MANILA – Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub, the priest who was abducted by Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi City last May, held his first Holy Mass on Sunday since being rescued last September 16, a Malacañang official said.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Soganub held the Mass in Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, before some 40 military personnel and civilians.
“It was great celebration of life for Father Chito, whose personal safety was placed in danger because of the gun battles happening in Marawi,” Abella said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“According to him, the Mass was also a thanksgiving for the lives of those who were rescued.”
Abella added that Soganub is planning to hear Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, located in the predominantly Muslim city.
Soganub, the vicar general of Marawi territorial prelature, was abducted by Maute terrorists along with other civilians while at the compound of the cathedral at the start of the Marawi siege.
The priest and another civilian were rescued after government troops recovered the Bato mosque in Marawi City.
In his first media appearance since being rescued, Soganub asked the public to pray for him so he could easily recover from his four-month ordeal.
Fighting between state troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists has been raging for four months in Marawi, leaving at least 893 dead, mostly terrorists, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
The prolonged conflict has left much of the once bustling urban center ravaged, and the government has begun plans for its rehabilitation.
After months of fighting and with the terrorists’ movements restricted to a fraction of the city, government troops have expressed confidence that the battle will soon be over, although it did not give a definite timeline.
The violent clashes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year, saying the local terrorists were aiming to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-Islamic State groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.