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Christians, Muslims flock to join Marawi healing program

Catholic Church begins its Duyog Marawi aid and rehabilitation drive to help heal scars of deadly Philippine conflict

Christians, Muslims flock to join Marawi healing program

Volunteers and visitors pose during the launch of "Duyog Marawi" in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. (Photo by Bong S. Sarmiento)

Bong S. Sarmiento Balo-i, Lanao del Norte

September 1, 2017

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The Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi City launched on Aug. 30 "Duyog Marawi," a Catholic Church aid and healing program for the war-torn city on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Church officials rolled out the program on the 100th day of the Marawi conflict, even as families awaited word on the fate of some 40 hostages, including the prelature's vicar-general, Father Teresito Soganub.

Towns around the main war zones remain dangerous, but more than a hundred Christian and Muslim volunteers showed up for the first phase of the aid and rehabilitation program, a partnership between the prelature and Redemptorist missionaries.

"We couldn't wait for the Maute group to be defeated before beginning the process of healing peoples and communities; bridging the gaps, sharing our dreams and reconstructing our lives," Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Pena said.

"Duyog" is a Visayan term for accompaniment, often understood as the act of playing a musical instrument for songs and dances and the basis for choral harmonies.

"These processes have to begin now before people go back to the city," the bishop stressed at the launch. 

The event happened alongside the dedication of the Prelature of St. Mary at the St. Tomas de Villanueva parish, 20 km from the city's ruined cathedral.

Duyog Marawi will focus on health and wellness, healing and reconciliation, communication and protection of vulnerable sectors.

It will serve at least 3,250 underserved families in Marawi and 14 other nearby municipalities. Planners and volunteers will ensure respect for local sensitivities, the bishop said.

"We heard a different mission calling us to definitive action — to ensure that people's faith and culture are paid attention to and factored into the rebuilding process of Marawi and to ascertain that people's rights are protected and upheld," the prelate said.

The program will involve ulamas (Islamic scholars) and imams (religious leaders) in line with the thrust of the Catholic Church to promote interreligious dialogue, he said.

Jamalic Umpar, 24, whose family fled Marawi, said he decided to become a Duyog Marawi volunteer to promote peace in Mindanao among the youth. 

"I want to foster unity and camaraderie between Muslims and Christians," Umpar told

The conflict has gouged deep scars into the cultural psyche of people struggling with seeing their city, once a thriving religious and commercial center, turned into wasteland.

Trauma and displacement have left more than 30,000 residents with mental health problems, with more than 24,000 needing one-on-one treatment, the Health Department said.

More than half of the city's 60,000 displaced children failed to return to school in June, said international aid group, Save The Children.

"We are conscious that the mission of rebuilding the city belongs to the people of Marawi," said Bishop dela Pena. "We, as the representative of the universal Catholic Church, are here to support and accompany them all the way."

The church program complements rehabilitation efforts of the government's Task Force Bangon (Rise) Marawi, which has started groundwork on an 11-hectare temporary housing site.

The military has also sent a contingent of women soldiers to help the emotionally wounded and ease gender concerns in the majority Islamic city.

While Islamic State-inspired fighters in the city number just around 50, officials said it would take a few more weeks to defeat the extremists, who still hold hostages.

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