MANILA - The country's bishops once again called for an end to the clashes in Marawi City and condemned "violent extremists" in the south.
This was the core of the prelates' statement released Monday as they ended their 115th plenary assembly at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center in Manila.
The same assembly elected Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles as the next Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president, replacing outgoing leader Lingayen Archbishop Socrates Villegas.
"We all cry from our hearts: War in Marawi, never again! War in Marawi, no more! We therefore call for the return to normalcy and peace in Marawi and its environs as soon as possible," said Villegas, who remains head of the CBCP until the end of November this year.
Villegas has on several occasions criticized several of President Rodrigo Duterte's policies, including his bloody war on drugs. He has also expressed doubts on whether the extension of martial law in Mindanao would put an end to the bloody clashes in Marawi City.
Villegas said the spate of violence in the Islamic City is not a religious war. He cited "stunning stories" of how Muslims protected and helped Christians in the war-torn city, as well as Christians who are assisting thousands of Muslims who have fled the area.
"These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war," he said. "For this reason, as Catholic religious leaders, we condemn in the strongest terms possible, as did Islamic religious scholars in Mindanao, the violent extremist Maute group in Marawi."
The CBCP also thanked those who are sending donations to the people affected by the armed conflict. The prelates called for inter-faith dialogue to further foster harmonious relationships among people with different faiths.
The death toll in the Marawi clashes, which began on May 23, has breached the 500 mark, according to official government data. The civilian death toll remains at 39, while government fatalities are now at 89.