By Samira Gutoc
Travel has been aplenty, thanks to many sponsors. October reminded us of the vast world we live in and that there is just so much to see in that we celebrate United Nations’ (UN) founding.
But just as we celebrate the oneness of humanity, we cannot forget the continuing suffering from violence and damage either man-made or natural. I took the opportunity to use every platform to ask a shout out ( videos ) for a prayer for Mindanao and its earthquake victims. I was particularly emotional because as Marawi rises from its siege experience and the latest earthquake, we were struck by a tornado that removed roofs from some houses.
In Zamboanga City, I was lucky to attend a UNESCO Forum on Preventing Violent Extremism alongside Department of Foreign Affairs executives and Western Mindanao State University academe WMSU. I urged WMSU President Ho to stay on and listen to our notes on affirming the special role of the academe. These islands were former Asian strongholds (Sultanates ) visited even tried to be conquered by the Western superpowers . The South used to be the “Government” but centuries later, conflict ripped us apart.
Zamboanga City is also special aside from our common siege experience because it regularly holds World Inter Faith Harmony Week in February pursuant to RA 10525 signed by then President Aquino because of the United Nations (UN) Resolution which recognized “the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people.”
I was thus glad to see one of this event’s major proponents, Fr Sebastian Al Hambra, here in Manila. Indeed the message of peace must reach mainstream media, schools and the many. Thus our mission to reach as many platforms . Although I am tempted to ride the angkas to reach many destinations in Metro Manila, I need to bring various documents and readings in hard copy and thus need space for bags. Such readings are shared or displayed to the hosts and audience. One such reading is a compilation of pictures on the damage from the Marawi siege since March 2017 . Another gift of a book is on Inter-religious Dialogue by Fr Sebastian Alhambra who personally handed the book at the St Carlos Seminary Alumni Homecoming. His is a story of love and compassion in this majority Catholic country. Having been based in Zamboanga City since 1977, he has negotiated for the MNLF and was particularly interested on the developments in the Bangsamoro government.
The gentle-white haired Italian priest has survived hostage and terror incidents. Yet he remained resolute in building relations among Muslims and Christians. We were seated together sharing our stories in this ” school” for future priests which included Cardinal Tagle and other esteemed alumni. He reminded in this blessed wide compound , Guadalupe that next year is inter-religious year. How do we actually become closer as a Filipino is through this mechanism of dialoguing . Here in Zambo, the use of the word Bangsamoro could be unnerving because of history and the sïege. We remïnd, there are many commonalities among Christian and Islam such as Mother Mary, Abraham , Moses and various prophets.
Peace starts in the mind , I urged the audience close their eyes. Imagine. P stands for personal peace. e for Education, A bsence of Violence, Cultural Solidarity , E quity.
Pope Francis had said in Naples , “With Muslims we are called to dialogue to build the future of our societies and our cities; we are called to consider them partners to build a peaceful coexistence, even when there are shocking episodes by fanatical groups, who are enemies of dialogue… Way back, Nostra Aetate” – “The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” was proclaimed by St. Pope Paul Vl in 1965. Nostra Aetate reminded why dialogue is essential in the life of the Church. We All belong to One Human Family.
And for Muslims, being encouraged to say SALAAM (peace) is a gesture of inclusivity and kindness. We have much to do. One proposal I shared in the UNESCO forum was for Manila universities to partner with Mindanao universities on exchange programs whether for faculty or students so they can be enriched as human beings and also contribute to literature . Imagine the many things that can happen from exchanges aside from travel, business and livelihood expansion for host communities.
In such forum, the young Colonel based in Zamboanga inspired, he was amiable, engaging and animated in his presentation. We hope more security personnel are like him so that decades of mistrust against the state forces who have been battling Moro rebels are overcome.
Here is hoping this article inspires partnerships.
For those asking about my twitter, I now have three twitter pages put down, one after the other . The latest twitter was “suspended.” I still have to receive a response on what are the reasons from twitter