Marawi City (Agenzia Fides) - "We are living hours of great concern. The crisis in Marawi is almost over. The Filipino army has reconquered much of the city and among the terrorists a handful of diehard people remain who continue to hold a group of hostages, including the vicar of Marawi, Fr. Teresito Soganub, and other Catholics. It is a very dangerous moment because the lives of the hostages in these hours is in great danger. Everyone wonders: what will their fate be? What will the terrorists do?": this is what Bishop Edwin de La Pena, at the head of the apostolic Prelature of Marawi on the island of Mindanao, tells Fides, who is visibly worried. The city of Marawi has been occupied by jihadis who are faithful to the Islamic State and has been besieged by the Philippine army for more than three months.
The Bishop continues: "President Duterte has entrusted military leaders with the responsibility of field strategy. They will make their choices, for Duterte it is important to end this crisis that has been dragging on for too long. The president is also impatient for political reasons and fears for his popularity. But today I appeal to President Duterte and the military: priority must be to save lives. We hope every action respects this priority. The lives of hostages are not and will never be considered 'collateral damage'. They are human lives and their families are very concerned. If something bad happened, it would be a great pain. Let us pray for them with all our heart. We know that in the past few weeks, Fr. Teresito would have had the chance to escape, by joining a group who managed to escape, but he wanted to stay and be next to his people".
Tension remains high in Marawi: "Unfortunately, there are no negotiations – continues Mgr. de la Pena - because the militants are extremists and in their hate ideology they have left no room for dialogue. Moreover President Duterte has chosen the hard line and there are no channels for possible negotiations. Even the Muslim leaders who went to Marawi in the past few weeks came back with no decision made".
The Bishop confirms to Fides that the Catholic Cathedral of Marawi, in the past occupied and devastated by jihadists, was reconquered by the military but "I have not yet had permission to go and see it" he notes. "We will do our best to rebuild it. And all the people of Marawi, now displaced, cannot wait to go back to their land. They want to go back, to start the slow recovery and reconstruction", he adds
Mgr. de la Pena launches an appeal through Fides: "We call on all Catholics in the world to join us in the intense and incessant prayer for the lives of the hostages. We ask the Pope to show us his closeness and solidarity. His words would be a strong encouragement for us all. The only salvation for us today is to have faith in God and entrust this delicate situation to Mary, Help of Christians, Patroness and protector of the Apostolic Prelature of Marawi. This crisis began on the eve of her feast. We now invoke the Virgin Mary with all our heart and put the lives of innocent faithful in her hands and under her cloak". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 1/9/2017)