Geographically, the prelature is situated in North Central Mindanao. It consists of Marawi City, the whole province of Lanao del Sur and the municipalities of Sultan Naga Dimaporo (formerly Karomatan) and Balo-i in Lanao del Norte.
The province of Lanao del Sur is centered on Lake Lanao. This is a large body of water situated some 700 meters above sea level. It is around the shores of this lake that the Maranao culture and Islamic religion have flourished. The lake provides a source of livelihood for many Maranao fishermen. Through its outlet, the Agus river, the lake also supplies hydroelectric energy for the industrialization of Mindanao.
The prelature is bounded on the north by the Diocese of Iligan, on the east by the Archdiocesan of Cagayan de Oro and the Diocese of Malaybalay, on the south by the Archdiocese of Cotabato, and on the west by Yllana Bay and the Diocese of Pagadian. The total land area of the prelature is 4, 568 square kilometers.
Socio-culturally, the territorial jurisdiction of the Prelature of Marawi covers an area that is considered the traditional homeland of the Maranao ethnic group which is staunchly Muslim in religious affiliation, possessing a unique culture which gives them a strong identity and sets them apart from the rest of the Christian population. They constitute roughly 95% of the total population in the area. With the influx of Christian migration from the north at the early part of the 20th century, the Maranaos are getting fearful of becoming a minority in their own traditional homeland, and of their religion and culture being threatened.
The Christians are originally migrants, mainly for economic reasons. They constitute about 5% of the total population in the area. Since they are small minority and economically poor, they do not yield any political power or influence. On the other hand, the consciousness among the Christians of their linkage to the wider Christian majority in Mindanao and the Philippines as a whole gives them a certain level of influence in these communities.
Christians comprise a tiny minority in the territorial jurisdiction of the Prelature of Marawi where the vast majority of the population is Muslim. Hence, Christian influence in the local community is hardly felt except when the highly influential Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines or such national Church leaders like the late Jaime Cardinal Sin issue pronouncements in support of the Muslims in Mindanao in their quest for a meaningful solution to the conflict in the South, issues of justice and human rights, as well as statements against corruption in government and dishonesty among public officials.
The prevailing moral norm in the community is mainly Islamic, especially in terms of modesty in dress among women, social etiquettes that regulate interaction between the sexes, the ban against sale and distribution
Historically, Islam predates Christianity in the area, which accounts for the religious and cultural identity of the people. There were sporadic attempts by the Spanish colonizers to bring the Maranaos under the Spanish flag in the early colonial period but did not succeed due to fierce resistance of the people against the Spanish invaders in defense of their religion. The first Spanish expedition to reach the Lake Lanao area was launched under Governor-General Corcuera on April 4, 1639, but the men did not stay long. At the time of the Spanish incursion into this area, the Islamic religion, although only at its incipient state, had already taken root among the ethnic Maranaos. An attempt was made to colonize the lake area the following year but was driven back by the natives. About this time, too, the Jesuits established a mission in Iligan.
A third attempt by the Spanish colonizers to enter the lake area took place over two centuries later on Aug. 21, 1891 under Governor-General Valeriano Weyler, who captured the fort of Datu Akadir Amai Pakpak (known to the Spanish as Fort Marahui), but three days later he was forced to return to his base in Northern Lanao (Iligan area). Finally, in 1895, Governor-General Ramon Blanco, with an expedition of over 5,000 men, captured the fort and killed Amai Pakpak in the process. Conquest was, however, short-lived since, with the outbreak of the Spanish-American war in 1898, the Spanish forces had to withdraw from the area.
In the late 1800's, the Jesuits may have visited Dansalan area (the old name of Marawi). They had returned to Iligan after 1862. In 1905, Father Denis Lynch, SJ and Father Philip Finigin, SJ had visited the army camps in Malabang and Camp Keithley to minister to the soldiers and their families who were Christians.
Under the American colonial regime, Christian settlers from the Visayas and Luzon areas came to Dansalan in big numbers. The first recorded baptisms, which were performed by the Jesuits from nearby Iligan, took place between 1912 and 1921. In 1923, Dansalan got its first resident priest with the coming of Father Joseph Reith, SJ who was able to secure lots for the church. He stayed on till 1942 and during his tenure, the Parish of Maria Auxiliadora in Marawi was formally established with him as the first parish priest. He also built St. Mary's School in 1936 with the RVM Sisters as administrators. Conditions in Dansalan at this time till the outbreak of World War II in 1941 were relatively peaceful due to the combined efforts of tactful Muslim and Christian Filipino civil and military leaders.
The Columban missionaries from Ireland took over the administration of the Parish of Marawi from the Jesuits in 1948. The first Columban parish priest was Father Richard Brangan, SSC. A year after, he was joined by Father Thomas Holohan, SSC and Father Thomas Brennan, SSC. The latter stayed on for 13 years.
On Jan. 27, 1951, all of Lanao came under the jurisdiction of the newly-erected Prelature Nullius of Ozamis. On Feb. 17, 1971 the Prelature of Iligan, the mother Church of the Prelature of Marawi, was erected, with the late Bishop Bienvenido S. Tudtud as its first bishop.
The Prelature of Marawi was created by the late Pope Paul VI on Dec. 8, 1976. The necessary forms and documents were submitted only in October of that year. But the speed with which Rome acted would seem to indicate that the Pope himself had a personal interest in Muslim-Christian Dialogue as the viable Christian response to ethnic violence in Central Mindanao in the early part of the '70's.
Bienvenido S. Tudtud was appointed as the first Bishop-Prelate of the newly-erected Prelature of Marawi. He served in that capacity until his tragic death in an air disaster in July 1987. Bishop Fernando Capalla of Iligan Diocese was then appointed as Apostolic Administrator until 1991 with the appointment of the Columban missionary, Msgr. Desmond Hartford as Apostolic Administrator up to end of this quinquennium.
The prelature was founded on a vision: "To offer a reconciling presence among Muslims through dialogue of life and faith." The phrase is that of Pope Paul VI himself which he enunciated during a private audience with Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud in May 1975.
Economically, the Christian population, who are mainly settlers from the north, are generally poor. They earn their living as farmers, fishermen, domestic helpers, sales persons or people who work in the marketplace and shops for their Maranao employers. However, in one or two towns in the Prelature, a few enterprising Christians (mostly of Chinese ancestry) have put up their own business. Among the Christians, there are also a good number who are professionals: teachers, office clerks and health workers.
Catholic Schools are allowed to operate freely and teachers are allowed to exercise their academic freedom as guaranteed by the Constitution. As far as education is concerned, the government is now extending some financial support in the form of scholarships to Secondary students and the Catholic schools are participating in this program.