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Philippine bishop reports on jihadist siege of Marawi City
"The local people of have always been very peaceful. They are angry at these terrorist groups coming in to disturb Ramadan."
In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Edwin dela Peña, who heads the Prelature of Marawi, the Philippines, discussed the situation in Marawi City where Muslim extremists have killed more than 100, burned down the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, and are holding hostage Father Teresito Suganub, the vicar general, along with a dozen or more staff members from the cathedral. To-date some 12,500 families have been displaced by the violence as the army is clashing with the militants.
By Jonathan Luciano
What was the state of Muslim-Christian relations in Marawi before the assault by the jihadist Maute group?
Marawi is about 95 percent Muslim. We are a very tiny minority. Yet, we have been engaged
in interfaith dialogue and we have many partners. Father Suganub has been working with Muslim NGOs that have partnered with us in community development and education for interfaith dialogue. It was a beautiful situation until this extremism emerged, through the presence of these extremist elements from the Middle East, and the radicalization of young people. However, the relationship with our Muslim partners has always been very positive—and they also oppose this influx of ISIS-related elements coming into Marawi.
The local people of have always been very peaceful. They are angry at these terrorist groups coming in to disturb Ramadan. So if these extremist groups had counted on getting the support of the people, they are not getting it now.
Do you have any updates about Father Suganub and the other kidnapped Christians?
We know from a video that he is alive! I am happy about that but sad also about those critics who castigated him for his message [calling for a halt in military operations]—without any regard for his present situation as a hostage. We have lost our sense of humanity! I grieve for this country and I am so sorry for the situation of this priest and the other hostages.
How will this situation affect Christian-Muslim relations in Marawi?
Unavoidably, some of the natural biases that Christians have against Muslims will be stirred up again. Interfaith dialogue is a very fragile process and these incidents can destroy the foundation that we have built. Some people are fueling these anti-Muslim sentiments—just as we’ve made a very good headway improving the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Marawi. In fact, comparing our relationship with Muslim-Christian relations elsewhere in the country, I can safely say that ours is the best.
For example, our schools—which have been operating for decades—have always been dear to our Muslim brothers and Christians alike. These institutions have trained the city’s professional class, building up a kind of patronage and loyalty to our schools among the Muslim population.
Marawi City on fire