Promoting Dialogue and Peace in Mindanao through Madaris Gurus and Catechists

Circa 2013 at Xavier High School, Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay

The new conflict in Mindanao that started last May 23 in Marawi    is becoming one of the most challenging problems in the recent history of the Philippines. The high number of victims, the destruction of the city, the people who have been forced to leave their houses, the martial law, the   fear and hatred among groups and clans and the increasing religious radicalism with violence   urge all of us to move with more courage and creativity.

Why so much violence and what will be the future of Mindanao with all the negative signs of today and  what to do to dream again the future peace in Mindanao?”


Circa 2013 at Xavier High School, Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay

These questions have challenged the Silsilah Dialogue Movement to do more in many ways in the past and now especially through the program called: “ Madaris Gurus and Catechists.
In the past years many teachers of Madaris (plural of Madrasa) and the catechists of Zamboanga, Basilan, Jolo, Davao and other places have benefited by this program of Silsilah. This is a special training to gather together madaris gurus and catechists of a certain area, by groups, inviting them to live together for a few days to build respect, trust, friendship and   teach them the concept of Christian-Muslim dialogue. Guided by this spirit they are invited to teach parts of their lesson in the spirit of dialogue.

To achieve this goal they will be guided to learn more about the Culture of Dialogue, Path to Peace.  For us this is a spirituality that has to be first  experienced on the personal level  to be effective on the social level. Thus, we teach  the participants dialogue  with God, with the self, with others and with creation according to to his own religion.  This includes also dialogue  in  families, communities, in the same religion and  in all aspects of life. For this reason we usually  include in the  teaching of the Culture of Dialogue the concept of personal and social transformation and what normally is presented as intra and inter religious dialogue.

Circa 2013 at Xavier High School, Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay

Our experience is that after these trainings   most of the participants  start to  be more dialogical among  themselves, not only in school, but also in  society. A touching experience among the many is what  the madaris gurus of Jolo shared with us on one occasion.  Jolo is a land of conflict  and the presence of the Christians is   less than  5%. Many Christians  have left  especially in recent years for the many acts of violence and kidnappings where  the victims are especially Christians.  The  positive  story is that  after the  training in Silsilah the  madaris gurus and the catechists  start to become friends and  when they meet in the market area or other places they smile and greet each other. This is  also the experience of other  participants in other areas and this can be considered  positive stories  and  signs of hope.

The  conflict in Marawi has opened    the eyes of many to a reality that in the past military and other leaders used to deny.  It is already  open news for all and the sad experience of  the increasing  conflict  justified by an increasing  intolerance of the part of  the more  radical  groups. They now do not only go against the Christians, but also against  Muslims  who are not like them and with the same orientation.  Some of the Muslims   are considered “ Kafir” ( infidel) by those who claim to be Muslims  but not of the same orientation .

Circa 2013 at Xavier High School, Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay

This  reality  can not be denied any more. All now know  about the ISIS/Maute group present in Mindanao and other groups who are not so  well known yet, but are  also dangerous.
In addition to this  training, Silsilah  will also intensify other programs especially  in schools in  collaboration  with   youth leaders and groups willing to share the spirit of dialogue and peace that Silsilah promotes. This  plan will start from Zamboanga and will reach  many others, especially in all the areas where Silsilah is present  with groups called SILSILAH FORUM.  At present  the active  Silsilah Forum areas are in Tawi-Tawi, Siasi, Jolo, Basilan, Sibugay, Pagadian,  Cotabato, Kidapawan, Davao, Manila, Antipolo and other places where the groups are at the first stage of growth.

It is our desire and hope to  identify among the madaris gurus and catechists those who  are willing to join  Silsilah to  share this experience  and become  Instruments of dialogue and peace in our society.


Circa 2013 at Xavier High School, Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay

We can not deny that  we continue our mission  with  sadness considering that  in spite of our  efforts and the efforts of many others  for dialogue and peace in Mindanao   there are  still many  victims of  violence. There are those who get discouraged  but for us who have   experienced in the past  also  the pain of  other friends who have been killed in their mission of dialogue and peace, we  are  renewed by God’s presence and the  spirit of  Padayon ( move on) and continue to  move and encourage all  to continue to   dream  for a future real and sincere  peace in Mindanao.



(This article is courtesy of Silsilah Dialogue Movement. Thank you Silsilah for faithfully sending me newsletters about our interfaith movement. – Fr. Felmar Castrodes Fiel, SVD)



FAQ: How do you know which religious community is right for you?

Children in Olutanga Island


In discerning your own unique response to God’s call of service, you may seek out the religious order or diocese that is the best fit for you, matching your own special gifts and talents with a congregation’s mission. Wherever there is a need in the missionary endeavors of the Church, there is a need for a Divine Word Missionary.

FAQ: What is the difference between a priest and a brother?

SVD Priests together with Brother Roland (in black)


A religious priest or brother belongs to a particular religious order, such as the Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines, or Divine Word Missionaries.


Each religious order is founded to fulfill a particular need in the Church through various ministries like teaching, monastic prayer and missionary service.


Priests perform sacramental ministry such as celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments.


A religious brother is a man committed to living the Consecrated Life in response to a call from God. Brothers are engaged in a variety of ministries in keeping with the charism of their congregation and model the person of Jesus through the relational manner in which they serve.

FAQ: How do you know if God is calling you to the priesthood or religious life?

@ Parokya San Miguel in Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay

There is no easy answer to this question, but here are five things to do to help you decide—pray, talk with others, assess your talents and skills, start spiritual direction and enter formation.


Prayer helps you to listen for God’s call.


God often communicates to us through other people.


Do you have talents and skills consistent with the needs of the Universal Church and that of a missionary congregation?


A qualified spiritual director can help you explore God’s presence in your life.


If you have a general feeling that God is calling you to religious life, formation helps you to grow and understand your vocation more clearly.

FAQ: What is the difference between a religious priest and a diocesan priest?

Fr. Manuel Mijares, SVD


A religious priest belongs to a particular religious order. Each religious order is founded to fulfill a particular need in the Catholic Church through various ministries. “Order priests” can be assigned to any location and any ministry where their religious congregation is present.

A diocesan priest is one who is responsible primarily to the bishop of his particular diocese, a specific geographical region of the Church governed by the bishop. Within this region, the priest usually serves in a parish, though he may also be involved in other ministries like administration, communications, teaching and hospital or prison chaplaincy.

Both religious and diocesan priests perform sacramental ministry.


Ang Mabuhay sa Mabuhay: Story of Hope and Trust

Easter Photo

In May 25, 2011, I arrived in Parokya San Miguel after my two-year stint as parochial vicar in the Nuestra Seňora delos Remedios Parish in Subanipa. I remembered vividly that day. The youth from Subanipa brought me to Mabuhay.

Despite the difficult road, the youth from my former parish brought me to my new home


My things were inside this cigarette carton


The youth from my former parish when we arrived in Parokya San Miguel

With pain and sadness of heart, they lifted my things all the way to my new room. But they were singing happy songs. Later on, three of these young men entered the seminary. One also entered the convent.

Birthday of Fr. Manuel Mijares, SVD

My companion Fr. Manuel Mijares, SVD arrived the following month.  I was happy because we were good friends, and we were both young. We regularly visited the communities and participate in the Poblacion kriska (Bible sharing). We pledged that we celebrate the anticipated and Sunday masses together. I personally like that kind of set-up because we get to know each other all the more. In a special way, I felt also closer to him as a confrere in our celebration of the sacraments.

Fr. Joseph Audiencia, SVD  (in black)

I was installed parish priest by the Bishop on August 6, 2011 on the Feast of Transfiguration.  Fr. Joseph Audiencia, on the other hand, finally left the Olutanga Mission on September 19 for his new special mission in Silsilah in Zamboanga City. His departure finally ended the first generation of the Divine Word Missionaries in the island. Few years after, however, he went back to Ipil Mission District as parish priest of the Immaculate Conception Parish of Alicia after a year of chaplaincy at the University of San Carlos in Cebu.


In October 20 of that year, the war between the lawless elements and the military broke out in Talaib, a nearby sitio in the mainland that affected the lives of the parishioners. Many people were displaced. The parish convent became a temporary refuge of the “bakwits” – a popular word which refers to those who were caught in the cross-fire between the lawless elements and the military and had no choice but to flee from their homes to avoid being sandwiched in the battle.

foxholes of the lawless elements


If only coconuts can speak! Tinamaan ng bala ito.


The beautiful place of Talaib.


It was my first time to see fighter planes dropping bombs! In every drop of a bomb, the whole island trembled, literally. The month-long war was like experiencing earthquakes every thirty minutes. My CAFGU escorts were with me in the convent day and night. We also cancelled our barrio masses.  Those were the most stressful days in the parish. However, our faith was always alive. We turned to the intercession of St. Michael Archangel , the parish patron, to guard and protect us. For several days, the parishioners roamed around the Poblacion chanting the St. Michael gozus.

The parish Church



The Mother of Perpetual Help chapel of Abunda. Around 30 to 45 minutes boat ride from the parish.


Abundant Food. Wonderful People.


…and food again!


My parishioners in Punawan proper.

My faith as the parish priest was always tested. Cases in point: On April 5, 2012, Holy Thursday, while having my dinner together with the 12 apostles, I received the info that I was at the top list of potential kidnap victims, while my assistant was second. Looking back, I did not bother to inquire if it was true or not. It did not stress me at all. Perhaps because at that time, I was still young and was looking for adventure, and more adventures!

There was also a time that our seminarian-summer camper, Frt. Charlie Bardaje, had to sleep in our sala because there were sightings of lawless elements outside the parish vicinity and his room was at the back of the parish convent. Those were really exciting times, and I could only smile when I remember those “grace-filled moments.”

Swimming inside the bangus fish cage 🙂

With my CAFGU escorts and parishioners


The Lady is watching over me.

I considered those challenges part of the package in this very special mission area, so I learned to just live with it. It did not cripple my spirit. In my Holy Masses, I learned to surrender everything to God, fully trusting that He would always be on my side. That’s how I survived each day.


Prayer for the Araw ng Mabuhay

(Note: While I was checking out my old documents, I saw a prayer I made few years ago when I was still the parish priest of Parokya San Miguel in Mabuhay, Zamboanga Sibugay (Diocese of Ipil). This is a peaceful place of tri-people: Christians, Muslims and the Subanen indigenous people. I prepared this prayer for the invocation during the annual Araw ng Mabuhay which is every January 25th of the year. I am posting it here because in less than two weeks from now, the beloved town I served will once again have their Araw ng Mabuhay)




Dalaygon namo nga Dios, Amahan sa tanang katawhan

Tinubdan sa mga gasa sa kinaiyahan

Nga maoy nagmatuto kanamo para kami mabuhi,

Daghang salamat Amahan sa gasa sa kadagatan, sa gasa sa hangin,

Sa gasa sa kayutaan, sa gasa sa katawhan,

Sa gasa sa pakig-ambit, sa gasa sa kalinaw, sa gasa sa panaghiusa,

Sa gasa sa kalambuan.

Tabangi kami Ginoo nga sa among pang-adlaw-adlaw nga pagkinabuhi

Mamahimo kaming takos sa pag-amping niining mga gasa

Kay kami mga piniyalan lamang.

Pinaagi niining tigom namo karon sa Araw ng Mabuhay

Hinaot nga kini mamahimong okasyon alang kanamo

Nga maedukar sa pag-amoma sa atong kinaiyahan

Ug mahagit sa pagwagtang sa mga

butang nga makadaot sa atong mga lungsuranon

labaw na sa atong mga kabatan-onan,

mga butang susama sa druga, illegal nga pagpanagat, kriminalidad,

pagpamutol sa mga kahoy

ug uban pang pagpasipala sa yuta, sa hangin ug sa atong katubigan.

Hinaot unta Amahan nga kining among tigom karon

Mamahimong hiniusang lihok – lihok Mabuhaynon, lihok lungsuranon,

alang sa edukasyon, kaayuhan ug malahutayong kalambuan sa

tanang lumulupyong Muslim,

mga Kristiyanos ug

mga Subanen.