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Filipino bishops speak out against extremism at plenary meet

Prelates calls for inter-faith unity against terrorism as death toll in Marawi passes 500.

Filipino bishops speak out against extremism at plenary meet

Church leaders in the Philippines called for "intra-faith dialogue" to fight "violent extremism" as government forces continue to battle terrorist gunmen in the southern city of Marawi.

In a statement at the end of their biannual meeting on July 10, the country's Catholic bishops appealed for a "return to normalcy and peace ... as soon as possible."

The prelates appealed for dialogue with Muslims, "so that our various faiths may not be exploited and abused for the sake of terrorism or violent extremism."

The church leaders urged parents, schools, churches, and mosques to "ensure that none may be lured by the recruitment efforts of terrorists."

"Let us teach the young and the old that our faiths are meant for peace. No religion teaches the killing of innocent people, simply because they belong to another religion," read the bishops' statement.

The prelates also expressed "wonder whether the continued state of martial law" across the southern part of the country will ensure the return of peace."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a 60-day state of martial law in Mindanao following the attack by gunmen who claimed to have links to the Islamic State in the city of Marawi.

The attack resulted in a shooting war that included air strikes against suspected terrorist positions and the displacement of up to 300,000 people.

"We believe that the war in Marawi is not religious," said the Catholic bishops, adding that they have heard of "truly stunning stories of how Muslims have protected and helped Christians."

The prelates said Christians have also been assisting thousands of Muslims who have fled from Marawi.

"These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war," read the bishops' statement signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, outgoing president of the bishops' conference.

The bishops expressed their condemnation "in the strongest terms possible" of the local Maute terrorist group that was behind the May 23 attack.

"They have contradicted the fundamental tenets of Islam by abducting, maiming and killing the innocent," said the Catholic leaders.

They appealed for help for displaced residents, especially those who are not yet adequately served.

"Let us pray for the safety of trapped civilians and of those abducted and taken hostage by the terrorists," said the bishops.

At least a hundred people, including a Catholic priest and several church workers, are still in the hands of terrorists and are believed to be have been used as "human shields."

On July 10, the Philippine military estimated that more than 500 people have died in the nearly two-month siege of Marawi.

The presidential palace announced that 507 people have died, including 379 terrorist gunmen and 39 civilians.

Authorities said the number of terrorist still holed up in the city is now down to about 80, including leaders of the Maute terror group and Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon.

Source: UCAN

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