Courage of Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue on the future of Mindanao

Peace Through Religion (Interreligious and Intercultural Meeting)

Thanks to the organizers  for this gathering on “Courage  of Peace”.

We are here because we still dream afuture peace in Mindanao. Many of us, including myself  that since 1977 I have been in Mindanao, are working  hard to  help our people to  be united, but  the road is still long  and full of surprises. Indeed, religions and cultures have   strong  influence in this process and  we are called to  rediscover  how  religions and cultures  can contribute for  peace.  Unfortunately, the sad experiences  of the conflict of  religions and cultures in many parts of the world   do not help us here inMindanao. This is aggravated by  an  increasing presence  of  radical groups who spread  fear and make our future peace more difficult.

The  great challenge  for the future  peace in Mindanao is for us to “harmonize” the differences  of religions and cultures   without loosing  the identity of our differences. In this short presentation I am   called to  introduce  few points on “Peace through Religion”.

We are called,ones  again,to find  reasons to put  together  the common aspiration  as creatures of the same God, in spite  of the many alarming  signs  of  hostility and violence in the name of religions in many parts of the world  and  also in Mindanao. Presenting peace  through  religions we  are called  to reaffirm the spirit of love, reconciliation and mercy  over the temptation to  act   like   Cain against   the brother Abelof  this  modern time.

The real challenge today is  not to  put in the law what we believe is  our rights only, but to  examine ourselves  and reflect why  we are so passionate  to defend our  rights  and history and  ignore the rights  and the history of  others.  The harmonization of differences  must be  our goal. There is a lot of rhetoric, vested interest  created  by  leaders and groups, often covered by   cultural  and religious color to defend their ambitions and cultural differences. All this  delaythe realization of   our    dream  for peacein the  world and also here in Mindanao. We are called to  work together  for a Just Peace.

Focus my reflection on religion, I believe that  people in Mindanao,  in general,are religious, means  they have their  forms of religiosity, but   there is still a lot of mistrust  alimented  by prejudices, ignorance, fear and  the temptation to  use a religion to  justify  the accumulated powerof some  powerful families,   groups or clans. And more dangerous,  we  have  powerful leaders who  use   religion  offering  money and positions to religious leaders   to  cover  up their ambitionsand justify  what  a religion can not justify.  This  has been  in the past  more visible among Christians  groups, but now among  those Muslimswho  use  the  religion for their  ambitions.  It is alarming  what  is happening   around the  world  in  the name of Islamand it is   sad to  observe  that   good Muslimleaders of Mindanao  do not have enough  courage to race their voices to say what is right and wrong  especially  in the use and abuse of  our religions.It is time to  help each other  to go against those who  are  using and abusing  the  “power” of  religions.  Many  of us, especially Christians, Muslims and indigenous people, in Mindanao  are victim of this  “alarming strategies”.

Our challenge is to   practice our own religion with  simplicity of  heart  and  respect each other as brothers and sisters, acknowledging that we are different  in religions, but  part  of the same humanity.  In the same time it is  dangerous to know that  many groups  and  organizations  today    are more  conformable  to over emphasize the “human”  and  “humanitarian  effort of peace  and solidarity”forgetting  to  say that   we  are not completely human if we do  not  experience and  acknowledge our  divine origin and the  presence of God in us that  makes our human nature “persons”,  with the same dignity.

We are created with  the same aspiration to be happy, to love and to explore and respect nature and creation around us. In the midst of increasing “fundamentalism with violence”,“radicalism” and “terrorism”  in one side and   “materialism” and secularism that advocate   discrimination and oppression on the other side,  we are  called to reaffirm  a “God-centrism” or “ God-centeredness”. Personally I am not conformable with the expression “Moderate Islam or  moderate Christianity”. If we are guided by God   we are “children of  God” as the  Christians used to say, or “servants of God/Allah” as the Muslim used to say. Thus, we are not  moderate , but “passionate” in the  way of God  who is a loving and  compassionate God.    We are  sometimes  forces to   call ourselves “ moderate” because  the passion  for goodness  is not  there, ratter  we  see  “passionate” people  among those who  do violence. Thus, we ratter prefer to have  moderate people.

I never forget  my experience  as a negotiator for  MNLF in the year 1978 up to 1981 in Siocon , Zamboanga del Norte. After  my  first immersion in a Muslim  community, living with the Muslims and   creating a very good spirit of friendship I was invited to be the negotiator with  MNLF groups of Zamboanga del Norte. The  negotiation  was hard, going in the forest, living with the MNLF   people who respected and protected me in many occasions.  Living with the MNLF in the forest I have had  the  time  to hear a lot of stories of passionate  young  MNLF members who  where so passionate  in their  ideology ,  ready to  attack , to kill and to be killed.   I do not advocate violence and many times  I said to them my opinion about this revolution  that can be  fight in different way, but   I   took  the aspect of the passion as an example  even in  my continuous  mission of dialogue and peace. I  say in many occasions to the youth and others: “  If there are  people  passionate do  kill  and to be killed why  we  can not  be passionate to love and to serve?”.

Allow me  to say  to those  who believe that Islam  can  give them authority to kill,  they  are wrong. How  God  can  contradiction himself. God  can not order in the same time to   kill and to love.    To God alone all the power and in is His mysterious way  He knows what is best for us, even to  make us to suffer to  be purified. In  Christianity  we  pass  from the same  bad experience  with the inquisition and other practices, but   that time  passed.   It is very dangerous to  use religion  for  vested interest. God will punish  them,  no matter what is the religion that they profess. Saying this  I admire those Muslims leaders  who  continue to  say that  Islam is  a  religion of peace  and  it is not  Islamic to  do  bad thinks and those  Christians who continue  to say that Christianity is a religion of love.   Among the Muslims  there are still now those  who preach  the  “Jihad”   to justify violence, but  fortunately  many  today  give more attention to the “great Jihad”, the Jihad of the  heart, the great struggle   to purify ourselves, and I salute  those who have the courage to  continue to  promote this kind of Islam.

In this line of thinking I  find a support  in a new and  challenging  initiative of the United Nations ( UN) called “World Interfaith Harmony Week”.  I believe that the UN  realized that something is lucking  in the peace effort  in the world  and  in the year 2010 they have come up with the new idea  to  build peace  based on the love of  God, the love of neighbor and love  of the common good.  Thus, a peace  sustained by  God  and love.

Thus, on October 20, 2010  the General Assembly  adopted a resolution mentioning the many effort of peace of the UN   as introduction  and after they affirmed and promote an new inspiring initiative saying:

– “Recognizing the imperative  need for dialogue among faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people

-… recognizing that the moral imperatives of all  religions, convictions and  beliefs call  for peace, tolerance and  mutual understanding.

– … Proclaims the first week of  every year the World Interfaith Harmony Week between  all religions, faiths and beliefs ;

– Encourages  all States to support, on voluntary base, the spread of the message of interfaith  harmony and  goodwill in the world’s  churches, mosques,  synagogues, temples, and other places of worship during the  week, based  on love of  God and   love of one’s neighbor  or on  love of good and love of  one’s neighbor, each according to  their own religions traditions or convictions;…”

There are those who  plan to  destroy religions with their ideology. Among the most  visible ideologies we can quote the one of   Carl Max  which declaredthat: “ religions are  the opium of the people” . this was used an  part of the communist ideology and in more recent time  people  even try to ignore  religions  considering  secularism  and materialism enough  for their life. To oppose to this  waves  of ideologies  we experience also opposite  ideologies  equally dangerous like  fundamentalism  where  religion is reaffirmed in a more “narrow way” and  justify  many  anomalies in society,  including  radicalism and terrorism  today. All these  alarming situations are today   well  presented  in  social media and  unfortunately   become  cannels of  terrorism  and  destroy the foundation of  society and  the basic  ethic  that is build in the heart of each person by God.

Allow me to say that in my opinion today some religions are “hostage” of  power, In a special way  Islam  is used in the middle East  in the midst of so much suffering and horror  aggravated by  the presence of  ISIS and    Hindu religion is  creating so much problems  in India. In the light of this  alarming  situations  China  is trying to   remove  all   “external” religions like  Christianity and Islam.  All these  alarming news   aggravate the attitude of  those who believe that it is better not to have any religion.

In the midst of  this reality  there is  a tendency  for a  group to  convert people of otherreligious groups or   limitthe freedom of religion, ignoring the    human rights of  freedom of religions.  This dynamic is often painful and  in some occasion is accompanied  by threat and  violence. All these prove  that there is a  narrow  understanding of our duty  to live and   share  what we believe.   Fortunately it is  emerging  also the  understanding of the importance of   love and compassion in society. Today  in the midst of  all the contradictions   there is a great attention to what we  call ”spirituality” that  is the  heart of each religion.  Christianity and Islam in the  centauries have proved that  what is more important is to  be guided by  the spirituality which can notbe separated from  a religion, but  go beyond  the structures and even the  believes of it  religions.

The word “spirituality” comes from the  Latin root word “spirare”, to “breath”. “Ginaua” we say in   common  Filipino  languages. In the language of the Muslim,  especially of the Sufis,  a similar word  is “Tasawwf”.  When we  enter in the   area of understanding and experience we are   invited to  see  in it    the spirit  of God  that is painted in each  human being  and it is  the same  in all of us.

The Bible remind us: “  I give you  a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love as been for you, so much your love has  been for  you, so must your love be for each other”.  ( Jn. 13: 34-35)

The Qur’an  reminds us: “ O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you people and tribes that you may be  acquainted with one another. Indeed, the  most noble of  you is  the  sight of God is the  most righteous  of you”. ( Qur’an 49,13)

The great challenge  for us today is how  we can respect  the differences of religions and in the same time to  converge together to the pure inner voice that is all  of us and have an experience of  “spirituality” as Christian, as Muslim, as Buddhist  and people of other religions?  And how  this spirituality can be translated in our expression of love,  compassion, mercy, solidarity  and all the  values that  help us to  dream peace  together?

Indeed  “spirituality”  is the missing point that  is emerging today  and help us to go  beyond  the differences of our religions.  We have also  some  similar points that  we  appreciate like the  need to  pray, the importance of fasting, the  obligation to help those in need, the  respect  for the virgin Mary , etc.  Yes, we can not compromise our religion, but we can  still  call each other brothers and sisters and respect   and help each other.

Unfortunately sometimes , some people ,use their “passion”  in a wrong way. There is today a lot of violence  in the name of religions of the  world, in Middle east more in the name of Islam, In India in the name  of Hinduism, etc.

For me “Spirituality”  is  today the  missing  point  to   reaffirm and experience  to  with passion  toward a sustainable peace.   Our religion has  articles of faith, rituals,  moral  guidance, but  we have to translate all these in a style of life where  our spirituality  can grow.  This is  what I  call “ Culture of Dialogue” , a culture that helps us to  relate each other  on the common ground of love. Thus,  dialoguebecomes an expression of love   action toward harmony, solidarity and peace.

Allow me to  explain this concept with the experience of  the Silsilah Dialogue Movement  that I live and promote.  We are guide by the  principle or spirit that “ Dialogue starts from God and  brings people back to God “ , each one according our religion.

I remember  in the  eights,  before the EDSA revolution  when we started Silsilah   in Zamboanga in 1984 some were curious to know more  about this new movement. One day I received a visit of a lady from  Davao who  told me that she represented of NGO  and  asked  me: “Father what is the secret of Silsilah?” .  At the time  Silsilah  was almost the only  existing, active group in Mindanao of dialogue and peace in Mindanao.” Well – I said –  we are guided by the spirituality of life-in-dialogue  with God, with the self, with others and with creation…”  in the  course of my sharing the lady  came up with this  statement: “  Father we  do not need  spirituality , we need solidarity and action”. I can say that  was not the only  time  when  I have to  assert  what  Silsilahproposes and wishes to be. In other occasions  I have been  approached by some Christians telling me  maybe the Muslims  can not understand this  movement starting from a spirituality. But I proved to themthat the Muslims   understand  well the language of spirituality. All religions   grow in the habitat of spirituality  thatgo beyond  our articles  of faith. Today  the  word “spirituality”  is becoming for many  the central  point of peace. The activism  without  a deeper motivation of  God presence  will soon  end, what  remains is  want is essential and come from   God inspiration  in the pure heart of a person that can  be pure and sincere in  variety of religions. This  personal experience allow me to  reaffirm that  indeed  religious  people  guided by a spirituality can find  common ground for dialogue and peace. The problem comes when  some  believe that  the common ground  must be  on the same religion.

At this point allow me  to share an other experience. A young man of well know  Muslim  family attending to   one of the course of Silsilah in Zamboanga came up during the sharing with this   reflection: : Father I am grateful to Silsilah because  I understand now the real meaning  of dialogue and peace. I was educated by   some of our leaders that “in the  worldcan not be peace until there is only one religion, and this religion is Islam”.

Well, I leave to you the implication of this statement…. What will happen to  our  youth if  we have in our midst this  kind of leaders  who indoctrinate our youth?   But  you and I know that  this is a  alarming reality, especially now.  It is alarming  because of a  wrong perception,  it is alarming because  of the violence behind this  spirit and in the case of ISIS is also alarming because  it is destroying the good image of Islam.

Unfortunately, In  history  we have seen   similar mentality  in some   Christian groupsand in more resent time  it is more visible  not only among some  followers of Islam,  but also   among some groups of Indus and Buddhism.

Yes, the courage of peace  today has to face many  aspects and we  need to  be together and not allow  some leaders or groups to   divide us. We need to be together to  reaffirm the importance of religions  who remind us the  mission of love, through harmony, solidarity and peace.

For this reason  I  see the wisdom of the UN to promote the  World Interfaith harmony Week and   am happy to say that we  in Silsilah  and in Zamboanga united with the many partners  we have done our best to spread  this initiative of national level and  have contributed to   ask  president Aquino to recognize it and he  signed the Republic Act 10525:“ Act declaring the  first week of  February of every year  as  World Interfaith Harmony Week in the  interfere country  and mandating  its observance by the different government agencies”

Yes, today   more people and groups around the world  realized  the importance of  harmonizing  our differences maintaining our identity, but in the spirit of love and compassion.

It is a still  adream to   achieve   peace though religion. Today religions  are  still  in the fear or fighting mode, although  many people of  different religions   have reached  to this  understanding that  now I am sharing to you and  I  dream.  But how long we have to  wait to have a  sustainable  peace through religion?

I hope it  will  come soon. We hope that  we , especially the  Christians and the Muslims,  enter in a deeper understanding of our mission  to  be  free to propagate our faith, called  dawa in Islam  and  evangelization/mission  in Christianity, but in the spirit of  freedom, love and compassion.

I  end  my sharing with a quotation of the open letter  of 138 Muslims scholars of the  world addresses in 2007 to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian  leaders of the world entitled : “ A Common Word between  Us and You”:

“ The basis  for this peace  and understanding already exists. It is  part of the  very foundational principles of   both faiths:  love of the One God, and love of neighbor. These principles  are found  over and over again  in the  sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The unity of God and the necessity  of love of Him, and the necessity   of love  of the neighbor is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.”

This  is for me the spirituality that I dream as a condition  for asustainable Culture of  Dialogue Path to  Peace.

We hope and pray that this  will happen also in Mindanao

Thanks a lot   and wassalam

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