Acceptance Speech on the Occasion of the Award to Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME of the Pamana ng Kapayapaan National Peace Award Manila
Peace be with you, assalam ‘alaikum, brothers and sisters. It is my honor to receive the “2015 Pamana ng Kapayapaan National Peace Award” and I am grateful to the organizers and the Asian Congress for Media and Communication for sharing this Award to me.
I was informed that some friends shared with you my book CALL TO A DREAM and from that initial sharing you have found more information about me and the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.
Yes, I have a dream, the dream to share with all I encounter in my life that we have to love all, because we are part of the same human family, people of different cultures and religions but created by the same God who loves all of us.
I dream to inspire many to dream with me and together to live and promote the Culture of Dialogue, Path to Peace. For this reason it is my strong desire to remain with you in the Philippines up to the end of my life. At this age of 73 I can say that I spent most of my life in Mindanao, from 1977 up to now, with a break of two years in my first “exile” to Italy, my country. In 1981, after helping in the peace negotiations with the MNLF I was forced to leave the Philippines because of various attempts by the military to carry out ambushes targeting me, to silence me at that time of the martial law, only because I was helping the Muslims in the peace effort as part of my mission. But the exile was also providential. In Italy I reflected and prayed more and I studied in Rome in the Pontifical Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies (PISAI). It was a way for me to continue my dream and to be more prepared for new challenges. After two years I was able to go back to Mindanao, to Zamboanga where I started in 1984 the Silsilah Dialogue Movement. The dream was, and still is, to promote a dialogue which starts from a spiritual approach, convinced that“DIALOGUE STARTS FROM GOD AND BRINGS PEOPLE BACK TO GOD”.
I was convinced, and I am still convinced, that Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths understand the language of “spirituality” because it is the deeper language of human beings that each one can experience in each one’s own religion.
The new beginning of Silsilah was a great challenge for me and for many of my Muslim and Christian friends who joined me in the Movement. That was a time when I was still the superior of the PIME fathers in the Philippines and Fr. Tullio Favali, one member of my community, was killed in the area of Kidapawan.
But the most painful time when my dream was greatly tested was when on May 20, 1992. Fr. Salvatore Carzedda, a PIME father and a close friend working with me in Silsilah, was killed in Zamboanga. That was the time when many advised us to close Silsilah, but together, Muslims and Christians of Silsilah reaffirmed, in front of the coffin of Fr. Salvatore, that we were ready to move on, and from that time on the key word “PADAYON” (move on) became part of the dream. In spite of this determination I was forced again to leave Mindanao and go back to Italy for a “second exile” that lasted three years.
Brothers and sisters, this is an occasion for me to tell you that we have to live our dreams in life in good and bad times . In the process we internalize the dream for it to become more visible through our life and actions , working with passion and determination.
Since the beginning of my mission in Mindanao and up to now I have seen so much violence happening in the lives of people. I know that some get discouraged, some are made greatly afraid. Some also turn their back and abandon the path of dialogue and peace.
I also get discouraged. I also become fearful. But my secret is that I believe in prayer and patience. This gives me the courage to continue and to give courage to others to continue, moving with passion and determination. Often I say, especially to the youth, that my experience living with the rebels for two years in the forest of Zamboanga Del Norte for periods lasting many days and weeks in negotiations, I observed that most of the young MNLF rebels were ready to face a lot of sacrifices, ready also to die. In my long sharing with them, in the long nights in the forest, waiting and planning, many times I said to them that I do not advocate violence and I believe that there are other ways to claim our rights. Well, that experience gave me the strong conviction that if we have a dream we have to move with courage and passion, with determination and patience.
We know how complicated the world situation is now and we can say the same thing about the peace efforts in Mindanao. I also know that now still some young people are joining movements that use violence, including ISIS and other international terrorist groups. It is sad, but it is a reality. It is also clear that some leaders use even religions to achieve their ambitions and maintain their power. Sometimes I reflect: ” Peace where are you?”
There are many peace initiatives around the world. Among the many good initiatives is one that has been promoted by the United Nations starting in 2010. This is the World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW). This initiative is based on “the love of God , the love of neighbor and the love of the common good.” When the initiative was launched I was happy and I said to myself and to friends “This is also the dream of Silsilah which has been guiding us from 1984 up to now. “
Indeed, there are many initiatives for dialogue and peace but most of them are based on strategies and calculations. On the contrary, I believe that a sustainable peace has to be founded on a spirituality, a spirituality of life-in-dialogue with God, with the self, with others and with creation; a spirituality which accepts different beliefs and helps all to work together for the common good, especially in solidarity with the poor and for the protection of creation.
This attention to environment is for us the “dialogue with creation”, one of the pillars of dialogue that we have in Silsilah.
Silsilah has developed and continues to develop programs of formation for youth and leaders, for the grassroots, and has linkages with many government offices and NGOs. All these efforts for us are part of the spirituality of life-in-dialogue and the promotion of the Culture of Dialogue that gives attention to different aspects of life.
During the painful experience of the siege in Zamboanga in 2013 we formulated the slogan “Why violence? Why not Peace? We are brothers and sisters!” This is the time when we have to build bridges of peace and find ways to harmonize the aspirations of the people . This is true also for our situation in Mindanao. It is time for both sides to meet in the middle and to find “pragmatic solutions” guided by sincere intentions, with the hope that along the way we continue to share and to improve what is needed for the common good.
I am grateful to God for giving me the strength to continue to pursue this dream and help to establish the future peace in Mindanao. This is also the dream of God who started dialogue with us and requests our hearts and hands to build peace together, as brothers and sisters, people of different cultures and religions.
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to share my dream and the dream of Silsilah which I believe is the dream of each person who moves with a sincere heart.