An international pastoral aid organization of the Catholic Church launched a fund-raising campaign in Manila to help rebuild the war-torn city of Marawi in the southern Philippines. Aside from raising money, the group Aid to the Church in Need
said it aims "to create awareness of the reality and horrors of war" and show the effects of the armed conflict on people. Jonathan Luciano, the organization's country director, said Filipinos need to "open their eyes" to see the situation of those displaced by war. "Let us extend our generosity to them and with hearts willing to sacrifice, let us help them rebuild their lives," he said. "Let us not forget Marawi," Luciano added.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Philippine president of Aid to the Church, said "every centavo, every peso, every gift [that will be given] will count." "If we all give, we can rebuild the bullet-riddled homes in Marawi into true homes of peace," said the prelate of Lingayen-Dagupan in the northern Philippines. "We can rebuild the bombed cathedral and mosque of Marawi so we can worship God again in peace and prosperity," he said. Five months after the fighting between security forces and Islamist militants ended, more than 300,000 people remain in temporary shelters around Marawi. Monica Dianne Martin of the government's social welfare office said only about 28,000 families of 77,000 displaced by the conflict had returned to their homes as of March 19. She said about 49,400 families or some 311,000 individuals continue to depend on the government and other relief agencies for their daily subsistence and shelter. Of the 135 evacuation centers that were opened when hostilities erupted on May 23 last year, 58 continue to operate. Mark Bidder, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Philippines
, renewed his call for support. He said food security, protection, and livelihood remain the "urgent needs" of the people from the war-torn city. Bishop Edwin dela Pena of Marawi said his prelature remains in "terrible straits," adding that it will take a long time for it to rise. "It would be impossible for [Marawi] to rise alone," said the prelate at a media briefing in Manila on March 23. The bishop said much is needed for the reconstruction of Marawi "not so much on the structures, but on the people's livelihoods, for them to heal together." Last year, the prelature started a social action initiative called "Duyog Marawi" to respond to the needs of the victims of war. As of February, Caritas Philippines
, the social action arm of the local church, had released about US$421,700 for humanitarian assistance. About a million people, mostly Muslims, were affected by the five-months of fighting in Marawi last year after so-called Islamic State gunmen attacked the city. Some 1,100 people, mostly Islamic militants, were killed in the conflict, which ended in October and left most of the city in ruins. Bong Sarmiento contributed to this report from Marawi City.
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