ucanews.com reporter, MarawiUpdated: September 26, 2017 05:39 AM GMT
Marawi Prelature Vicar-General, Father Teresito Soganub, celebrates his first Mass following his rescue on Sept. 17 after nearly four months as captive of IS-inspired militants in the southern Philippine city of Marawi. (Photo courtesy of Col. Romeo Brawner).
The vicar-general of Marawi Prelature, FatherTeresito Soganub celebrated his first Mass on Sept. 24 since his rescue from Islamic militants in the southern Philippines.
Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the joint task force fighting to dislodge IS-inspired militants in the southern Philippines, released a photo of the priest and other clergy celebrating Mass for troops at the armed forces headquarters in Manila.
"It was a great celebration of life for Father Chito [Soganub’s nickname], whose personal safety was placed in danger because of the battles in Marawi," Brawner said in a note accompanying the photo.
"According to Father Chito, the Mass is also a thanksgiving for the lives of those who were rescued," he said.
"Father Chito is praying that he will be able to hear Mass again at St. Mary's Cathedral in Marawi City once the firefight is over and the area is cleared of improvised explosive devices."
Brawner said the photo should put to rest earlier reports that extremists had forced Father Soganub’s conversion to Islam.
Catholic and Islamic leaders have dismissed the conversion claim.
Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi said any action made under duress is never binding and that Father Soganub’s statements after his rescue indicated an "abiding, deep Catholic faith."
Ulamah or Islamic clergy also stressed that the IS-linked militants are not qualified to convert anyone since they have also violated many precepts of Islam.
Bishop de la Pena said Father Soganub’s healing journey would allow his gradual return to full diocesan duties.
He expressed hope for a quick healing after a reunion with his assistant and close friend.
Bishop de la Pena met Father Soganub three days after his rescue on Sept. 17.
"It was very moving," Bishop de la Pena said of their reunion. He refused to give other details of their conversation to protect the lives of other hostages.
Father Soganub is cooperating with the military to help free some 40 hostages still held by the IS-linked extremists.
"We cannot say that we are happy, knowing that there are still many hostages that remain in captivity," the bishop said.
"We are hopeful that soon the war will be over," he added.
Brawner said troops and first responders have rescued more than 1,730 people in Marawi.
Extremists still control more than a hundred Marawi tenements on several hectares of the once bustling commercial center.
The government has started rehabilitation efforts even as fighting continues. Military engineers and the civilian public works department have started assessing buildings around the main battle area as planners decide on the layout of a "better, safer Marawi."