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Marawi Catholic devotees have nowhere to observe holy week for two years

Moncado Colony is a barangay that hosts the St. Mary's Cathedral, the only catholic church inside the 250-hectare most affected area (MAA) in Marawi City. 

As of April 12, the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), through the National Housing Authority (NHA), is doing the demolition on the structures inside the MAA whose owners gave their consent to include it in the massive demolition to start the physical rehabilitation.

As of April 15, Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra said no consent has been given yet to the demolition of the St. Mary's Cathedral.

The siege

When the siege erupted in May 23, 2017, Ranao fled Marawi to an evacuation center in Barangay Buruun, Iligan City with his then 10-year old son.

Ranao and his fellow parishioners were preparing for the May 24 fiesta celebration when the war, that lasted for five months, started.

They were supposed to have a choir practice at 7pm when the gunfight started at 2pm.

"It was a blessing in disguise that the gunfight started earlier. If it happened at 7pm or 8pm, many of us would have been hostaged and taken away by the terrorists," Ranao said in a local dialect.

Six parishioners were held hostage by the terrorist that include parish priest Teresito "Chito" Soganub, two male working students, the Parish Pastoral Council Church (PPCC) president or the head of ministry, the parish secretary and one old-aged female parishioner.

The two male working students died while in the hands of the terorists while the other four, including Soganub, were saved.

Images of the saints, including that of the parish patron saint, Maria Auxilliadora (Mary Help of Christians), were destroyed and beheaded as the armed men fled with their hostages.

The church was full of bullet holes after the five months of fierce battle.

Displaced parishioner

Two lenten seasons that parishioners of St. Mary's Cathedral were nowhere to find.

Ranao said 2018 was the first holy week, since the siege happened, that he was not doing his usual activity.

He was in an evacuation center in Iligan City when he gathered his fellow evacuees in a corner of a huge ground of Iligan City Fisheries National High School in Barangay Buruun, to say their prayers and observe very simply the "Jesus' Seven Last Words."

This year's holy week will be entirely different.

In as much as he wanted to do the same thing, the evacuation tents called Sarimanok Tent City in Marawi City, has smaller space.

"We cannot even gather for a bible study. We are worried our fellow evacuees who are Meranaws might get upset because they might think we don't respect them. We cannot do it silently because we have to sing song praises," Ranao said.

With the situation, he felt that his being a Catholic is not complete.

"It has been a year that I don't go to church. I have no choice. We have no church nearby. The chapel that we have inside Kampo Ranao has been closed since the siege," he added.

Before the siege, they would perform the station of the cross inside the 103rd Infantry Brigade's Kampo Ranao.

"We would start from the gate up to the 'signal hill'. We were allowed to do that. We have somebody who acted as Jesus and carried a cross going up to the hill and finish our 'sacrifice' there," Ranao recalled.

The 'signal hill' he is referring to is the highest peak of the camp's premises where the 'official residence' of the brigade commander is located.

For security reason, the camp is temporarily off limits to civilians.

Missing the lenten preparation

Ranao said he missed the things he usually have done during holy week -help prepare for the station of the cross, assign people who would read the Seven Last Words, prepare for the Easter Sunday celebration.

"I made a script and directed a dramatization of the Seven Last Words to be role played by our youth group who was then very active in church activities," Ranao said.

The Easter Sunday celebration before the siege would not be like in other Christian areas where parishioners will perform the "Salubong" procession in the community, instead, they did it inside the cathedral.

The situation did not hinder them to continue practicing their faith.

Catholic devotee with Muslim blood

Ranao has only 25% non-Muslim blood.

His grandfather was a Meranaw while his grandmother was a non-Muslim, making his mother a half-Muslim. His Christian mother got pregnant to his Meranaw father, making him a half-Muslim.

He was born and grew up in Marawi City with his grandparents from his mother side, the reason he is a practicing Catholic.

"My mother is a devotee of Maria Auxilliadora. Since I was a child, we practiced Catholic faith. We woke up as early as 4AM to recite the rosary and did it also at 6PM while my Meranaw relatives in the neighborhood were having their 'Sambayan' (Muslim prayer)," Ranao recalled.

When he was ten years old, he joined the altar boys and eventually became a youth ministry leader.

When asked if his relatives from the father side reacted, "Yes, they reacted but I did not mind and they did not insist."

Saved by his faith

"I believe, St. Mary saved us during the seige. Imagine if we scheduled our choir practice earlier at 2PM on May 23, the whole choir team could have been a hostage," Ranao recalled.

"My faith saved me and I would die with my being a Catholic believer and I believe your belief will save you. Remember the stories of Meranaws who were allowed by the terrorists to pass at their checkpoints when they recite the Muslim prayer? They were not killed. If it happened to me, I would prefer to die because I do not know their prayer even if I am 'mestiso' Meranaw. I would prefer to recite the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers," he added.

Holy week prayer

Ranao will just stay at his tent during the holy week to silently pray like the other 23 Christian families in the site.

His prayer will not focus to himself but for the rest of his fellow non-Muslim evacuees.

They are next in the list to be transferred to a transitional shelter site in Barangay Boganga and all they prayed is for the TFBM to relocate them together in one block so that they could not disturb their Meranaw neighbors if they continue practicing their Christian faith like bible study and singing praise songs especially during the lenten season which is one of the important observations of the Catholic faithfuls.


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