As the Filipino army continues to drive out the jihadists and retake Marawi, the local bishop has expressed grave concern over a group of hostages, among them a Catholic priest, who were abducted by the terrorists more that three months ago.
Bishop Edwin de La Pena, head of the apostolic Prelature of Marawi on the island of Mindanao said: "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, (known as Fr Chito) 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?"
The Bishop continued: "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 stayed to be next to his people."
"Unfortunately, there are no negotiations" Bishop de la Pena said, "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 Catholic Cathedral of Marawi which had been occupied and vandalised by the jihadists, was retaken by the stmy last week, but Bishop de la Pena said he has not had permission to go and see it yet.
"We will do our best to rebuild it" he said. "All the people of Marawi, who were displaced, cannot wait to go back to their land. They want to go back, to start the slow recovery and reconstruction."
Bishop de la Pena said: "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".
See earlier report: www.indcatholicnews.com/news/32698