After more than three months, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has finally cleared and retaken the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City.
The Cathedral was desecrated and destroyed by ISIS-inspired terrorists last 23 May 2017. The Philippine Armed Forces had to empty the church of improvised explosive devices. The AFP has also released footages of the remnants of the Cathedral.
The said video revealed bullet-ridden walls of the Cathedral and fragments of destroyed icons and other adornments of the church scattered on the floor. The altar of the cathedral was completely ravaged, and a beheaded figure is the only statue left standing inside the facility.
Along with the Cathedral, the Philippine soldiers were also able to clear the Grand Mosque, the largest place of worship for Muslims living in Marawi City. Although it was not as devastated as the Catholic cathedral, the Army disclosed that the terrorists dug holes and tunnels beneath the sacred site and made holes on the mosque’s walls to engage government forces in firefight.
For the past three months, the military has conducted extensive bomb raids on the city of Marawi, but it has deliberately refrained from bombing mosques as a sign of respect to the Maranaos, the Muslim ethnic group that called Marawi City its home for centuries. This move, however, was exploited by the terrorists who made the mosques as fortresses against the Philippine soldiers.
According to Norodin Alonto Lucman, one of the Maranao chieftains, it is forbidden for Muslims to use mosques as launching sites for activities harmful to Muslims and non-Muslims.
“This only shows how these people do not respect any religion may it be Christian or Muslim,” said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., chief of the West Mindanao Command of the AFP.
Muslim clerics have denounced the desecration of the cathedral despite threats of the terrorists to execute Muslims who will criticize ISIS.
Last 25 August 2017, local newspaper The Philippine Star reported that Muslim police and soldiers held prayer rites at the Masjid Saad Huzam Almusairi, which they had also managed to retake from the Mautes. This was the first ever Jumaah worship ceremony at the Masjid Saad since May 23.
Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman of the provincial crisis management committee of Marawi, under the office of the governor in Lanao del Sur, said that Christian police officers and soldiers helped clean the worship site and secure its surroundings.
“That again was a tacit indication that the conflict here is not a conflict among Muslims and Christians. It is these two groups that are working together to restore law and order in Marawi City,” Adiong said.
Meanwhile, in an interview with ACN earlier this month, Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña disclosed that his prelature is now starting to craft plans for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi.
Asked whether there were concrete plans already to rebuild the Cathedral, Bishop dela Peña replied, “more than the Cathedral, what is more important is to restore the Christian community and its good relations with Muslims living in Marawi.”
Last 8 August 2017, Aid to the Church in Need donated $30,000 which was used to distribute sanitary kits to 1,500 Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) coming from Marawi City.
Bishop dela Peña thanked ACN for the donation but continued to plead for help from all Christians to help the Prelature of Marawi and the Diocese of Iligan in assisting the IDPs of Marawi City. The Bishop also hoped Christians would realize that Christ is also present in the suffering of non-Christians.
“When we do mission, we do not distinguish whether the people we are helping are Christians or not. And so I hope we don’t consider anymore our religious affiliation, we help because precisely the Lord is telling us there is the need, that there is your brother and sister. We help because there is a need and where there is a need, that is where God is calling us,” said Bishop dela Peña.
The ISIS-inspired terrorists, down to 30-45 members from its original 200-strong armed still control an estimated area of 600 square meters in Marawi. They continue to hold about 56 Christian hostages, including Marawi Prelature’s Vicar General Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob.
By ACN with reports from The Philippine Star and GMA News