MANILA, January 12, 2018–Marawi’s Catholic bishop was able to enter and prayed inside the damaged St. Mary’s Cathedral for the first time on Thursday since the take over of their city by Islamic State-inspired terrorists in May 2017.
After failed attempts, Bishop Edwin dela Peña said it was a “very emotional” day for him that he was able to visit the ruined city center of Marawi and the cathedral.
“It was heartbreaking,” Dela Peña said.
“So many memories. We were the ones who built this. Now, everything is destroyed, even the trees we planted are riddled with damage from bullets and mortar,” he said.
Along with some officials of the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the Order of Malta Philippines, the prelate entered the “ground zero” of the fighting between government forces and the Maute group.
At one point, he asked the delegation to gather in a circle at the altar, hold hands and then led in praying the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi in October last year, after almost five months of battling Maute terrorists.
The conflict killed more than 1,000 people, mostly rebels, and the city of 200,000 people has been ravaged by airstrikes.
Bishop Edwin dela Peña touches a damaged statue of Jesus Christ inside the desecrated St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City, Jan. 11, 2018. CBCPNews/ACN
Dela Peña, who is leading a peace-building rehabilitation efforts called “Duyog Marawi”, reiterated that his top priority is to improve the inter-faith relations and bring healing to traumatized residents.
While the reconstruction of the cathedral is also a priority, forging peace, stronger ties and reconciliation among Christians and Muslims is paramount.
“I feel hopeful that people will help us rebuild her the cathedral. But my priority is not the building but the needs of the community,” he said.
Helping the program are some priests, nuns, lay people who have worked for Caritas but the bulk of volunteers are young Muslims from Marawi.
For the past three months, these volunteers have reached out to the war-affected communities and home-based internally displaced persons (IDPs). CBCPNews