DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     August 6-8, 1999     vol. 10, no. 147

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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U.S. Army Seized War Trophies Over A Century Ago

        MANILA, AUG 5 (ZENIT).- The seizure of a set of church bells in the Philippines by American soldiers over a hundred years ago remains a sore spot for Filipino Catholics. According to the international agency "Fides," Bishop Leonardo Medroso of Borongan, East Samar, said "These bells are ours and they should be returned."

        Last year, on the occasion of the country's centennial celebrations, the government supported and financed the construction of a $100,000 belfry for the Balangiga parish, in anticipation of the return of the two bells. The belfry is beautiful but empty. "I went to the United States to see for myself. It pains my heart; the two bells are being displayed as war trophies," Bishop Medroso said.

        "These bells are meant to call our people to peace and prayer." We should "pray with one another to reach out in brotherhood," but the bells remain "in a military camp as a memorial ... of the past," the Bishop lamented.

        The two bells were taken from the island to F.E. Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, as a trophy for successfully putting down the Filipino insurrection against Americans in 1901. Historians say the Church bells played an important role in the Filipino struggle against American occupation in 1898. When a 74-man U.S. contingent arrived in the town, several Filipinos were forced to clean the surroundings and the residents saw the Americans mistreat the Filipinos. Discontent mounted; eventually the town's residents revolted against the occupying forces.

        On September 28, 1901, the bells peeled, signaling the revolt. The Filipinos made a surprise attack on the American garrison and killed 48 soldiers. In retaliation, the American commander, General Jacob Smith, gave his troops the order to kill "everyone in sight," including men, women and children, 10 years old and older. The "Balangiga massacre" left 50,000 Filipinos dead.

        As proof of their success, the American troops carried off the two bells as their trophy.

        At present, the bells have special meaning for both sides: the Filipinos who want their return, and the Americans, for whom the bells are a sacred memorial to the troops who lost their life in Samar nearly a century ago.

        The bells are U.S. government property; only the American Congress can decide on their future. But U.S. war veterans are protesting against the bells transfer to Balangiga. And U.S. Senator Craig Thomas has exerted pressure on Congress to pass a law prohibiting "the return of Veterans' memorial objects to foreign nations without specific authorization in law."

        "These bells are Church bells and religious artifacts of considerable significance in Catholic tradition. They are inappropriate war trophies and ... should be returned to the place where they belong and restored to the purpose for which they were cast and blessed," the Bishop insisted.

        Archbishop Oscar Cruz, president of the Philippine Conference of Bishops said that on August 23, the president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, together with five additional members, will discuss this issue with Filipino Bishops. "The U.S. [Catholic] Conference, as well as a good number of ... legislators, are in support of our claims," the Archbishop said. ZE99080503

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

August 6-8, 1999       volume 10, no. 147


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