TIME OF COURAGE AND MERCY

I live my mission of dialogue and peace through the Silsilah Dialogue Movement formed by Christians and Muslims. Thru the years, I have developed friendships with many, giving special attention to the Muslims. I am a priest without a parish but with a lot of challenge that I am ready to face because I believe that it is still possible to build friendships with the Muslims and together build a harmonious society starting from the spirituality that unites human beings as part of the same family created by God.

When I started the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga City with other Christian and Muslim friends, my dream was to share with others that we are called to become “bridges” among people living and promoting a spiritual “chain” and “link” (this is the meaning of Silsilah) to remind all that “dialogue starts from God and brings people back to God”. This vision has been expressed in many ways: living with the poor, forming students and leaders, building bridges of solidarity and working for the protection of creation guided by the four pillars of dialogue that for us are: Dialogue with God, with the Self, with Others and with Creation.

To those who ask me what we have done in so many years considering that the conflict is still visible, I often answer: “ We continue to be a sign of hope in spite of the difficulties. “ and often I add: “We are doing our part that for us is a mission and I see, here and there, signs of hope. Thanks also to our presence”. For this reason we always say that our dialogue is more than a “strategy”, is a sustainable dialogue based on the spirituality of life-in-dialogue as an expression of love. Thus, for us, dialogue is not only a means but a goal itself.

In Zamboanga City, the place where I normally live, we usually say that violence is done by “bad elements” . This is an expression that sometimes covers many things, including the violence claimed by those who identify themselves as “ Muslims” but they do not give a good service to Islam. For this reason, today many Muslim friends come to me and express their frustration about the situation. When I ask them what their religious leaders do to face these situation they often say: “ Father, they also are afraid!” Sometimes I ask: “Afraid of what and of whom?” That often becomes the starting point for a long conversation that only among trusted friends can happen. It was a time when the expression “holy war” was used to justify “jihad” with violence encouraged by their understanding of their religious “obligations.” That expression still remains, no matter how it is used or misused, but maybe today we can also talk of “Holy fear”, that can be applied in many situations, but I put here as an attitude that I find often in some leaders , including “good Muslim leaders” who know many things but they are afraid to tell and act. They know who is behind acts and plans of “radical violence” but they are afraid to say in public. For the grass roots people maybe we can say that they often live in a stage of “holy ignorance”. They do not know proper religious guidelines and normally they trust and rely on their leaders who often do not say all they know or they could share because of fear, calculation or vested interest.

As a Christian and a priest who has been in Mindanao since 1977, I have a lot of good and sincere Muslim friends who share the same feeling and desire to help bring harmony among Muslims and Christians, I always approach this topic with humility because Christians too, in the past, have used a similar “strategy” to justify their actions against people of other cultures and religions.

Violence has been part of the history of humanity since the beginning , starting from Cain who killed his brother Abel, but we can not accept this situation any more.

The future peace in Mindanao and other parts of the world needs people who move with courage and mercy, and I hope that you too join us in this mission to build together one big human family where we respect and love each other as brothers and sisters.

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

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