DUMAGUETE CITY – Bishop Edwin dela Peña of the Marawi Prelature said the conflict in Marawi City had brought together Muslims and Christians, fostering brotherhood and providing a venue for compassion, help and understanding.
Working continuously to this day to provide relief and rehabilitation for the countless refugees who have fled Marawi City, Bishop dela Peña thanked the inestimable aid from various local and foreign donors for the displaced Muslims and Christians who have practically lost all that they owned.
The conflict in Marawi that is expected to soon come to an end has opened doors for Muslims and Christians to transcend religious barriers and work hand in hand to survive the consequences of the war, the prelate pointed out in an interview Monday evening.
Emphasizing cultural sensitivity where Maranaws and Christians were giving mutual aid to one another, he said that there were “beautiful stories about Muslim-Christian engagement, their mutual help for each other that we would like to highlight.”
“Mubati ta ugkalooysausagusa (we feel compassion for each other”), he added.
The Marawi bishop is hopeful that the experiences of the war will change the way “we look at them (Muslims) and that it will break the cycle of prejudices and biases.”
The Marawi prelate presided the Holy Mass during the 58th Alumni Homecoming of the St. Joseph Seminary of the Diocese of Dumaguete on Monday evening.
In his homily, he spoke of the pain and agony of the people of Marawi since Day 1 of the conflict until now.
The bishop, who hails from nearby Siquijor Island and an alumnus of the St. Joseph Seminary here, recounted the painful experiences the Catholic Church in Marawi had gone through, to include the kidnapping of one of the priests, Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob and some staff.
He expressed gratitude that Fr. Chito and another hostage of the Maute terror group were rescued last month but it was unfortunate that two of their working students who were taken along with the priest as hostages did not make it.
He disclosed that prior to the siege in Marawi by the extremist Maute terror group, the Church had already known that they were to be targeted, that priests and people living there would be killed.
“That was the original plan of the terrorists — to cleanse Marawi of Christians whose presence in an Islamic City is an anachronism and Muslims who do not live up to the true spirit of Islam,” dela Peña told alumni-priests and former seminarians in his homily.
Fr. Chito is still undergoing debriefing after having gone through a traumatic experience and it is going to be a long process, Bishop dela Peña said.
The priest thinks he is still with the ISIS and is going through very rough times, the bishop added.
Three of their women-hostages had also been freed recently, along with others, as the leadership of the Maute group has crumbled, Bishop dela Peña added.
Expressing thanks amid the tragedies of the war in Marawi, Bishop dela Peña highlighted humanity as a means to fight terrorism.
“There is much violence, lots of senseless killings. Violent extremism can only be countered by our common experience of our humanity, that we are all humans, that we feel the same for one another,” he stressed.
“Really, we should thank the Lord for such an experience that has brought us to a realization that we really should not take our faith for granted. We have to promote what is best for humanity”, he added.
“Now that the leaders of the Maute Group, Isnilon Hapilon (the supposed emir), and Omar Maute have been killed in a clash with government troops, I believe the war is already over,” said de la Peña.
The biggest challenge now for the government and for the different sectors is the relief and rehabilitation efforts of what is left of Marawi City, the prelate noted.