CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 June 2018

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Priest still haunted by captivity

MARAWI (UCAN): A year after his abduction by terrorist gunmen, Father Teresito Soganub, the one time vicar-general of the Prelature of Marawi, Mindanao, is on a journey for forgiveness.
 
“I was a captive. I was not afraid to die, but I was afraid to suffer,” he said in what sounded like a confession only days before the first anniversary of his kidnapping during an attack on St. Mary’s Cathedral.
 
He was abducted along with several church workers on 23 May 2017, the first day of fighting.
 
The gunmen took 30 people from the cathedral offices, tore down and desecrated icons and other sacred images and set fire to the building.
 
The Philippine military later claimed that more than 200 people were taken hostage.
 
Father Soganub appeared in a video a week after his capture, appealing to the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, to withdraw troops and cease air strikes against the terrorists.
 
He admitted that during his four-month ordeal, he embraced Islam and collected ammunition for the captors.
 
He admitted to feeling a sense of uncertainty despite being told that he would not be killed. “I did not know what would happen,” he said, adding that during that time his only concern was to live.
 
Father Soganub said there was even a point during those trying times that he had doubts about his faith and questioned God’s wisdom.
 
“I was angry with God for putting me in such a horrible situation. However, my faith in the Lord did not waiver. In fact it even became deeper,” he said.
 
“I prayed more feverishly than I used to do with death staring us straight in the face A bomb or a bullet could hit anyone of us during the fierce fighting between the two sides, at any time.” the priest added.
 
During his captivity, Father Soganub was forced to attend lectures about the terrorists’ cause. He soon got to know his captors who claimed to be members of the so-called Islamic State.
 
When one of the terrorists died, the priest said he felt sad. “You cannot avoid feeling human even when the enemy dies. We transcend from being a captive and a hostage taker,” he said.
 
“We became friends, We talked together, we slept together, we had the same fears,” he explained.
 
Prayer became the Father Soganub’s refuge. He prayed to the Virgin Mary, he prayed to Jesus, he prayed to God. He prayed for guidance on how to escape.
 
Then one day the opportunity presented itself. “Nobody helped me,” said the priest. He was with his sacristan, who was also taken by the gunmen.
 
With a gun in his hand and the knowledge that government troops were nearby, Father Soganub and the sacristan took off in the middle of the night.
 
He made it, but the sacristan did not.
 
The physical healing process was the easy part. “I go to the doctor regularly and undergo pain therapy,” he said.
 
But the psychiatric and psychological parts are the hardest, he said, adding that it is “very devastating, your inner being is destroyed.”
 
Father Soganub said he is not yet back to what is supposed to be normal. “I wake up even at the slightest sound,” he said. 
 
He avoids people and prays a lot. “If it is difficult to rebuild a building, how much more a person? It is very difficult to rebuild the inner being of a person,” he said.
 
Father Soganub explained that it is hard to forget the many times bombs exploded around him, the times death was so real, the moments that he could not even feel fear because death was preferable to suffering.
 
He said there is still anger in his heart, “but I am a Christian and I am a priest.”
 
He said, “I still believe that the Christian way is the way of love, and forgiveness is part of it.”
 
These days, Father Soganub is touring the country to promote inter-religious dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims.
 
His speaking engagements are his way of thanking those who prayed for him and for his safety. 
 
“I am deeply touched by the many people who come to me and tell me that they prayed for my safety,” he said.
 
When asked if he would be going back to Marawi, Father Soganub said he would not be going back to his “regular ministry.”
 
He served 23 years of his priesthood in the Prelature of Marawi as vicar-general and as the Catholic chaplain at the city’s Mindanao State University.
 
The conflict went on for five months, during which Duterte declared martial law across the entire southern Philippine region of Mindanao. Congress later extended martial law until December 31 this year.
 
The conflict resulted in the death of more than a thousand people, mostly terrorist gunmen, and the displacement of about 400,000 residents.