(Speech delivered at the International Meeting “Thirst For Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue” in Assisi, Italy on September 18-20, 2016, on the Panel Discussion “Terrorism Denies God.” Pope Francis addressed some 400 participating leaders from various religions worldwide, on September 20, the World Day of Prayer for Peace).
In the Name of GOD, Most Gracious, Most Mericiful.
Distinguished Guests, Participants, Brothers and Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen, Assalamo alaikom , Good afternoon!
At the outset, let me express my deepest appreciation on behalf of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao, South Philippines to Professor Alberto Quattarucci, Secretary General of the Community of Sant’ Egidio and Professor Marco Impagliazzo for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to contribute to this very noble undertaking of seeking PEACE, in this International Meeting for Peace in Assisi. I feel so privileged and honored.
The holding of this gathering of Distinguised Political and Religious Leaders, Peace Advocates and Movers from various parts of the globe come at another opportune time to underscore the current imperative to collectively share wisdom on how to truly address the several international and national tensions and conflicts obtaining in the different regions of the world.
We lament how some Middle East and African countries have been embroiled in wars for the past years and how tense relationships exist by and among countries in Europe and East Asia.
So much conflict is happening around the globe today. The world is engulfed in turmoil because of violent human conflicts that have erupted and continue to erupt in all the continents. People long for peace. They cry for peace. But, sadly, notwithstanding the efforts of international peace organizations and movements as well as multinational bodies like the United Nations to establish peace, conflicts continue to proliferate and haunt and menace mankind.
However, we are likewise encouraged by the efforts of peace-builders to forge negotiated political agreements, such as in Colombia and other areas, to begin the process of healing, reconciliation and the eventual return of dignified peace for all protagonists.
The Bangsamoro people in Mindanao in Southern Philippines is also a victim of such a conflict that has invariably denied its people not only of respite but of a permanent rest from conflict.
For five centuries, we have known only conflict. And it is this conflict, in its modern visage, which we, in the MILF, in compliance with the teachings of Islam have attempted to address and resolve when we engaged the Government of the Philippines in peace talks that lasted for more than 17 years. These peace talks yielded two major peace agreements, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed in March 27, 2014.
However, sad to note that the final phase of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), its agreed translation into law under the Philippine system failed to be completed in the Philippine legislature during the time of the Aquino administration under which we forged the agreement. There was so much furstration among the Bangsamoro people and well wishers when the BBL failed to pass Philippine Congress, as everyone was very optimistic that the process will be completed during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. Now the faith of the proposed law hinges on the new Philippine President and Legislative body.
Among us MILF, despite the setbacks and enormous challenges we encountered and we might still encounter, we never lose hope that peace will finally reign in the Bangsamoro Homeland in the near future. Our firm belief that negotiated settlement of the conflict is the most civilized and practical way continues to sustain our hope and drive us towards concrete measures to achieve our aspiration for justice, freedom and peaceful co-existence with one another as well as the other people in the area. Our struggle finds resonance with various Peace Campaign and activities similar to what we are doing now here in Assisi, bearing in mind that our peculiar peace agreement with the Government of the Philippines is still intact and in the stage of legislation into law the CAB through the proposed BBL. Despite the enormous challenges we are facing in our search for peace, the MILF, unfazed, continues to struggle to attain peace.
After the non-passage of the BBL, the MILF leadership despite the insinuation of some sectors to return to violence, officially declared its position to uphold the peace process and preserve all its gains and infrastructure. It was a hard decision and very challenging to ensure that the relative peace in the ground during the peace process shall be effectively sustained.
It is my fervent hope that this International Peace Meeting would be able to highlight the urgency for peace in all areas visited and ravished by perennial conflicts by influencing leaders, policy makers and other influential people in the society to lead the way for peace since eventually attitude and willingness of individuals, organizations and governments that would determine how peace and love would reign.
The MILF since its inception has always been following and adhering to the true teachings of Islam, the religion of peace. We fully understand that Islam is a tolerant religion. It declares no compulsory in religion and recognizes freedom of choice of every individual. Islam has nothing to do with any terroristic or un-Islamic activities. Islam commands its followers to be kind and recognizes humanity regardless of religious affiliations.
Islam promotes and desires peace, with justice and dignity, for all human beings. It encourages peaceful life with all citizens without prejudice. One principle that Islam promotes is good relationship with different religion and culture, to establish harmonious relationship in the community. It is my strong conviction that all other Religions of the World share and conform to such principles.
Yet again, while peace is within sight, up to now it is still out of reach.
This conundrum confounds not only us but even those around the world who have made it their lifetime mission to work for peace in areas visited and ravished by perennial conflicts.
Where does the problem lie?
This search for peace has become a fetish that has ignored one primordial factor to make peace possible: The search for JUSTICE.
For, indeed, peace is not only the absence of conflict but the preponderance of justice. In a nutshell, there can only be lasting peace if there is justice and thus peace is underpinned by justice.
This is essentially the message of Islam and the vision-mission of Islam.
Allow me to quote some of the relevant verses in the Holy Quran:
“In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Call unto the way of the Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and contend with them in the fairest way. Lo! Thy Lord is the Best Aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is Best aware of those who go aright”. (The Holy Qur’an, Al-Nahl, 16:125)
In another verse Alllah says:“God forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! God Loveth the just dealers”. (Al-Mumtahinah, 8:60). There are several other verses in the Holy Quran which clearly call for Peace anchored on fairness and justice.
The MILF leadership believes in the principle of dignified peace and justice. The MILF promotes and seeks justice for the Bangsamoro people, the same as what our Christian brothers and/or other religious group are doing in some parts of the world to regain their legitimate rights.
On the final note, let me convey our sincerest compliments and congratulation to the organizers of this event, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Fransiscan Families and all those who in one way or the other contributed to the success of this affair. Likewise to those who spent their precious time and resources to attend this noble gathering.
Peace be with us all. Thank you.