As I write this article for Catholic Stand (July 6, 2017), the battle to free one of the cities in the southern part of the Philippines from the presence of an ISIS-inspired organization, the Maute group, has just entered its sixth week. Marawi City, located in Mindanao, has been under siege for more than a month now. The death toll from the ongoing battle between the terrorist-inspired group and the Philippine Army has risen to 429. Most of those killed belong to the Maute group; there are also casualties from the government side and also from the civilian population. Until now, the whole of Mindanao has been under a state of martial law as the Philippine government strives to bring the terrorists to justice.
The Battle of Marawi
Right now, the once-bustling city of Marawi has been reduced to a ghost town. Thousands of families have been displaced. Evacuation centers are getting crowded. Some evacuees have died inside cramped evacuation centers. While adults are trying their best to put on a brave front in the face of violence, the children of the place are slowly showing signs of the scars and trauma of war.
Marawi City is one of the more developed cities in Mindanao. It is a place where business thrives. It is home to a large university where many students from other provinces come and study. While the city itself is home to a thriving Muslim population, the place is also known to be a haven where Muslims and Christians meet and interact.
However, several Christians have become targets of the Maute group in this ongoing battle. The cathedral of the city was burned. As of this writing, one of the hostages being held by the terrorists is a Catholic priest. There was even a group of Christians who were killed when their convoy was stopped at a checkpoint manned by the terrorists.
Yet, in the midst of the tragic stories that we hear every day from the battlefield of Marawi, there are also stories that bring hope. While the gunfire continues and the death toll increases, there are also stories of heroism every day.
Muslim Acts of Mercy
In the early days of the siege, the terrorists made the rounds of the city and were asking who were the Christians among the population. These Christians would have either been killed or held hostage, if not for the courage that their Muslim brothers and sisters have shown in protecting them.
A group of seventy-one Christian residents, for instance, recalled how they were trapped inside the besieged city for two weeks with a dwindling supply of food and water. During one lull in the gunfire between the terrorists and government forces, they managed to run to safety. And in their search for a safer place to stay, they managed to reach the place of a respected Muslim leader, who took them under his protection. It was in the house of this Muslim that Christians and Muslims shared whatever food was left of the supplies inside the place of their gracious host.
There is also the story of how a Christian family who was in the province enjoying the summer break was rescued by a Muslim relative. When terrorists started searching for Christians in the houses of the Muslims residents of the community, it was this Muslim relative who kept them hidden inside his house. He refused to divulge their whereabouts.
Muslim students from the university in the city also helped in their Christian classmates escape the city by giving them their headdress and attire so that they would not be recognized as Christians by the terrorists.
“Full Immersion in the Condition of Being Human”
These stories of people of different faiths coming to the aid of one another truly bring flesh to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Those among us familiar with the story will remember that the first two people who saw the Jew left for dead at the roadside simply chose to look the other way and pass by the other side.
But when the Samaritan arrives, he looks at the man with compassion. He stops and comes down from his horse. He spends time bandaging the wounds of the man. He shares whatever talent he has in the art of wound bandaging. He brings the man to an inn. He offers to pay for his stay and even promises to return to pay for whatever expenses that the innkeeper spends in taking care of the wounded man. Compassion has truly allowed the Samaritan to share his time, talent, and treasure with the wounded Jew.
The spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen, describes compassion in these moving words:
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, p. 4)
Personal Knowledge of Brokenness and Pain
The Samaritan was the only person who took care of the wounded Jew because he knew what it meant to be in pain, to be broken and to be discriminated against. Coming from a religious background that was looked down upon by the Jews, he understood how it felt to be “left at the roadside”. The Samaritan knew what it meant to feel miserable because of being discriminated against. Thus, when he saw the Jew badly beaten and in pain, the Samaritan truly felt what the Jew felt. His own experience enabled him to move from indifference to compassion.
When we become truly aware of our own personal brokenness and pain, we can become better in showing compassion to those who suffer. And when this happens, we can truly start doubting whether the real way to peace is by building walls.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters from Mindanao have long borne the brunt of discrimination and indifference in our land. While the region of Mindanao is rich in natural resources, the place has long remained mired in poverty. Many of the Philippines’ poorest provinces come from that area. It is perhaps, this own experience of pain and suffering that has led many Muslims from Marawi in this time of war to come to the aid of their Christian neighbors and brothers.
In the Midst of War
As the war in the City of Marawi in the Philippines rages, we continue to pray for peace. As a Filipino, I just hope that by the time this article gets published in Catholic Stand, the battle for Marawi City has reached its end. [Editor’s Note: As of the date of publication, the battle for Marawi is still ongoing.]
As the sounds of guns and bombs being dropped are heard daily, we continue to hope that out of the rubble of war more stories of compassion will come out. Truly, in the midst of war, the Parable of the Good Samaritan can become a reality.