Much of Marawi was left in ruins following last year’s five-month-long siege by an Islamist group

Catholic and Muslim residents of the battle-scarred city of Marawi, in the southern Philippines, started the Islamic month of fasting together this week, as part of a local tradition dating back almost 40 years.

As Ramadan began on 13 May, Christian families were encouraged to “accompany their Muslim neighbours in fasting, prayer and service to the poor”, the Catholic news service UCAN reported.

The tradition, titled ‘Duyog Ramadan’, or ‘One With Ramadan’, dates back to 1979, and is “an appreciation of the early memories” of Muslim and Christian interaction in the city, local bishop Edwin de la Pena explained.

He told UCAN this year’s Ramadan would be an opportunity to promote peacebuilding involving Muslim and Christian youths in the troubled Mindanao region, to which Marawi belongs.

Christian families have been encouraged “to sacrifice one meal in any day of Ramadan and to donate the cost of the meal to the rehabilitation of Marawi communities”, according to UCAN.

Almost half of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed and more than 400,000 people displaced during an Islamist group’s five-month-long siege last year.

“This year’s Ramadan is a celebration of victory against individuals and groups who intended to destroy the unity we’re forging between Christians and Muslims,” said Reynaldo Barnido, who leads a rehabilitation project in the city.

Although Marawi’s rebuilding has begun, an estimated 27,000 families still remain in evacuation centres and transition houses, according to UCAN.

Meanwhile the threat of more terrorist attacks in the country remains very real. Two weeks ago, two people were injured after a bomb went off outside a Catholic cathedral in the city of Koronadal, which is also in Mindanao and is only seven hours’ drive from Marawi.