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?”
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.
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 .
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.
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)