A Catholic archbishop in the Philippines has condemned attempts to proselytise Muslms fleeing the city of Marawi, where Islamist rebels fighting Maute terrorists linked with Islamic State.
The fighting has led to 400,000 refugees abandoning the city and seen the Catholic cathedral and a Protestant school burned. A priest and several church workers have been taken hostage.
Chrisitan groups are among others who have delivered relief supplies to the refugees, around 18,000 of whom are in evacuation centres in Mindanao.
However, copies of the Bible translated into the Maranao language were found in packs distributed to Muslim families last week. According to Vatican Radio, Archbishop Emerius Fernando Capalla of Davao condemned the proselyting and said it could foment tensions between Christians and Muslims.
'If they do it deliberately, it's either an insult or ignorance of the needs of Muslims,' he said. Capalla said the action showed a lack of respect and that Muslim leaders should be consulted before aid was distributed. 'We should be more sensitive,' he said.
Muslim groups also criticised the distribution. According to Mission Network News, the former president of the Iligan League of Imams urged Christian groups to avoid proselytising because he said it could result in more harm than good.
However, Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs which has distributed Bibles with aid, said: 'This imam is saying, "We don't want these Muslims to have Bibles. They shouldn't have them; they shouldn't read them. This is going to cause unrest; it's going to cause problems. You Christians should not mix Bibles in with aid material."
'He doesn't want them to read the Qran and then the Bible and then decide which one is telling the truth.'
To Capalla's charge that proselytising showed a lack of sensitivity and respect, Nettleton said: 'It obviously has to be done in a sensitive way, and in an appropriate way. But, absolutely, as Christians, we should want every person to read God's Word and to know what it says about Jesus Christ and about the way of salvation, including those who don't currently believe or accept it.'
Bishops in the Philippines have stressed that the conflict in Marawi is not religious in nature; its extremist Muslim instigators have been condemned by Muslim leaderes as well as Christian. According to Fides, a statement from the bishops' conference in Manila said: 'We believe that the war in Marawi is not a conflict of religion. We heard and read truly amazing stories of how the Muslims protected us and helped Christians avoid an almost certain death. Now Christians are helping thousands of Muslims who have fled from Marawi. These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war.'