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Reminders of war in a new place of worship

Spent shells are put to peaceful use in a Maguindanao church

A spent 105 mm shell (right) stands alongside religious exhibits in the church's mini-museum (Photo Bong Sarmiento) A spent 105 mm shell (right) stands alongside religious exhibits in the church's mini-museum (Photo Bong Sarmiento)
  • Bong S. Sarmiento, Maguindanao
  • Philippines
  • October 26, 2012
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Spent artillery shells have become an intrinsic part of the interior of Santa Teresita of the Child Jesus church in Datu Piang, Maguindanao province. They also serve as a grim reminder of a war that robbed this Muslim-dominated town of peace and harmony for decades.

In June 2008, a time of fierce armed clashes in the district between government  and rebel troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,  gunmen armed with a can of gasoline burned down the church.

Like most local buildings, the church was made from light materials and set on stilts; it burnt easily. Two years later, a new concrete building arose in its place, thanks to the efforts of parishioners who donated sacks of cement, gallons of paint, cash and their labor.

On October 3, 2010, during the town’s annual fiesta, about 1,000 people - Muslims and Christians alike - attended the inaugural blessing.

The new church is well equipped with modern amenities. “We have a big television screen where the lyrics of hymns and songs are projected," Ronnie deJesus, the guitarist of the parish choir for the past 20 years, said with a smile.

He said in the old church, the lyrics of songs were projected onto a white cloth on a wall.

But the church also has a feature that one might not expect to see: more than a dozen 105 mm artillery shell casings, adorning posts and ceilings, either as chandeliers, lampshades or candleholders. They were retrieved from the local area, where they had lain since the 2008 hostilities.

As another reminder of the area's turbulent past, the back of the church has a mini-museum that shows the history of the parish. As well as more artillery shells, one of its main exhibits is the charred remains of a wooden image of Jesus Christ inside a crystal box.

De Jesus said the wooden image "miraculously survived" the inferno when the old church was burned.

Oblates of Mary Immaculate priest Eduardo “Ponpon” Vasquez Jr. had the idea of making the remnants of war part of the church’s design. “This new church was made possible [through] the contributions of both rich and the poor people of Datu Piang," he said.

The town, especially the churches and convents, played host to around 50,000 people who fled their homes. Now with the new church in place, and a framework peace deal signed between the government and the MILF, local people can look forward to the prospect of lasting peace.
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