The bishop of Marawi has condemned the "demonic" destruction of St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Marawi, by Islamist terrorists, depicted in a video released on Sunday (4 May).
Bishop Edwin de la Peña told the official news service of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines that he had seen a video showing militants from the Maute group smashing religious icons and setting fire to the interior of the cathedral.
He described the attack as "demonic" and "unacceptable".
In the video, released by Islamic State's news agency, Amaq, and posted on YouTube, militants smash icons, tear up posters of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and set fire to the altar.
Up to 240 hostages, including a priest and fifteen parishioners, kidnapped by Islamist extremists in Marawi, Mindanao on 23 May are still missing.
“Let us pray for Fr [Teresito] Chito Suganob so that he has perseverance in faith and so that the Lord gives him and his friends, who were abducted by terrorists, the grace of strength”, Bishop Edwin de la Pena, head of the Marawi Prelature, said earlier this week.
He also expressed concern that rescue efforts by the military do not endanger them further. “Hostages can never be considered 'collateral damage', so we hope the armed forces will do their best to save them,” he urged.
In a message sent to Fr Paul Glynn, Columban Director in the Philippines, on 29 May the bishop said: “The City of Marawi is ruined. Buildings were destroyed by the bombings and airstrikes. And the air smells awful presumably from burnt objects and decomposing human bodies. This day alone, the provincial government rescue team recovered 14 unknown bodies. As to the condition and location of the hostages, nobody seemed to know anything. The silence is total regarding the hostages!”
There have been at least 174 deaths in Marawi’s crisis over the past two weeks, while the Martial Law declared by President Rodrigo Duterte is still in force on Mindanao island. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis worsens, with more than 40,000 internally displaced persons in evacuation centres, and tens of thousands sheltering in neighbouring areas. Columban Fr Enrique Escobar reported from Cagayan de Oro City, 60 miles from Marawi, that thousands of Muslim refugees have sought refuge in his neighbourhood. Fr Escobar’s parish is working with the interfaith group of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro to assist them. The country’s Catholic bishops have appealed for aid and prayers.
Government forces have taken back most of Marawi, but up to 100 militants remain barricaded in mosques and homes with several thousand civilians, whom, it is feared, could be used as human shields.
PICTURE: Soldiers stand guard along the main street of Mapandi village as government troops continue their assault on insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines