How I remember my Muslim friend Ismael “Pochong” Abubakar
On June 6, 2017, Pochong Abubakar passed away in his sixties. Relatives and friends went to his house in Pasonanca, Zamboanga City to pay their last respect.
I was among the few Christians and the only Priest in the crowd of hundreds of Muslims who, in silence, witnessed the prayer and the rituals that are performed by Muslims when one dies. I appreciated the attention of the family who brought me to the small room where Pochong was lay dead after a long time of suffering. The last time I saw him was three weeks before when I visited him in the hospital. He was in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and he could not anymore talk but he perceived my presence and with a friendly smile listened to my words of comfort and he started to cry. I still remember the tears of Pochong, a Muslim friend that I met many years when Silsilah started the Inter Faith Council of Leaders (IFCL) in Zamboanga City. At that time, Dr. Juanito Bruno, former DepEd Director, committed to be the Muslim Coordinator of the group. Often in my life, I experience that the Lord send to me and to the Silsilah Dialogue Movement the right persons in the right time. Dr. Bruno, on one occasion, introduced Pochong to me, a young politician who had been speaker of the House in the first Autonomous Government in Mindanao and Vice Governor of Tawi-Tawi. He had covered different responsibilities in his career as consultant and a successful businessman.
Dr. Bruno one day invited Pochong to be part of the IFCL. I was there and we became friends. He understood my sincerity and the mission of Silsilah and before leaving he told me “Father, I promise to be part of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement and the Inter Faith Council of Leaders.” The promise became a reality, after a few years when he finished his career as a politician and he was living on regular basis in Zamboanga City. When Dr. Bruno passed away, Pochong became the IFCL Muslim Coordinator. For almost 10 years, he served the IFCL as a Muslim Coordinator, bringing into the group always his words of wisdom and friendship.
In this difficult time when friendship between Muslims and Christians is tested in many ways, I still believe that it is possible to build “links” (Silsilah) of friendship with all. The members of IFCL are respected Muslim and Christian leaders willing to live the mission of Silsilah in the spirit of friendship and commitment.
Pochong’s presence in IFCL made also possible the link with other respected Muslim leaders in Basilan interested to be part of the IFCL. I remember when we started formally the IFCL in Basilan last July 26, 2010 Pochong was there to encourage the Muslim leaders of Basilan to be active in this new group. From that time on, the IFCL Basilan became very strong, gathering many respected Muslim and Christian leaders. He has also been a valid instrument on many occasions to help in the process of reconciliation in some critical events in the lives of the people of Basilan. I also remember that Pochong’s presence in IFCL was instrumental in exploring the possibility to start the IFCL in Jolo and Bongao, Tawi-tawi.
After the prayer of the Muslims and my silent prayer in the house of Pochong, I joined to those who went to the cemetery where I witnessed the burial of Pochong. There I was touched by the silent presence of many relatives and friends. Their sincere presence was solemn and a clear manifestation of love.
Meanwhile, we are disturbed by the many news of violence in Mindanao, especially in Marawi City, I hope and pray that many Christians and Muslims can experience friendship among themselves in the midst of different cultures and religion. This is what I have been dreaming since the beginning when I started the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in 1984 and I continue to believe and dream that there is still goodness in society and the gifts of friendship and trust can help us to overcome feelings of prejudices and hatred to join hands to build a Culture of Dialogue, Path to Peace, that is an experience of the Culture of love. We need today a new “radical love” for a “radical change” in our society.
Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME