MINDANAO Tag

 

Philippines: “The reconstruction of the city of Marawi will take years”

13.04.2018 in ACN Feature, Asia, By Reinhard Backes, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Julie Bourbeau, Marawi, Philippines

Philippines:

“The reconstruction of the city of Marawi will take years”

 

Reinhard Backes travelled to the Philippine city of Marawi for the Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need. The Christian minority in the city was suppressed for months by Islamists. An interview about relations between Christians and Muslims in the region and how the aftermath of the conflict is being dealt with.

 What has been happening in Marawi over the last few months?

The city is a centre of the Muslim faith on Mindanao, even though the island itself, the second largest of the Philippines, has a Christian majority. And of all places, this was the place that was targeted by Islamist extremists. It all started on May 23, 2017. The Philippine military had planned an operation to arrest the leader of the so-called “Islamic State” of the region. However, extremists beat them to it and occupied the historic city centre of Marawi until well into October. In the end, the conflict was resolved through violence. The army heavily bombed the city centre. According to official sources, 920 extremists, 165 soldiers and 45 civilians were killed.

 

Was this more of a spontaneous attack, or had the occupation been planned for a long time?

Apparently the attackers were well prepared and well informed about the planned military operation. They may even have been warned by informants within the military. However, like so many other things, this is a matter of speculation because detailed information about what happened during the attack on Marawi is still not available. When I visited the city in early March, it was explained to me that the majority of extremists were Indonesians. Mindanao is easy to reach from Indonesia by sea. It apparently was, and still is, difficult for the military to control the ocean route. Observers believe that the army was not prepared for such a threat.

March 2018: visit to the historic centre of Marawi city, now called Ground Zero. During the Marawi siege, which lasted from May to October 2017, military airstrikes have transformed what was once the pride of Muslim Mindanao into rubble.

Were the Islamists helped by members of the general population?

It has to be assumed that they did receive some sort of “backing” from the general population. After all, the extremists apparently used a tunnel system to move about underground. And something like that certainly does not happen overnight.

 

According to media reports, Christians were taken hostage, among them a priest.

Many hostages were taken, the majority of which were Christians. Apparently the Catholic Saint Mary’s Cathedral was one of the first sites targeted by the extremists in the city. It is to be assumed that they wanted to take the bishop of Marawi, Edwin de la Peña, hostage, but he was not in the city centre at the time. And so they took the vicar general, Teresito Suganob, and other believers instead. However, the Islamists also took hostages from among the Muslims whom they accused of collaborating with the Christians.

 

Was Saint Mary’s Cathedral defiled or desecrated in any way?

March 2018: image of paradise, but this is just an illusion. These two men were abducted by the islamists, for weeks. They keep psychological wounds. ACN will support program that will help them to recover.  

Yes. The church is pretty much completely destroyed, including all sculptures, statues of Our Lady and crucifixes. I saw a statue of the Virgin Mary that had been beheaded. They probably burned the head. All that was left was the clothed corpus. From an architectural standpoint, the cathedral is a rather simple, hall-like structure. Marawi is majority Muslim and so it was not acceptable to build an overly conspicuous Christian church. The Catholic community there has only a few thousand members, who are scattered for the time being.

 What was the relationship between Christians and Muslims before the Islamists invaded?

Just as in other countries such as Pakistan, where Christians are only a small minority among Muslims, they try to establish a good relationship with their Muslim neighbours. At least this is what I have noticed on the Catholic side. This is also the reason why Christians usually maintain close ties to the Muslim authorities, and Marawi was no exception. The same is probably also true for the Muslims, because the vast majority just wanted to coexist peacefully with their neighbours. This is why relations were mostly friendly. Now, however, a certain degree of distrust pervades.

 

How is the bishop of Marawi, Edwin de la Peña, dealing with the situation?

Bishop de la Peña is very keen on reconciling the two sides. That is why he has not made rebuilding the cathedral a top priority. He is focusing on strengthening the feeling of community and rebuilding relations between people and religions.

 

Have specific projects been developed to work towards these goals?

The diocese has started a number of initiatives. One of these is a rehabilitation centre, which offers assistance to over 200 people who were held captive for months and suffered physical and emotional torment. The centre is open to both Christians and Muslims. The counselling services include group and individual therapy sessions for women, girls and teenagers who have been raped, for men who have fallen victim to violence or were beaten, and for children who need to be reintegrated into daily life following the terrible experiences they have suffered.

 

And you mentioned another project…

It is called “Youth for Peace” and is also an initiative of the local Church. As part of this project, 184 predominately Muslim students attending Mindanao State University visit refugee camps. Thousands upon thousands of people fled the city centre during the conflict and are now living in camps that were set up outside of the city. The objective of “Youth for Peace” is to help these refugees, showing them “we are here for you, we want to recreate that which we once had, namely, a peaceful coexistence”: this is what the students want to achieve. In doing so, it does not matter whether the refugees are Christian or Muslim.

Inside the markedly destroyed St. Mary’s Cathedral of Marawi.

How is Aid to the Church in Need supporting these projects?

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) first provided emergency relief for the refugees during the conflict. Now we would like to help make sure that the rehabilitation centre can continue its work. We are also supporting the “Duyog Marawi” Peace Corridor Program of the local Church. “Youth for Peace” is one of the projects started by this program. So far, two vehicles have been donated, a van and a transporter. Further aid is planned. We are also talking about helping to set up shelters for the refugees who have been living for months in tents. With tropical temperatures far exceeding 30 degrees, conditions inside the tents are almost impossible to endure. And then it also starts raining, at times heavily. Tents are therefore not a long-term solution. Instead, small temporary houses are being discussed, which should meet the needs of the refugees for the time being. ACN may become involved in this.

 

Is there a realistic chance that the city can be rebuilt in the next few years?

Reconstruction will certainly take many years. I have never seen a city centre destroyed to the degree that Marawi has been. And not much has happened since the fighting ended in October last year. The military says that all the unexploded bombs, ammunition and booby traps left behind by the extremists first need to be removed.

 

What are your thoughts now after your trip?

On the one hand, it is quite dramatic to see how Islamists have used and destroyed an entire city, an established culture, and to what extremes ideological delusion can lead. On the other hand, I was very surprised by the people of Marawi. Their situation may be catastrophic, but they have hope, they are taking action. I learned how important their Catholic faith is to them, the selfless concept of charity, which can be seen in the concrete aid being offered to the victims. And it was very encouraging to see how openly the young volunteers, both Muslims and Christians, interacted with each other. Almost in unison they said that by working together, they came to understand the beliefs of the others better, but at the same time, were strengthened in their own sense of identity.

During the Marawi siege, which lasted from May to October 2017, military airstrikes have transformed what was once the pride of Muslim Mindanao into rubble. On the picture: View of the destroyed historic Centre of Marawi city.                                                                   


 

 

 

ACN Project of the Week in Philippines

17.05.2017 in ACN Canada

Philippines

A church for the parish of St. Anthony

 

The island of Basilan belongs to the Mindanao group of islands in the southern Philippines. Whereas in the Philippines as a whole Catholics form the great majority of the population, here on the island of Basilan Muslims make up around two thirds of the population.

This is part of a region where the Islamist terrorists of the Abu-Sayaf group have been trying to establish a breakaway “Islamic State of Mindanao”. Though they describe themselves to be “Islamic fighters,” they are regarded by the international community and by the rest of the Filipino population as terrorists and common criminals. They continue to try and spread fear and division through bombings and abductions.

“We would like to build a solid and permanent church that will convey a message of stability and solidarity and of the strong faith of the people of God.”

The parish of Saint Anthony in Lamitan City is a vigorous and thriving parish, despite these circumstances. There is a regular Sunday congregation of 700 Catholic faithful. The parish church has stood here for 40 years, but over the course of time it has become increasingly decrepit and is moreover far too small for the growing Catholic community. There is an urgent need for a new and larger church, but the parish is too poor to raise the funds for such a project.

 

Bishop Martin Jumoad supports this project, dear to his heart. For one thing, the need for the church is obvious.  And, at the same time it will be a powerful sign of the presence and identity of the Catholics in this town. He writes, “We would like to build a solid and permanent church that will convey a message of stability and solidarity and of the strong faith of the people of God. The Muslims respect people who are united and strong and who live a life of prayer.

 

A solid church will earn their respect and will hopefully also help to bring peace to our land.” ACN is helping with a contribution of $43 500 .

 

ACN Project of the Week – Phillipines

10.08.2016 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Family Apostolate, Philippines, Religious education, TRAINING

PROJECT OF THE WEEK

Philippines

Training of lay pastoral workers in the marriage and family apostolate

Children with their mother after the Sunday Mass in the Zamboanga Cathedral

Children with their mother after the Sunday Mass in the Zamboanga Cathedral

Zamboanga is the capital of the peninsula region and archdiocese bearing the same name and is found on the island of Mindanao. The archdiocese serves a population of some 620,000 Catholics. In the past, they established a training program for lay pastoral workers across their 27 parishes. Their task was to prepare young couples for the sacrament of marriage and also to provide support and counselling for married couples and families.

Now, in the face of a deepening crisis in the area of marriage and family, more resources are required. The situation being that more and more couples are simply living together and also many marriages and families are simply falling apart.

Therefore, the archdiocese is planning to train 127 lay pastoral workers to work in the parishes and provide counselling and support to married couples and families. They in turn will be supported by volunteers, who will also help and support the families.

The aim of the program is to ensure that families are profoundly rooted in the Word of God and in the Eucharist. That they too can witness to the Gospel, to the respect and the dignity of life from the moment of conception, and come to deepen their understanding of the Church‘s teachings on the sacrament of marriage, the family and human life, while also bearing witness to it in their own lives.

Among the many challenges facing families in this region are poverty and the constant threat of natural disasters. In this precarious situation, many couples simply live together because they believe they cannot afford to get married. Many other challenges also spring from the new media and other technologies, often harmful in their influence and damaging to families and human relationships in general.

 

Une formation pour les laïcs, sur trois ans, afin d'aider les familles.

A three year training program for lay people to help families.

 

The idea is to offer these couples and families workshops, seminars and annual retreats, as well as individual counselling and support, to help them in these difficulties. The lay pastoral workers who will run these programs must have themselves first undergone a three-year training course.

 

Aid to the Church in Need has been supporting this training course for lay workers who have been involved in the program since 2014. In this final year of the training cycle, thanks to our dedicated benefactors, we were able to give 14,500 CAD.

 

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Violence against Christians in the Philippines : Difficult dialogue

08.01.2016 in Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Religious freedom, Violence against Christians

Philippines

Is Mindanao Another Iraq?

 “In some areas of Mindanao we are experiencing exactly the same thing as is happening in Iraq.” The words are those of Father Sebastiano D’Ambra an Italian missionary of the PIME congregation who has been working for almost 50 years now in the Philippines. He was speaking on the phone to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has a Canadian office in Montreal. 

Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

“The situation is a worrying one,” adds Father Sebastiano, referring to the anti-Christian attacks that took place on Christmas Day in the south of Mindanao. “It is difficult to establish for certain whether the violence was directed specifically against Christians, even though everything points to the fact that this was the case. Without doubt our brothers and sisters in the faith are one of the targets of these fundamentalist groups.”

He goes on to explain that the attacks were carried out by the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIIF), a paramilitary Islamist terrorist group that emerged in 2008 following a split in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). In 2011 the government in Manila signed a peace accord with the MILF, with both sides pledging to engage in negotiations to establish a new law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, that would guarantee a special status to the region. “But the agreements with the government have been put on hold because the Filipino authorities attach greater priority to the presidential and legislative elections planned for May 9, 2016. And so radical groups like the BIIF, which have absolutely no desire to negotiate with Manila, are taking advantage of the instability of the situation to engage in terrorist disturbances.”

Urged not to celebrate Christmas

Islamic radicalism has a long history on Mindanao. Already back in the 1990s the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group was widely active, and was responsible for the murder of the PIME missionary, Father Salvatore Carzedda in 1992. The radicalization continued with the proliferation of Islamist movements of a Wahabi inspiration, supported by Saudi Arabia, while for the past 10 years or so there has been a powerful presence of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamist group that began in Indonesia. “In the last three years the so-called Islamic State has gained a growing number of supporters in Mindanao. ISIS is present here too, albeit not in such an extreme form as in the Middle East.” Father Sebastiano also points to the fact that many Islamic leaders on this island, which has a strong Muslim presence, have urged their own people not to celebrate Christmas together with the Christians, although this is an ancient and deeply rooted custom in the Philippines.

Zamboanga is quite far from the place where the Christmas attacks occurred, and the news went almost unreported by the media, because the government is attempting to play it down in view of the forthcoming elections. Nonetheless, in the local Christian communities the fears are growing, above all because they still retain a vivid memory of the attack carried out by the MILF in 2013 which destroyed half of the town, left numerous people dead and more than 10,000 homes in flames. “Since then the Christians have been extremely cautious in regard to the Muslims, while the Muslims themselves complain of a local government by the majority Christian community (approximately 70%) that does not reflect the growth of their own community.

Convinced that dialogue is possible

Father Sebastiano is the founder of the Silsilah movement which has been attempting since 1984 to promote interreligious dialogue and which has also involved a section of the local Muslim community.

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

Children of the members of Silsilah Dialogue Movement

“The growth of radicalism throughout the world is making our mission more difficult and still more necessary than ever at the present time. Even some of the Islamic leaders who are working together with us are becoming discouraged. We need to have more courage and more faith. It is a long process, but I am convinced that through dialogue it is possible to bring about real change and create a climate of mercy. Just as Pope Francis is inviting us to do in this Holy Year.”

*Main image: Extract of Journey to Emmaus, Icons presenting the history, vision, mission and call of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.

 

By Marta Petrosillo, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada : [email protected]