COTABATO CITY: The Roman Catholic prelate in the Islamic City of Marawi and other bishops said their last prayers inside the 84-year-old Saint Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday prior to its demolition in June.
Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña led the prayers inside the cathedral, one of the most badly damaged in ground zero of the war-ravaged city where fierce fighting raged between government troops and Islamic State-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
Dela Peña visited the church for the second time on Saturday after the siege, in what could also be his last before the structure is reduced to rubble in June, a process that may take up to 10 months.
The visit lasted only for about 20 minutes with Dela Peña and six other bishops from nearby dioceses saying their prayers inside the cathedral.
The bishops’ original plan was to offer Mass but the military did not allow them to stay longer for security reasons.
With Dela Peña‘s consent, Saint Mary’s Cathedral and his residence will be among the buildings the government will demolish upon the recommendation of building engineers who found them to be no longer structurally sound.
From the debris will rise a simple church to symbolize the prelature’s mission of a reconciling presence in Marawi.
“We will construct a cathedral but only after they have rebuilt their city and their Masjids. In the meantime, we focus our energies on rebuilding communities” Dela Peña said.
Rey Barnido, executive director of Duyog Marawi, said the bishops also prayed for those who are working for peace in the region.
“It was both a symbol of solidarity of the whole church in Mindanao with the Marawi prelature and a symbolic blessing and prayer for peace,” he said.
Duyog Marawi is a rehabilitation program of the prelature and the Redemptorist missionaries that focuses on healing and peace-building efforts supported by Caritas, faith-based organizations and other humanitarian aid groups.
Last month, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Philippines launched a fund raising campaign also in support the church’s rebuilding efforts.
The Marawi siege erupted on May 23, 2017 when the Maute terrorists set the cathedral on fire and took hostage Fr. Teresito Suganob and some church workers and worshipers.
On the same day, gunmen also stormed the bishop’s residence and several other buildings.
According to government estimates, at least P51.6 billion is needed especially by Task Force Bangon Marawi to rebuild Marawi and adjacent areas.