No Holy Week observance in war-torn Philippine cityMarawi's St. Mary's Cathedral was desecrated and burned by Islamic State-inspired gunmen
Bishop Edwin Dela Pena visits the devastated cathedral of Marawi in January, more than two months after the end of the fighting in the southern Philippine city. (Photo courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need)
There will be no Holy Week observance this year in Marawi almost a year after extremist gunmen occupied the southern Philippine city.
The Catholic cathedral, which was desecrated and burned at the height of the five-month conflict that ended in October, remains closed.
Bishop Edwin Dela Pena, however, assured that other parishes not affected by the fighting will continue serving parishioners.
Marawi's St. Mary's Cathedral was destroyed when Islamic State-inspired gunmen entered the city on May 23 last year.
Even the vicar-general of the prelature will not be returning to the city soon.
Father Teresito Soganub said he was still in "the healing stage" after his abduction by terrorist gunmen. "I wont be able to go back to my regular ministry yet," said the priest.
"I miss saying Mass in the area and my work in inter-religious dialogue," he added.
The priest became emotional as he recalled his four months in the hands of the terrorist group.
"You face death every day. Sometimes it's even every minute. You don't know where the airstrikes will hit.... You wait for your death every minute," he recently told journalists.
He said he survived his ordeal because of his faith in God.
"If it was just me, I wouldn't have been able to endure it. I believed in the presence of God. I always asked Him to give me strength, not to leave me, and I knew He wouldn't leave me," said Father Soganub.
This will be the first time that Holy Week has not been celebrated in the predominantly Muslim city, where more than 300,000 people remain in temporary shelters.
Priests from nearby dioceses have volunteered to hold Masses on a university campus in the city.
Bishiop Dela Pena said other diocese have offered to send priests aside from giving material help to the prelature.
"I feel hopeful that people will help us rebuild the cathedral," said the prelate, although he said his priority is "not the building but the needs of the community."
Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila has appealed to Catholics to donate to a Lenten evangelization and fundraising program to help dioceses in need.
"I call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to participate and to be generous in sharing their blessings this season of Lent," said the prelate.
Father Reginald Malicdem, rector of Manila Cathedral, said the money they have collected will be used to attend to the needs of disaster victims.
"This is a concrete way of doing a good deed and showing our love for our fellow men in this season of Lent," said the priest.
On March 26, Caritas Manila, the archdiocese's social action arm, held a 12-hour telethon to raise funds for its Lenten program.
Last year, Caritas Manila was able to provide relief and rehabilitation assistance to 14,732 families from money raised during the last Lenten season.
Last week, the global group Aid to the Church in Need launched a fund-raising drive to help rebuild Marawi.
Aside from raising money, the group said it aims "to create awareness of the reality and horrors of war" and show the effects of conflict on people.
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