Most Rev Bishop José Cabantan visited the Diocese of Parramatta last month for a fundraising mission with a group of musical priests from his remote Philippine Diocese of Malaybalay.
The Diocese of Malaybalay includes a small part of Lanao del Sur Province, where close to 200,000 people were evacuated from the recent military conflict between Islamic radicals and the Philippine Army. That conflict has claimed close to 700 lives.
The group from Malaybalay Diocese raised funds to support the Catholic Church in Marawi City, and in the Docese of Malaybalay; a mental health rehabilitation centre, ecological education initiatives based on Laudato Si, and build a retirement home for clergy.
“One parish in my Diocese belongs to Lanao del Sur where Marawi is the capital,” Bishop José said.
That parish is Immaculate Conception, Wao, under the care of the Diocese of Malaybalay due to Wao’s remoteness from the Prelature of Marawi.
“The road going to Marawi directly from Wao is still under construction lately,” Bishop José said.
The usual route to Wao travels a great distance to Iligan City, Lanao del Norte then to Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental, then to Bukidnon and finally to Wao. The journey to Wao crosses three provinces.
“We are promoting dialogue, unity against extremism, we are the tri-people,” Bishop José said, referring to a Philippine concept of coexistence between Roman Catholics, Muslim tribes and Indigenous villagers.
“People lived in harmony. Even now you see interreligious dialogue,” he said.
Some Muslims helped Christians flee from Marawi during the siege, Bishop José said. Christians also helped those who seek refuge in evacuation centres and home-based evacuees.
The one hour concert’s programme contained messages fitting the fundraising’s purpose: environmental stewardship, harmony, gratitude and joy.
Michael Jackson, Disney songs, ABBA, Tagalog and liturgical hits played to enthusiastic audiences at the Cathedral Parish of St Patrick’s, Parramatta, Mary Immaculate Parish, Quakers Hill and St Andrew the Apostle Parish, Rooty Hill.
The musicians consisted of seven singing priests, two in their 50s and five in the 30s. The group also toured Melbourne.
The funds they raised are urgently needed to help rebuild Marawi Prelature and support the other initiatives of Malaybalay Diocese, such as the Happy Home Foundation mental rehabilitation centre.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) News reported that St Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City was liberated from the Islamic extremist forces on Friday 25 August by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The extremist militia had occupied the Cathedral for three months.
“The AFP released footage of the cathedral, which revealed bullet-ridden walls and fragments of destroyed icons, and other church items, scattered on the floor. The altar was largely demolished and a beheaded figure is the only statue left standing inside the complex,” ACN News reported.
Some 200 hostages remain unaccounted for, including the Vicar General of Marawi Prelature, Fr Teresito “Chito” Suganob.
The Islamic State affiliated militants attempted to conquer Marawi City as a provincial outpost of Islamic State.