Catholic girls offer flowers to displaced Muslim youth in the southern Philippine city of Iligan on June 25, to mark the end of Ramadan. Some 300,000 residents of Marawi have fled their homes due to fighting between government forces and terrorist groups linked to the so-called Islamic State. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Christians in the southern Philippines joined displaced Muslims at evacuation centers around the besieged city of Marawi to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an important Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan, on June 25.
A Catholic nun was seen distributing roses to Muslim women inside a tent for refugees after morning prayers. Muslims and Christians were both teary-eyed after listening to a religious leader talk about peace in his sermon.
"More than ever, our Muslim brothers and sisters must feel that they are not alone in this trial," said Sister Betsy Espana of the Our Lady of Triumph of the Cross congregation.
The nun said that by giving flowers to Muslims, Christians want to "convey the message of peace, love, and compassion," adding that the people of Mindanao "are all part of this."
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato said this year's observance of Ramadan in Mindanao "has been so unlike many other Ramadans."
"I have wondered if the killing of the innocent, the deliberate destruction of a Catholic cathedral, the burning of a Protestant college, the kidnapping of civilians, would desecrate the holy month of Ramadan," said the prelate.
Fighters of the local Maute terrorist group burned a Catholic cathedral and a Protestant school and kidnapped a Catholic priest during the first day of the attack on Marawi on May 23.
Cardinal Quevedo warned that, "terroristic and irreligious acts would undoubtedly foment and reinforce hatred for others." He said what happened in Marawi was "truly a contradiction to the holy month of Ramadan."
The Mindanao church leader, however, said "genuine religious faith is always optimistic," adding that "the meaning of Ramadan might become a reality for all of us."
The prelate compared the Islamic holy month to the season of Lent when Catholics "also struggle in spiritual combat against our own evil passions."
Cardinal Quevedo said if people "strive towards the same objectives of purification, reconciliation and charity … what a truly wonderful world we would have."
Some 300,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been displaced since the attack by the terrorist gunmen, who claim to have links with the so-called Islamic State.
According to the military, the conflict has already resulted in the death of at least 276 terrorist gunmen, 67 soldiers and policemen, and 26 civilians.
On June 25, the Philippine military declared a temporary stop to operations to give "reverence" to the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the military's Western Mindanao Command, said the "humanitarian pause," which was observed from six in the morning until 2 p.m, was "very good."
"Our intention is to pay respect to the one of the most sacred Muslim holidays," said the general. "We are professional soldiers. We want the people to have a peaceful celebration," said Galvez.
The ceasefire on Sunday was the second "humanitarian pause" to be implemented during the crisis. On June 4, the military implemented a four-hour ceasefire for the recovery of trapped civilians.
Philippine military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the ceasefire serves as a "gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world particularly to the local Muslims of Marawi."