Church coordinating with police, military re threats vs Pope

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 15 Jan) – Church officials here are in regular contact with local police and military officials to see if there is a security threat from Mindanao-based terror groups against Pope Francis who will arrive in Manila Thursday afternoon.

Monsignor Elmer Abacahin said the Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese has formed a group of priests who will be in regular contact with police and military officials to monitor any threat.

Abacahin said the entire Catholic clergy in the Philippines are wary especially after Italian media reported that jihadist groups are targeting Pope Francis after he denounced the shootings that killed 17 people in France last week.

The Italian media said Israel’s Mossad and the Central Intelligence Agency provided the “specific” warning regarding the safety of the pope to the Vatican officials.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. We are a Third World country and with these terror groups, it may be easier to breach the security here,” Abacahin said.

Abacahin noted that there were two previous attempts on the Holy Father in their past visits in the country.

On November 27, 1970, Bolivian artist Benjamin Mendoza, wearing a priest’s robe, slashed Pope Paul VI with a dagger after he managed to slip through airport security in Manila.

In 1995, during the second Manila visit of Pope John Paul II, Al Qaeda mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack Ramzi Yousef tried to plant a bomb but the explosive detonated prematurely.

Abacahin said they are worried of the threats against Pope Francis especially after the pledge of allegiance by groups in Marawi City and southern Philippines to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL.

The top police official in northern Mindanao, Chief Supt. Agrimeo Cruz, however, allayed fears, saying no security threat from Mindanao-based terror groups was monitored by their security services.

Cruz said the groups who pledged allegiance to ISIL are doing it for “propaganda” and does not pose serious threat against Pope Francis.

He said police security units in the entire region are on standby during the duration of the papal visit.