Around the world, people know what is September 11, 2001. It marked a “new era” in the history of humanity. It was a time when the world saw once again what human mind and heart can do to divide people in the name of a specific plan and ideology nurtured by divisions among cultures and religions. The United Nations welcomed the year 2000, the beginning of the new millennium proposing the first ten years (2000-2010) as the time of “Harmony among Civilizations”

Unfortunately, the new millennium started and continues to be a time of violence and conflicts. In addition, we are also facing the reality of climate change that is a new alarming sign for all. This reality reminds us the warning of Gandhi: “The world can answer to the needs of all, but not to the greed of all”.

We, in Zamboanga City have experienced the reality of violence and division in many ways, but the most painful time was September 9, 2013 when Zamboanga City was besieged by a group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) for almost one month. On that occasion, ten thousand houses were burned and destroyed, more than one hundred thousand people were displaced, many were killed and especially, the wounds of divisions among Muslims and Christians became more visible from then on up to now.

Different activities were done this year on September 9, in Zamboanga, by different groups and by the city. Silsilah, on September 9, decided to gather Muslim and Christian victims of the area of Sta. Catalina in “Padayon Center” — a place where the Silsilah has been present since 1987 through the Emmaus Dialogue Community.

I was touched to see simple people with the leaders of the area to remember the event of violence in “Padayon Center”. This Center is part of the Silsilah mission of dialogue among the Muslim and Christian families living in that place. It was one of the places occupied by the MNLF with the hostages at the beginning of the siege. Most of the hostages were Christians. Padayon Center was taken by the Military and now run by the EMMAUS Dialogue Community and Silsilah as a gathering place used by Silsilah and other groups to rebuild trust, solidarity and respect among Muslims and Christians of the area.

Silsilah started the day of September 9, 2016 offering the people in Padayon Center the service of acupuncture, an effective help for many forms of sickness. The team of those who administered the acupuncture was composed by staff of the Holistic Health Care Center of Silsilah. In the afternoon, Silsilah gathered in Padayon Center, Muslims and Christians living in Sta. Catalina and Paniran Extension to share their experiences from the time of the siege up to now.

It was touching for me to see simple people sharing their efforts to help each other. They also expressed gratitude to Silsilah for concrete forms of help, like the sharing of a land for the transitory site in Paniran extension area, known now as the “Silsilah Transitory Site” and also shared other stories in organizing Muslim and Christian Families, who lost their houses and are struggling to claim the land where they had been for many years, even before the siege.

The most touching moment for me was when the leaders of the area formed by Silsilah shared what they had done to unite the people, to help them to prepare the documents for the land, to face the authorities, claiming the rights of the people, helping each other and especially, they recalled when they were in the grandstand, the big relocation area in Zamboanga during and after the siege which accommodated up to 50 to 60 thousand people, Silsilah organized a prayer with Muslim and Christian leaders of the city to show that we are united and continue to be united.

The gathering of Silsilah with the grassroots people on September 9 this year, was also an occasion to invite Boy Arabi, the new Barangay Captain of Sta. Catalina, and a good Muslim friend that I met long ago in my first mission in Siocon. The Barrio Captain gave also his message and later asked the President of Silsilah, Aminda A. Sano, EDC, to invite our grassroots leaders who had done so much in the area affected by the siege to help in an area of Sta. Catalina where weeks before six hundred families had been destroyed by a big fire. Well, with tears and joy, I listened to all and I gave my message to the people recalling what happened three years ago during the siege and how Silsilah was present in many ways and I closed my sharing with the well-known motto of Silsilah: “Padayon” (Move On).

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME
Founder, Silsilah Dialogue Movement

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