MANILA, Feb. 25, 2011—An unspecified number of Filipinos sought refuge inside a Catholic Church in Libya as protest actions against the government escalate in the country.
Fr. Hermilo Vilason, a Franciscan Missionary and chaplain to Filipino migrants in Libya reported that since Feb. 21, they’ve been awakened by gunfire, “at times sporadic and at times continuous.”
They have also heard of helicopters hovering overhead but could not see them as they preferred to stay inside the church.
“Bishop Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli told us to stay inside the church rather than be put in danger outside,” Vilason said. According to him, only few vehicles have been plying the streets of Tripoli since Feb. 21.
The priest said they have nowhere to go because only two in the group speak Arabic.
But he is optimistic that they will remain safe inside the church.
“Besides, nobody since 1971 dared to hurl stones or create any trouble within the church compound,” Vilason explained.
He said the bishop believes their fate is in God’s hands and would only ask for prayers for their continued safety.
Relatives of OFWs working in Libya and other middle-eastern countries have criticized the Philippine government for the alleged neglect of their loved ones.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, however, has already sent some of its staff to work for the safe exit of Filipinos in their areas.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Tripoli was established in 1630 and was renamed Apostolic Vicariate of Libya in 1894.
The country has 4.5 million Libyan citizens with 1.6% or roughly 70,000 as Roman Catholics, mostly migrant workers from various Asia countries. To date, there are 26,000 overseas Filipino workers in Libya. (Melo M. Acuna)