Marawi Catholics have nowhere to hold Holy Week rituals5:30 PM, April 17, 2019
Philippines:Catholic families displaced by 2017 conflict voice frustration over inability to gather and celebrate Easter rituals.
The Catholic cathedral in Marawi remains a scene of devastation almost two years after terrorist gunmen attacked the southern Philippine city in 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Aid to the Church in Need)
There is nowhere to hold Holy Week rituals for Catholics in the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines, two years after a conflict that displaced close to half a million people.
Genesis Ranao, a resident of Moncado Colony, remains in a temporary shelter, a cluster of tents right in the middle of the war-torn city.
Moncado Colony is home to St. Mary's Cathedral, the only Catholic church in the 250-hectare area that was worst hit.
The demolition of buildings in what was the main battle area continues in preparation for the rehabilitation of the city.
The bullet-riddled cathedral, however, remains standing but people are prohibited from entering for safety reasons.
When fighting erupted on May 23, 2017, Ranao fled with his 10-year-old son to an evacuation area in the neighboring city of Iligan.
The parish was busy preparing for its feast day when terrorist gunmen attacked.
Ranao recalled that he was supposed to attend a choir practice at seven o'clock in the evening.
"It was a blessing that the gunfight started earlier," he said. "If it happened in the evening many of us would have been taken hostage."
Among those taken by the terrorists were six parishioners and the parish priest, Father Teresito Soganub, two students who later died at the hands of the gunmen, the head of the Parish Pastoral Council, and the parish secretary.
The church was also desecrated and the images of the saints destroyed, some beheaded by the gunmen.
After two Lenten seasons, the parish where St. Mary's Cathedral stands remains devastated and the parishioners scattered.
In 2018, Ranao was in an evacuation center in Iligan where he and other displaced residents held the reflection of Jesus' "Seven Last Words" in a nearby school.
This year, however, will be entirely different. The evacuation center he is staying in now has no place to hold gatherings.
"We cannot even gather for a Bible study," said Ranao, adding that the Catholics are also worried that Muslim evacuees might get upset.
"We are not able do it silently because we have to sing praises," he said, adding that he feels his being a Catholic is "not complete."
"It has been a year since I have gone to church. I have no choice. We have no church nearby," he said.
There was a time in the past, before the war, that parishioners in the predominantly Muslim city would have the "Station of the Cross" during Holy Week inside a nearby military camp.
"We would start from the gate up [of the camp] to the Signal Hill," Ranao said.
Signal Hill is the highest point of the military camp where the officers have their residences.
"We would have somebody acting as Jesus carrying the cross going up the hill where we would end our sacrifice," he said.
After the conflict, the camp was closed to civilians.
Ranao, whose father is Muslim, said he misses the Holy Week rituals. "Since childhood, we have practiced our Catholic faith," he said.
"We would wake up at four o'clock in the morning to recite the rosary and at six o'clock in the evening when the Muslims have their morning and evening prayers," he recalled.
When he was ten years old, he became an acolyte and then later a youth ministry leader in the parish.
"I believe St. Mary saved us during the siege," said Ranao. "My faith saved me and I would die with my being a Catholic," he said.
This Holy Week, Ranao will stay in his tent, silently praying like the other 23 Christian families in the evacuation center.
He said he will pray for his neighbors and all Christians around the world who cannot perform their religious rituals.
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