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Bishop visits ravaged Marawi and cathedral

MARAWI (UCAN): After several failed attempts, Bishop Edwin de la Peña from Marawi, was able to enter the ruined centre of the city, ravaged by five months of conflict, and visit the remnants of the cathedral together with representatives of the group Aid to the Church in Need on January 11.
Upon entering the ruined structure, the bishop knelt before the altar where, for 17 years, he celebrated Mass. He then stood in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary that was beheaded by Islamic State-inspired gunmen who attacked the city on May 23 last year.
On the wall above the altar was an image of the crucified Jesus, disfigured by the gunmen, but which government soldiers had restored.
The bishop described the experience as heartbreaking, adding that it was “a very emotional visit.”
He said, “We were the ones who built this. Now, everything is destroyed, even the trees we planted are riddled with bullets.”
Bishop de la Peña also met with volunteers, some of whom were Muslims, and workers from the social action office.
The bishop said that his priority is to attend to the needs of the community, but he hopes that people will help in rebuilding the cathedral.
He told the gathered volunteers, “I know there’s a brighter tomorrow because before me now is the future of Marawi.” 
Church leaders in the city warned that terrorist gunmen are still going around villages in the region, looking for new recruits.
“This is fertile ground for terrorist recruitment,” said Reynaldo Barnido, executive director of the church aid programme, Duyog Marawi.
He said he had received reports that families on the outskirts of the city have been offered about US$1,000 ($,7,800) and farm animals when they attend terrorist group “recruitment sessions.”
“(They) indoctrinate children and teenagers with extreme interpretations of Islam and eventually train them in military warfare,” Barnido warned.
Bishop de la Peña said that after the conflict, which displaced about 400,000 people and killed more than a thousand, “both Christians and Muslims have come to realise that they need each other to move forward.” 

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