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Philippines

HOPE CONTINUES FOR RETURN OF CHURCH BELLS SEIZED BY U.S. SOLDIERS

Updated: June 03, 1998 05:00 PM GMT
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Parishioners in a central Philippine coastal town hope that the U.S. will return two church bells before the June centennial celebration of the country´s independence from Spain.

Even if the church relics are not returned by the June 12 anniversary, the effort to recover them will continue, Roy Daza, a grandson of Filipino revolutionary Eugenio Daza, told UCA News.

The bells, seized by American soldiers in a 1901 assault on Balangiga town, Eastern Samar, 605 kilometers southeast of Manila, are now in a war memorial at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Daza´s grandfather led a Filipino attack on U.S. soldiers in Balangiga on Sept. 28, 1901, launched through the tolling of the bells. The Americans retaliated, killing hundreds of men, women and children above 10 years old, and took the bells from the church, now called St. Lawrence Church.

"The return of the bells would signify the true end of the colonial era and the triumph of the Filipino people," Daza said, adding that U.S. war veterans who oppose the bells´ return "say they were massacred, but it was war."

A three-year war between the Filipinos and Americans broke out on Feb. 4, 1899, after Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S.

While demanding that the bells be returned, "we overlooked the need to educate Americans to look at the bells not as war booty but as historical and cultural church relics," Daza said.

The bells, about three feet high and cast in 1863 and 1889, have images of hands with wounds resembling those of the crucified Christ.

The Wyoming state legislature has passed a bill providing for replicas to be made so that each of the two countries could have one original and a replica.

However, U.S. Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming has reportedly said that those who insist on retrieving the bells would be "desecrating the memory of a war memorial," adding that the U.S. Congress would have to approve the compromise.

Daza said he is also trying to raise 800,000 pesos (US$20,000) to pay for replicas of the bells in case America does not return them.

Earlier, a 46-centimeter ivory statue of the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child was returned to Balangiga by Bishop Joseph Hart of Wyoming. Daza said the widow of a soldier who said he had taken it relinquished the statue.

The June 12 centennial program will begin at 6 a.m. with the pealing of church bells nationwide, followed by thanksgiving Masses and religious rites in places of worship of various Christian denominations around the country.

END

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