The future peace in Mindanao possible only if we educate all to see each other as brothers and sisters
During a recent visit to Marawi with a group of friends of Silsilah and some of the Ateneo Xavier University I realized, once again, that the future peace in Mindanao will be a long journey. I am convinced of this and with patience I have moved along the years from, 1984 up to now, with many Muslims and Christian friends of Silsilah, including some indigenous people, parts of our different programs of dialogue and peace.
My last visit to Marawi a few days ago was, for me, an additional proof that the process of transformation is still long. There are many indications. One of this, quite new also for me, was when a Maranao friend, coordinator of the Silsilah Forum Cagayan told me: “ Father, visiting the refugee camps, where most of the refugees are Maranao, with surprise, I heard a boy telling me:
“ The siege in Marawi happened because inside the Islamic city of Marawi there is the Saint Mary’s Church”,
a Christian church. The information made me reflect more and understand better how far away we still are from the real peace if a Maranao child at that age is already “poisoned” by some who divide us more. Unfortunately, expressions and feelings of division and prejudices have been circulated since long ago to divide Christians and Muslims in Mindanao. Some of these feelings are built up in the families and some are fruits of a “culture of division” built up along the centuries.
It was a time when Christians and Muslims in Mindanao were closer to each other and it was a good climate of friendship and respect. But why not any more now although there are many good efforts to build dialogue and peace? The reality is that now is different. Forty years ago I, too, experienced in Mindanao a better climate of friendship between Muslims and Christians , but now is different. In a few words we can say that the international influence of a certain way to spread Islam or destroying Islam from some sectors and groups are more visible. In this context those who destroyed Marawi found support and they still move to explore ways to do something similar in other identified areas of Mindanao.
In this stage of “fear” I find a number of good Muslim religious leaders “paralyzed”. Sometimes I ask some of them: “ Why do you not help in this situation, you are a leaders, you are respected? They say: “Father, now is very difficult, they ( those who promote a terrorism using the teaching of Islam) are dangerous. Personally, I was informed of a concrete situation of a group of Muslim religious leaders condemming violent terrorism and later they received a note against them. And this sad stories are already many.
I saw the ground zero of Marawi with a group of friends from a high position and when the group asked a military who was with us why people can not go inside, the answer was that there are still hundreds of bombs that need to be detonated. That was the official reason. In this situation the government is pushing for the approval of the BBL ( Bangsamoro Basic Law). I am convinced that this can help if the BBL respect the basic aspirations of those groups who do not like to be part of the BBL and of those who like. There is hope in many that the BBL can solve some urgent problems of the increasing terrorism. My hope is that this time the leaders who are involved in this new adventure of the BBL will move with more wisdom, avoiding past mistakes.
This is the time to work hard to build a new law for the common good. All of us are called to help preparing the ground of friendship and not to put a part the “dream” to build a Mindanao where a Christian can be free and respected in a majority Muslim area and a Muslim can be free and respected in a majority Christian area.
The goodness of a religious group can not be counted with the number of Mosques or Churches in a specific area. It can only be counted in the daily life working together on the path of respect and friendship. For this reason, I often start my greetings in public saying: “ Peace be with you / Assalamualaikum, brothers and sisters”. Yes, I wish to emphasize that both of us , Christians and Muslims, have in common the greeting of peace. Jesus greeted the Apostles after the resurrection saying:” Peace be with you” and Christians are happy that Muslims too greet each other “ Assalamualaikum” ( peace be with you). I add always “brothers and sisters” because the great dream for me is still when all of us can greet each other, with sincere hearts as brothers and sisters: “Peace be with you/Assalamualaikum”.
Only when we reach this stage can we say that really peace can become a reality and we do not hear any more children who are misled in their innocent years, but they too can be invited to greet all with a greeting of peace.
Fr. SEBASTIANO D’AMBRA, PIME
Founder of Silsilah Dialogue Movement