DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 July) — Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub, the Vicar-General of the Prelature of Marawi who was held hostage for 117 days during the Marawi Siege in 2017 “died of cardiac arrest in his sleep” in his hometown in Norala, South Cotabato early Wednesday morning, July 22, the Bishop of Marawi announced.
The face of inter-religious dialogue for the Catholic church in predominantly Muslim Marawi for over two decades, Soganub, would have turned 60 on August 1.
Since he returned to his ancestral home in late November 2017, Norala had been his base as he underwent trauma healing. He would take off from Norala for his speaking engagements across the country and return there. His out of town trips were cut off due to the COVID-19 lockdowns since mid-March.
By tradition, Soganub told MindaNews in previous interviews, he spends his birthdays at home, except in 2017 when he was among hundreds hostaged by the Islamic-State inspired Maute Group and its allies during the siege in Marawi City.
“It is with great sadness that we make this announcement,” Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Pena wrote on his Facebook page shortly before 10 a.m.
“The doctor estimated his death between 5 to 6 a.m.” he said, adding funeral arrangements will be announced later.
“Please include him in your prayers,” the Bishop said.
Rey Barnido, Coordinator of Duyog Marawi, the partnership between the Diocese of Iligan and the Prelature of Marawi to assist evacuees during the siege and its aftermath, said, “while we mourn for the death of a brave soul and a survivor, we also celebrate his life.”
“Martyr of Dialogue”
“The martyr of dialogue today” was how Davao City’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla described Soganub at the 16th Mindanao Sulu Pastoral Conference on October 18, 2017, a month after Soganub escaped, along with a teacher, from his captors.
Soganub was a hostage of the Maute Group from May 23 to September 16, 2017 and in the custody of the military from September 17 to November 20. He finally returned home in Norala on November 27, 2017.
It was Capalla, then Bishop of Iligan and Administrator of the Prelature of Marawi, who sent the then 27-year old Soganub back to the seminary in 1988, with inter-religious dialogue in Marawi, the country’s lone Islamic city, as his future assignment.
Soganub would stay there — the only area he was assigned to in his 26 years as priest — until he escaped from the Maute Group in September 2017.
He has not been given a regular ministry since 2017 to allow him time to undergo trauma healing.
On his homecoming in Norala in November 2017, Soganub told MindaNews he was grateful for the privilege God had given him. “Dili usual nga privilege, bisan gustohon mo pa. Gina-imagine ko gamay na lang kulang sa martyrdom. (It is not a usual privilege even if you want it. I imagine it’s close to martyrdom). Ang martyrdom kasi, martyrs are chosen by God and martyrdom is a privilege and you cannot ask for it and (no matter) how prayerful you are, how holy you are, if the Lord will not give it to you, indi gid” (it’s not for you).
Soganub said a churchgoer at the St. Ignatius Cathedral in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Nov. 19, 2017 made him realize how much he had inspired other people.
He was talking with a military official who was assigned in Marawi years ago, when an “executive looking” man in his 30s rushed to hold his hand and to ask him to bless him and his baby “because you pray effectively. You would not have survived there (Marawi) but you did.”
He said his experience as hostage “deepened my faith, it made me more prayerful, (it became) an occasion to pray and an occasion for people to pray for me.”
Soganub s also said his having worked with the poor and his involvement in interfaith dialogue helped him survive his nearly four-month captivity in 2017 but the primary reason is “prayers… orientation of mind and prayers. Si Lord talaga, si Lord.”
“Yung attitude ko for the poor, it helped na lang kasi this is the Jesus way, the way of Jesus,” he added.
Laugh and cry
Since his escape from the Maute Group, he spent the last three years of his life going around the country, speaking before large and small gatherings about his experience as a hostage and how it deepened his faith. He had several invitations abroad but had problems securing his passport due to some technicalities in the requirements.
Soganub was a much sought after speaker as he would make people cry at one instance and make them laugh immediately after, or he would make them laugh first and cry later. The impact of his commitment as a priest and as a person practicing interfaith dialogue has inspired many not only in the religious sector but in the other sectors that he addressed.
In last year’s graduation, the Ateneo de Davao University conferred on Soganub the Archbishop Clovis Thibault Award for his “commitment to inter-religious dialogue and Christian witnessing of the Gospel and Cross in Mindanao.”
Barnido wrote on his Facebook page that Fr. Chito “carved his own path and found healing in sharing his stories around the country. He was an inspiring figure…soft spoken, funny, and firm.”
At the time of his death, Fr. Chito was President of Pakigdait, a pioneer force in interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding in Lanao.
“He is the second survivor of the hostage crises who succumbed to cardiac arrest. We don’t really know the pain that a human heart can bear. Rest in peace Padre. Finally in peace,” Barnido wrote. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)