PRAYERS URGED | Priest, others held by Maute group, church officials say

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Fr. Chito Suganob (contributed photo)

MANILA, Philippines — The president of the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines called for prayers for a Catholic priest and others he said were taken hostage by gunmen of the Maute group who have reportedly threatened to kill them unless the military calls off operations against the extermists.

“Father Chito Suganob and others were in the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians when members of the Maute fighting group forced their way into the Cathedral, taking with them Fr. Chito and others as hostages,” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement posted on the CBCP website on Wednesday.

“We beg every Filipino to pray fervently for Fr. Chito and for other hostages. As the government forces ensure that the law is upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration,” Villegas said.

CBCP News also posted a report in which Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña  confirmed the taking of Suganob.

The bishop said he received a call shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday from someone who introduced himself as “a member of the ISIS (Islamic State)” and demanded a “unilateral ceasefire.”

“They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise, they will kill the hostages,” the article quoted de la Peña as saying.

The bishop told CBCP News the call was made through the phone of his secretary, who is among the hostages.

He added that he was allowed to speak to Suganob, who is also the diocesan vicar general, to make sure “their demands are clear with me.”

The bishop said he was on the outskirts of Marawi City when the violence broke out “and only learned that the St. Mary Cathedral and his residence (were) burned at about midnight,” CBCP News reported.

Villegas also called on the Maute group “that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God — the very same God we Christians worship and adore — to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God’s most exalted attributes.”