DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 August) — What started as an ordinary day for me turned out to be extra special when I received an inspiring message from Sr. Arnold Maria Noel, a Catholic nun whom I highly respect and admire for her commendable work for peace and human rights.
“Happy Feast of Eid’l Fit’r. I am on my way to Bicutan to celebrate with Muslim inmates. Let us pray for peace especially in Mindanao,” her message reads.
This made my day. Why?
It struck my heart and moved my soul to know that Sr. Arnold decided to spend the day with our Muslim brothers and sisters who suffer behind bars, some of whom could have been victims of malicious prosecution or religious profiling. It is a heartwarming gesture of respect and solidarity from a Christian leader which any believer of Islam would certainly treasure.
Eid’l Fit’r is celebrated worldwide by the Muslims, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Not only do they observe fasting during this holy month, they are also encouraged to help those who are less fortunate. Sr. Arnold happily informed me that during her visit to Bicutan jail, she learned that the Muslim inmates raised money in order to be given to the poorest colleagues, and this touched her heart.
Sr. Arnold, a member of the order of the Servants of the Holy Spirits (SSps), is a convenor and member of many meaningful organizations with a cause – the Balay Rehabilitation Center, Sulong CARHRIHL (Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law), the Mindanao Solidarity Network, the Peacemakers Circle, the We ACT 1325, and the Mindanao Peoples Caucus.
She is also the spokesperson of two nationwide movements in the country – the Free Cocoy Tulawie Movement which aims to protect and defend human rights defenders and the Change for Peace in Mindanao Movement which generates massive support for the signing of a final framework agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which will resolve the age-old armed conflict that has long wreaked havoc on the island of Mindanao.
As a spokesperson, she became the strong voice of the oppressed, the weak, and the deprived.
She has also been awarded and recognized several times for her noble works. She received awards from the Miriam College Center for Peace Education in 2004, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus in 2006, and the Anak Mindanao Party List in 2010. The Maryknoll Miriam College, her alma mater, also awarded her in 2010 for being an amazing alumni achiever for peace and human rights.
But more than her representation and recognition, I hail her as my living hero, our living saint, whose passion is worthy to be emulated.
She remains kind and humble despite of the richness of her knowledge and her achievements. She is also full of courage even if it requires her to persuade an abusive politician to clean his dirty acts. Aside from her active involvement in many peace and human rights missions, she also directly engaged with various stakeholders including the civil society, academe, business, youth, the Muslims, the Christians and the indigenous peoples.
I feel so blessed for having been given the chance to know Sr. Arnold and join her in some of her missions. I have had meaningful moments with her, discussing about the issues of the day, and every time I hear her speaking her mind and heart out made me learn so much about life, about values, about faith.
Even the simple acts of fetching her from the airport every time she visits our city for an important peace mission, or accompanying her to the court to observe the trial involving a political detainee, or furnishing her copies of court decisions involving cases of human rights violations, are but a few of the memorable experiences I have shared with Sr. Arnold which made me a happier and fulfilled person.
I also could not forget when we gave this welcome dinner for Sr. Arnold, together with Atty. Sanjeewa Weerawickrama, a Sri Lankan lawyer from the Asian Human Rights Commission. Sr. Arnold dynamically explained to him the political set-up in this country, how our legal courts are functioning, and what she believes the government should do in order to protect the rights of its citizens. Atty. Sanjeewa was so impressed that he could not help but exclaim and describe Sr. Arnold, as a brave woman Christian leader, even braver than the President!
Asked about her stand on the peace process in Mindanao, she passionately answered during one of my interviews with her:
“The reason why I highly support the call for a Bangsamoro Substate is because I know that through this process, this will end the war that has been going on for more than four centuries and I feel it is my duty as a Christian, as a believer, to work for peace and human rights. And what better work for peace and human rights is this than to give our Muslim brothers and sisters the right that has been deprived from them for four centuries. This is why I highly support this. There’s nothing to be feared. This is something that we owe to our Muslim brothers and sisters. “
As a youth who joins this journey with her for the achievement of a just and lasting society in order that people live in harmony with each other, Sr. Arnold is my inspiration to continue this work for peace and human rights which I started to embrace as a God-given mission in this temporary world. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wants to share his/her piece on peace in Mindanao. Christine Sumog-oy works with the Peace Talks Advocacy Program of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus. She is also a law student, now in her third year. You can reach her at [email protected].)