The bishop of the diocese that includes Balangiga, Eastern Samar said the return of its historic bells was an early Christmas gift that showed “God’s great favor to our local church and, by extension, to our country.”
“After years of waiting and uncertainty, this season of Advent, the season of waiting, is yielding us an early Christmas gift―the return of the Bells of Balangiga,” Bishop Crispin Varquez said Tuesday as the bells arrived in the Philippines from the United States via Okinawa in Japan.
The bells were taken as war booty by American forces 117 years ago after the infamous Balangiga Massacre. They were returned by the US after a forceful demand from President Rodrigo Duterte and the backing of American war veterans who lobbied the administration of US President Donald Trump to repatriate the church ringers.
The refurbished bells were airlifted from the American military base in Okinawa to the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Tuesday. It will be brought to Balangiga in Eastern Samar on Dec. 15.
“During a time of war, the bells were taken from the Parish of St Lawrence, Deacon, and Martyr, Balangiga. They are being brought back during the season of hope and peace. This is only right because the bells are instruments of prayer and worship, sources of true hope and peace,” Varquez added.
In his pastoral statement, the bishop urged the parishioners that they “must not deny the tragic events of war that occasioned the misuse of the bells by the warring parties.
“We must express sincere sorrow and repentance for the sins committed leading to the loss of lives and the destruction of homes and properties. But we must also forgive. We must seek reconciliation not because it is politically correct but because it is the demand of the Gospel,” he said.
About 50 American soldiers died when the villagers of Balangiga rose up against the Americans on the morning of September 28, 1901 upon the signal of the church bells that brought the single worst defeat to the Americans during the Philippine-American War.
When the Americans retaliated, an estimated 2,000 people died through the “kill and burn” order of US General Jacob Smith, reducing the Samar island into a “howling wilderness.”
“Rightly used, the bells call us to pray and worship our God and Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Prayer and worship express but also deepen our faith, hope, and charity. We ring the bells before and during our highest act of prayer and worship―the Holy Eucharist,” Varquez said.
“We ring the bells to signal community acts and to alarm the same community of impending emergencies. In a word, the bells bridge us to God and to one another. The bells are an integral part and parcel of our life in Christ in the community,” the bishop added.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said the return of the bells “demonstrates our determination to honor the past and the sacrifices made together by Filipinos and Americans.”
“Every day our relationship has further strengthened by our unbreakable alliance, robust economic partnership, and deep people-to-people ties,” added Kim, as he maintained that the arrival of the bells “reflects the strong bonds and mutual respect” between the United States and the Philippines.