MANILA— A Mass attended by government troops was held at the St. Mary’s Cathedral for the first time on Sunday since the takeover of Marawi City by Islamic State-aligned Maute group.
Presided by a military chaplain, the 7am Eucharistic celebration went on as gunfire and explosions were heard outside the cathedral where walls and roof are riddled with bullet holes.
“The Mass was held while assault of government forces on Maute’s defensive positions are ongoing,” said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao.
He said the Mass was also significant because Sunday marked the feast of St. Therese, the patron saint of the military.
The military retook the cathedral last month as they pursued to take Marawi back from the Maute group.
The Maute had abducted Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob and some churchgoers last May 23, when the extremists laid siege to the predominantly Muslim city, prompting the government to put entire Mindanao under martial law.
Suganob along with another hostage were rescued by the military on Sept. 16 but dozens more hostages are still being held by the militants.
On a video that surfaced on social media last June 5, the gunmen were shown smashing and stomping on religious images and a big wooden crucifix.
They also burned pages of the Bible, including photographs of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and other religious items. CBCPNews