PEACETALK: It’s because we are different that we have so much to share

(Author’s sharing on the “Story of the Church in Pikit” at the International Conference of Cotabato at the Notre Dame University in Cotabato City on June 7, 2014) 

A church caught in the midst of armed conflict

I stayed in the town of Pikit for 11 years and within those years I experienced four wars that resulted to massive evacuations of civilians. Not only that, war has always been very divisive and its corrosive effect on the relationship of people is even more damaging than the physical destruction. And so, even after the war is over in the battlefields, the silent war still goes on in the hearts of the local inhabitants – Lumads, Muslims, and Christians alike.

The awakening of the church

The all-out-war in 2000 which displaced over a million civilians in Mindanao brought the church in Pikit through a painful process of transformation. The parish at that time was divided whether or not to extend humanitarian assistance to Muslim evacuees. It was only after a passionate debate and soul-searching by the members of the Parish Pastoral Council that the parish decided to break the walls of apathy and mediocrity remembering the command of Jesus in the Gospel that tells them to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the exhortation of Jesus that “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do it unto me.” (Mt.25:31-46)

Helping the poor is not a matter of choice

The parish then organized the Disaster Response Team (DRT) composed mainly of young Muslim and Christian volunteers. Whether under the scorching heat of the sun or the pouring rain and amidst bullet fires, these young volunteers distributed food to thousands of starving evacuees in various evacuation centers. We would eat together on the same table, pray together and even cry together when we hear that another baby had died in the evacuation center.

The parish soon realized that helping the poor is not a matter of choice. For us Christians, it is a duty and a social responsibility. After all, when you hear the sound of mothers weeping and children crying in the night, you don’t anymore ask whether they are Lumads, Muslims or Christians.

An evolving context requires new vision, one that is inclusive

A new context was evolving. Therefore, a new vision was required, one that responds to the demands of the times. To imagine that vision, the parish church initiated series of consultations in the BECs for the purpose of changing the vision-mission of the parish. The result as expected was a new and inclusive one that integrated two very important elements based in the context of the changing realities in Mindanao and in the world. One was Inter-religious Dialogue and the other was Peace-building.

Culture of Peace and Inter-religious Dialogue seminars

Since then, the parish has been conducting Culture of Peace and Inter-religious Dialogue seminars in selected barangays in Pikit and in neighboring towns. These seminars, which normally last for three days, are participated by Lumads, Muslim and Christians. We also conduct these seminars to soldiers, former rebels, teachers, youth, and barangay officials. The main objective of the seminar is basically to plant the seed of peace in the heart of every person and to restore the broken relationship of people. After-all, we are all brothers and sisters. We belong to the same human family. And this world is our only home.

Reconciliation means healing the past

Perhaps, the most important part of the seminar is the healing process where the participants sit in a circle in a victim-offender setting and where each participant is given the chance to speak his or her painful experience of the past while the rest listens with empathy. The process is usually highly charged with emotion. Then, the whole process ends up with the participants reconciling with each other and making peace with one another… The heart of peace is the peace of heart.

Creating Spaces for Peace 

As part of rebuilding the communities destroyed by wars, the Pikit parish also assisted the local communities organized their villages as Zones of Peace. Believing in thebasic goodness of every human being, with barangay captains and other peace advocates, we negotiated with the military and MILF not to make these villages as battleground of their forces anymore.

And true enough, both parties listened to our appeal. In fact, during the official launching in 2004, Sec. Deles, Sir Von Al Haq, Cardinal Quevedo, Gen. Cachuela, Gen. Zulkifli of IMT and other national and international personalities from different sectors of society attended the ceremony. Then, several socio-economic projects, scholarship program, peace and inter-religious dialogue activities were implemented in these villages with the aid of several national and international funding agencies.

GINAPALAD TAKA Space for Peace

These seven villages are now called the GINAPALAD TA KA “Space for Peace” communities where the local inhabitants are trying to live together in harmony despite their cultural and religious differences. This is the product of processing the peace at the grassroots which we call peace process at the horizontal level, our way of supporting the peace process at the vertical level between the government and the MILF.

Celebrating common humanity

In Pikit, it’s common that during Christian weddings, there are Muslims who stand as sponsors. At the same time, during Muslim weddings, there are also Christians who stand as sponsors. In fact, I myself stood as a sponsor in two Muslim weddings.

During fiestas and Christmas celebrations, we usually receive Muslim visitors in the convent who would like to share in our joys. Likewise, during their religious celebrations such as Ramadhan, we also receive invitations and we would go around visiting our Muslim friends to show our solidarity with them… It’s because we are different that we have so much to share.

Advocating for Peace

Promoting peace is always a challenging task. But we have to do it if we believe in peace. That is why, accompanied by former evacuees and NGO workers, we reached as far as Malacanang, Camp Aguinaldo, foreign embassies, Senate, Congress, CBCP, universities, media networks, and other higher authorities in Manila just to advocate Peace for Mindanao.

Bantay Ceasefire Volunteers

Likewise, some of us in Pikit – Muslims and Christians- are members of Bantay Ceasefire Volunteers assisting the government and MILF monitor the situation on the ground. We are doing this even in dangerous situations because we are also stakeholders of peace and we want to contribute even just a small effort to achieve the peace that we have been longing for here in Mindanao.

We must believe more in our faith rather than in our fear. 

Four forms of Dialogue

In summary, what we are trying to do in the parish of Pikit is to adopt the four forms of dialogue articulated by the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference. These are: Dialogue of Life, Dialogue of Action, Dialogue of Words and Dialogue of Religious Experience. 

Peace among religions

Lastly, Hans Kung said, “There is no peace in the world as long as there is no peace among religions. And there is no peace among religions as long as there is no genuine dialogue among believers.”

In Pikit, we continue to plant the seed of goodness not even knowing if and when it is going to grow. But we trust in God’s Providence that whatever goodness we have planted will blossom only in goodness and that goodness alone will remain in the end.

(Fr. Roberto Layson, head of the Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has spent most of his years as priest in Muslim-dominated areas. He was first assigned in Bongao, Tawi-tawi and was parish priest of Jolo in Sulu when Bishop Benjamin de Jesus was killed on February 4, 1997. A few months later, he was assigned to Pikit, another Muslim-dominated town in North Cotabato, where he would, in a span of 11 years, experience four wars. He was spared his fifth war in 2008 by a few weeks as he was on sabbatical then. Layson was assigned to Senator Ninoy Aquino town in Sultan Kudarat, a Lumad area, from 2009 to April 2013 and from there was posted in Datu Piang in Maguindanao, again a predominantly Muslim town. He has been assigned back to Pikit since June 2, as head of the OMI’s IRD. He read this piece with a Powerpoint presentation at the International Conference of Cotabato at the Notre Dame University on June 7,2014. This piece was originally titled “Story of the Church in Pikit.”)

URL: http://www.mindanews.com/mindaviews/2014/06/09/peacetalk-its-because-we-are-different-that-we-have-so-much-to-share/

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  • friend of mindanao

    There can be no enduring peace with moslem. Their religious ideology does not condone enduring friendship and coexistence with non moslems. There are 100s of commands in the Koran from their revered prophet to; “kill all non believers until there are no nonbelievers”. moslem agenda is the same worldwide; to mass breed and supress the world under sharia by violence. It has been for 1400years. It is estimated that at least 330,000,000 have been slaughtered by jihad, islamic conquest and terrorism, and counting fast. Mindanao is no exception. The false friendships and deception moslems use is called taqqiya, while they exploit and abuse overtures of peace. With their long term agenda to out populate supplant and obliterate the host culture. Not until moslems renounce the Koran as flawed evil ideology, will there begin to be true peace in Mindanao.

    • maxim061156

      This is the most dangerous ideology- believing and spreading the evil belief that the Muslims and their Koran advocate for the annihilation of non-Muslims. How ignorant!

      • Friend of Mindanao

        Maxim,,,, Not only are moslems commanded by mohammed to “search out and murder all unbelievers, strike terror, cut off heads” in the 100s of koranic verses inciting violence. They are also taught to deceive/taqqiya as you know. To appear peaceful when it suits their purpose. What you have stated above is deception/taqqiya. In all the countries you mentioned above moslems have been and are persecuting/murdering/raping destroying churches etc. You failed to mention Africa where they are committing heinous atrocities and kidnapping 100s of school girls for sex slavery, attacking churches and school, murdering 1000s trying to claim countries such as Nigeria Kenya and Central Africa for Islam. Eg, Also like you mention Myanmar, even the peaceful tolerant Buddhists there have had enough of the moslem who migrated/invaded there and are driving them out because they commit murders rapes and refuse to coexist and are now demanding autonomy. It is all part of your agenda to jihad and take over the world. There no difference with moslem agenda for Mindanao. The true facts need to be faced and addressed if there is ever going to be real peace in Mindanao. Moslems need to reject forever the 100s of verses in the Koran that incite hatred intolerance and murder of Non moslems. Which is at the bottom of all the violence misery and mistrust everywhere in the world. In reality they all need to reject Islam if ever there is going to be peace world wide.

        • maxim061156

          I am sorry my friend, but I insist your ignorance may be destroying your prudence and rationality. For example, the acts of the Boko Haram has no basis in the Koran and any act inconsistent with the Koran is therefore un-Islamic. There you are again, trying to impress upon terrorism and Islam as one and the same. They are not Muslims, I beg to disagree, as you would disagree if I call those so-called extremists Christian bigots as true Christians. From every looks of it you are one of the hardline spoilers of the peace process. I hope I am wrong, my friend.

          • friend of Mindanao

            Maxim…stop your taqqiya. boko haram is true islam just as mohammed commanded. All of what Boko Haram have committed is what mohammed commanded and incited in the Koran and by his own example and you know it. 65% of the Koran is incitement to kill non moslems until there are only moslems left in the world. Till the world bows to islam. Moslems are also commanded to deceive/taqqiya, to deny terrorist bombers etc are true islam. to make islam appear peaceful while they go about their jihad . Mass breeding till their numbers are sufficient to supplant and obliterate. This is moslem agenda is happening in Mindanao.

          • Maxim Sense

            Friend, or better still, enemy of Mindanao.. you have no right to mis-represent the verses of the Holy Quran because you are only exposing your utter ignorance and bigoted mentality. “65% of the Koran is incitement to kill non-Muslims?”. I am afraid you are the more active practitioner of deception/taqqiya.

        • Brox

          Not friend of Mindanao, you are poor in mathematics. Muslims are now approximately 1.9 billion souls today. If every one of them are commanded to kill one non Muslims in a year, there will be no more remaining non Muslim world population today. Or take a look in a small country Qatar, no any death committed against non Muslim in any given day except for natural death or by vehicle accident. I think you better stop spreading lies in this domain or your apparent ignorance is smelling every time you type comment. Long live Philippines, long live Bangsamoro!!!

  • Abel

    The article of having faith in peace is not an exclusive affair as vividly written. It was rather a meaningful description of a community – of Muslims, Christians and Lumads – together bringing their lives back with their living good memories linger. The article shared by Fr. Bert might not completely sketch the entire history of Pikit in war and in peace, but it was a glimpse worth appreciating and engaging. The so called friend of Mindanao seems not really a friend at all. Come in Mindanao, in Pikit, and live the story yourself.

    • True friend of Mindanao

      Abel true facts and realities need to be taken into consideration and faced. A true friend will allow you to face pain if it means your enduring future pleasure. In light of the true nature of Islamic agenda world wide, Mindanao is no different than any other country that is experiencing/suffering moslem aggression in their surge to supress the world under sharia.

      • Abel

        Facts and realities is something you are without when made your comment about Mindanao. I now have vivid impression you are among the peace spoilers who poorly quacks a lot without setting your foot in Mindanao.

        • Friend of Mindanao

          Abel; like all moslems you deny true facts to hide moslem agenda. So I will reiterate; Mindanao is suffering no different than any other place where moslems are imposing their agenda to conquer, first by mass migrating/breeding pushing for autonomy. Such as is happening in Africa Thailand Myanma/Burma China. Committing heinous despicable atrocities atrocities and terror attacks/bombings kidnaps. This aggression will not stop after they achieve autonomy. It will just be a breathing space to expand mass breed and push for more. Like India was once one peaceful country once until moslems invaded some centuries back. Now it is divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh for moslems who are still warring and fighting with India. The moslems who remain in India are still bombing and raping. This will happen also to Mindanao.

          • Abel

            I pity your ignorance coated with selective argument simply to justify your claim. But since you are into it, read more and stretch your thinking exercise before concluding about Mindanao.
            You have been citing references to suggest only probabilities and not absolute conclusion over a subject being argued. You lack to delve into the facts and realities of the actual subject we have been debating – Mindanao. Because if you will then you’ll realize you have been so ignorant not to mind the reality of co-existence living and defined us here for centuries despite history of wars.
            The selective discipline you have been portraying over your claims also determines your limitation, which is so dangerous to be added in the realm of knowledge making. Spread your thoughts and maybe try to be curious of the truth beneath facts you have been romanticizing.
            The same selective attitude also posits the negative experience you might had with Muslims. You are entitled to express those but not in this forum where you are simply putting yourself in a conundrum of peace spoilers. Your intention was valid. But you are not ready for this. Again, read more. Reflect more.
            And, for the third time, I ask you to come here in Mindanao. Lived with us here and be a true friend. You’ll know you have been enchanted negatively for a long time.

          • True Friend of Mindanao

            Abel my views are based on the bloody history and worldwide agenda of islam and moslems where ever they are imposing islam. It is happening in many countries like Thailand Burma and Europe India even Australia ad USA that are being swamped with moslem refugees etc . That agenda and the way they go about it is no different in Mindanao. There has been the same level of violence terror bombings inflicting suffering and sorrow. This will continue even after autonomous agreements are signed. Moslems have no genuine intention to coexist. They will continue to violently push for more autonomy sharia law, more land more rights as part of their world wide agenda to jihad. The civilised world is awakening to your agenda and deception/taqqiya. Of appearing to coexist, be peaceful while plotting to supplant and obliterate host counties. The incitements coming from the koranic ideology being preached in your mosques. You are the false friend of Mindanao.

          • Abel

            Where are your facts now? Because you are simply reinforcing your selective claims with recycled propositions. Again, I tell you that those inferences is not enough to make your argument absolute, particularly about Mindanao your hardly know. Your so called civilized world is actually making you jungle animals now caged with your own deceptions. And please don’t call yourself a friend of my land.