Catholic bishop leads effort to look for missing Christians who fled Marawi

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines is leading efforts to search for missing Christians who fled the southern city of Marawi after government forces liberated the town from militants who laid siege there five months ago.

(REUTERS / Romeo Ranoco)A signage of "I love Marawi" is seen in front of damaged houses, buildings and a mosque in Marawi city, southern Philippines. October 27, 2017.

According to the Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, there were at least 293 still missing or unaccounted individuals on the list of the Red Cross. It was not specified how many of them were Christians, but Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi said he was still trying to find the ones who fled their city when the Maute Group overran it on May 23 because it was his responsibility as the leader of his flock, UCA News relayed.

"As a pastor, it is incumbent on me to look for my own people, find them and their state of life, how they are coping," Bishop de la Pena told reporters in a Nov. 21 briefing in Manila. 

In addition, the Catholic bishop said their search efforts focused on finding the missing Christians because they had to first "build the community before building the structures." He also mentioned that volunteers were already searching other nearby places for any displaced believers from Marawi.

Unfortunately, the NGO "Task Force Bangon Marawi" does not have an official list of missing persons. The head of the organization's Management of the Dead and Missing committee, Revie Sani, said a lot of people do not come forward with their names for fear of being linked to extremists.

Last month, Christian leaders in the Philippines joined forces to help Marawi in its rebuilding. The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches head, Baptist Bishop Noel Pantoja, told Catholic News Service that three church conferences have been put in charge of building temporary shelters for displaced residents, with each one responsible for the basic needs of at least 100 houses.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Defense secretary previously said they would need $1 billion to rebuild Marawi. The three church conferences have already poured in $550,000, and donations from several countries including Canada, China, South Korea, and Germany have also started arriving.