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Marawi cathedral can be a sign of hope

MANILA (UCAN): Caritas Philippines has launched an appeal for the restoration of the destroyed St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi, which was the first building to be attacked by the Maute Group when its militia took over the city on May 23 this year.
Father Edwin Gariguez, the secretary of Caritas in Manila, is placing a high importance on the restoration of the cathedral, as it is an important Catholic symbol in the predominately Muslim city on the southern island of Mindanao.
At the time of the attack, Father Chito Soganub was celebrating the afternoon Mass and he, along with several parishioners, were taken hostage.
The rebel forces then ransacked the church, destroying images of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, before setting fire to the structure.
Signs of life returned to the church on October 1 when the first Mass since the building was ransacked was celebrated amidst the rubble of the once stately place of worship.
But the shafts of light filtering through cracks and holes in the walls and roof, as well the vision of the sky through the broken windows reminded the mainly military congregation that the gunfire crackling in the distance signalled there was still a long way to go in bringing life back to normal.
However, Father Gariguez said that the church is important as a sign of hope to the people, but is only one small part of the challenge to restructure life in the city and welcome people back home.
“I hope we continue to help those affected by the war so that they can go back to their normal lives,” he said.
Bishop Edwin de la Peña explained that the crisis of malnutrition is the first one that must be addressed, but warned against any feeling that the struggle is anywhere near at its end, as the Maute are still recruiting young men in Marawi and the surrounding areas.
“We have been exerting efforts to counter their recruitment activities,” he explained, adding that the unending war in Mindanao is the reason for the extreme poverty and terrorism that plagues the region.
On October 14, eight of the remaining hostages were released, MindaNews reported.
All are women. The names of the 17 have not been disclosed, but among the women that have been freed are five teachers from the Dansalan College, a Protestant school that is next to the cathedral and has been a significant player in promoting interfaith relations in the city, and one professor at Mindanao State University.
When hostages are released they remain in military custody and checks are run on them.
Mindanews reported that the military would not respond when asked if the former hostages are being treated as suspects or persons of interest.
Father Soganub is still in military custody almost one month after he escaped from his captivity. The army says that he is receiving treatment for trauma.
The military did not publicise his presence, but the diocese sent out a press release after contacts in the military informed it that he had escaped.

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