an experienced missionary.

The attacks last month in the mainly Muslim region of Bangsamoro in the south of Mindanao saw people killed when Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked villages in the area.

In 2014, BIFF pledged allegiance to Daesh (ISIS).

Reports suggest the organization that terrorizes Christians, Muslims who do not fall in line with and those from other faiths and it has a growing number of supporters in Mindanao said Aid to the Church in Need.

D'Ambra "Radical groups like the BIIF, which have absolutely no desire to negotiate with [the government], are taking advantage of the instability of the situation to engage in terrorist disturbances."

The founder of a group known as the Silsilah movement in 1984, D'Ambra works alongside the local Muslim community to promote interreligious dialogue.

He said: "The growth of radicalism throughout the world is making our mission more difficult and still more necessary than ever at the present time.

"Even some of the Islamic leaders who are working together with us are becoming discouraged.

"We need to have more courage and more faith. "It is a long process, but I am convinced that through dialogue it is possible to bring about real change and create a climate of mercy just as Pope Francis is inviting us to do in this Holy Year."

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