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PEACETALK: Celebrating half of my Life in the Philippines as an Adventure of Hope

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/03 May) — On May 9 this year I will celebrate my seventy first birthday.

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Reflecting on my life I realized that I have spent half of my life in the Philippines. When I arrived in 1977 in Mindanao I didn’t know many things about the Philippines and the Mindanao conflict. I came only with the desire to be with the people, learn from them and love them, giving special attention and love to those who suffer most in the spirit of my Christian faith.

One of the things that I observed, since the beginning, when Dialogue Movement conversing with a Badjao I arrived in Zamboanga City was the “prejudices and biases “ as part of the life and culture of many Christians and Muslims. Both groups carry up to now the emotional “wounds” of experiences of violence and division. Thus, fear and hatred of Muslims against Christians and vice versa, are still visible. Some have shared with me that before the situation was better. But after that it has deteriorated with the beginning of the “Moro Conflict” of the 70s often perceived as a conflict that divided the Muslims and the Christians more.

Many times in the history and in the life of many of us, conflicts and violence are the beginning of positive stories. Yes, in situations of conflict some react with revenge and violence, but others with love and forgiveness. I am among those who believe in the “revolution of the heart” to bring peace and harmony in society. This was one of my aspirations in leaving Italy and going to the missions as a priest guided by the spirit of the Vatican II Council that reaffirmed the importance of dialogue with all based on common dignity as part of the same human family.

Vatican II brought a new  spirit in the Catholic Church and I was willing to apply it in my mission. In my first mission in Mindanao, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, I experienced violence. Thousands of refugees were in Siocon when I arrived in the mission , most of them Muslims , living with fear and often nurturing hatred against those who have been responsible for their miserable life, far from their own lands and houses.

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It was there, living with the people, that I developed more love for the Muslims dreaming to become a bridge of dialogue and reconciliation among Muslims and Christians. It was there that I was invited to become a negotiator for the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) undergoing many adventures in the forest to meet the MNLF group.

I was able to survive many threats from some sectors of the government and I developed in me the desire to start a movement of Dialogue which has roots in the spiritual aspects of Islam and Christianity. I am convinced that religions sometimes can be occasions of division and conflict, but our dream has to approach religions as instruments of dialogue and peace. Thus, when in 1984 I started the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, I was guided by this spirit and I started a movement of dialogue and peace rooted on the spiritual ground that finds in our own religion the inspiration to build friendship and love. This was not understood by many at the beginning considering that at that time many groups were inspired by “action” based on issues and not on a spiritual motivation rooted in God and on the spiritual aspiration of human beings.

After thirty five years from my arrival in the Philippines and almost thirty years since the beginning of Silsilah as movement for dialogue and peace I see many signs of hope.

The relationship among Christians and Muslims is improving, but at the same time today we experience alarming “ideological-religious groups” that advocate forms of violence often coming from outside the Philippines . Today there are those who are systematically planning to divide Muslims and Christians, using all the strategies, including religion and geo-political strategies. How ready are we to face this new wave of “revolution” and other alarming revolutions like increasing “secularism and globalization” that try to  corrode the basic elements of our beliefs and spiritual life?

Fortunately, in this stage of our society where global communication is becoming more powerful there are also signs of hope. One of this in line with Muslim- Christian relation is the open letter “Common Word” that 138 respected Muslim scholars of the world sent to Pope Benedict XVI in the year 2007. This letter ends by saying: “… So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to one another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill”.

And I add: “let as continue our revolution of the heart that guides us to rediscover that we are brothers and sisters created and loved by the same God”.

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With this hope it is worthy for me to continue my mission here up to the end of my life. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her piece on peace in Mindanao. Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME is the founder of Silsilah Dialogue Movement based in Zamboanga City. Silsilah’s website is www.silsilahdialogue.com).

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