Bishop visits Marawi, saddened by destruction, desecration
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Months after government troops liberated Marawi City from the Maute terrorist group, Bishop Edwin dela Peña finally set foot inside St. Mary’s Cathedral. 

What greeted Dela Peña and a delegation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was a desecrated cathedral. The bishop knelt before the altar where he had been celebrating mass for the last 17 years. 

He then proceeded to the beheaded statue of Maria Auxiliadora (Mary, Help of Christians), to whom the cathedral is dedicated. 

At the center of the altar is the image of Jesus Christ crucified, his face mangled and disfigured when it was violently brought down by Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists. Soldiers had re-hoisted the image with ropes and nylon wires when they celebrated mass there last Oct. 1.

In a statement, ACN said the center of Marawi continues to be a heavily-restricted area where even residents are not allowed to return to their ancestral homes. 

On their way to the cathedral, the ACN delegation, accompanied by military escorts, passed by abandoned streets and buildings, bombed-out mosques and mansions severely damaged in the siege. 

Standing at the cathedral entrance, in front of his ruined residence, the bishop said: “So many memories. We were the ones who built this. Now, everything is destroyed, even the trees we planted are riddled (with bullets).”

The bishop and the delegation returned to the altar where they gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.

Dela Peña also met with volunteers and partners of Duyog Marawi, the social action program set up by the prelature to respond to the post-siege needs of residents. Duyog, in Cebuano, means to accompany.

Duyog is composed of religious and Catholic lay leaders who have worked for Caritas as well as young Muslims of Marawi.

For the past three months, they have been reaching out to other residents and internally displaced persons (IDPs) living on the outskirts.

The youth have volunteered to man help desks documenting the grievances of the locals. More importantly, they have conducted humanitarian campaigns and peace-education sessions in different Muslim communities.

According to the prelature’s assessment, the government, media and the public are underestimating the consequences of the siege.

Even before the siege, they noted, Lanao del Sur was the most impoverished province in the country.

Now, as the locals are deprived of an economic center, residents in adjacent towns, as well as IDPs, wallow in poverty and neglect, they said.

This situation was aggravated by a tropical storm that hit the province last month.

“This is fertile ground for terrorist recruitment. We can confirm that families in far-flung towns are being offered ?40,000 and a water buffalo in exchange for attendance at a recruitment session. Terrorists then indoctrinate children and teenagers with extreme interpretations of Islam and eventually train them in military warfare,” said Reynaldo Barnido, executive director of Duyog.  

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