A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Quo Vadis, Mindanao Week of Peace

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 December) — These past so many years now, various groups throughout Mindanao-Sulu  – mainly local church organizations , non-governmental organizations, schools, media  agencies and  autonomous institutions, all belonging to Mindanao’s vibrant civil society – have participated in celebrating the MINDANAO WEEK OF PEACE.  It starts on the last Thursday of November and ends on the first Wednesday of December.

Today, Wednesday, December 3 provides us the opportunity in the culmination of this Week of Peace.  The question begs to be asked and, hopefully, the answers are not so disappointing: What percentage of Mindanawons actually care about celebrating this week?  How many of us today are even aware that six days have passed when we are supposed to have participated in at least one activity that promotes the objectives of this yearly event?

Alas, if my intuition – supplemented by a little bit of research (mainly by checking postings in both mass and social media across the various channels: newspapers, radio, TV, the internet) – is correct, this Week of Peace might as well be a non-event for the vast majority of Mindanawons.

I would not even be surprised if a big segment of the population of southern Philippines would ask:  What is this Mindanao Week of Peace? To the ignoramus of important social movements in Mindanao especially involving Lumad and Moro peoples as well as those constituting the Christian migrant-settlers, this Week arose out of the concern of a few people and groups of the ecumenical movement (involving Roman Catholics and Protestants) to forge harmonious relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters, especially in the interfacing of peacebuilding efforts with inter-faith dialogue.

The Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference that arose in the early 70s gave birth to this movement and its major promoter was the late Tatay Bido, formally known as Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud, first the Bishop of Iligan and then later on with the Prelature of Marawi. He was the first to coin the term – DIALOGUE OF FAITH AND LIFE.  To give teeth to this vision of promoting dialogue, Tatay Bido, his associates in Marawi and the MSP Secretariat staff set up the Duyog Ramadhan in 1975.  Thus began the nascent movement of having a week set aside to bring Muslims and Christians together not just in terms of their everyday lives especially shared in their neighborhoods, but in special occasions of shared prayer and discussions on how they can further collaborate for the sake of their children being confronted by issues of war, dislocation from ancestral lands, poverty and utter neglect by the State agencies.

During martial law, they also collaborated on issues to oppose militarization and promote respect for people’s human rights.  Eventually, ecological concerns also were factored in during these celebrations and these days, the whole issue of disaster preparedness given the occurrence of mega-disasters.

Fast forward to the setting up of the Peace Advocates of Zamboanga (PAZ) with the coming together of Claretians (especially Fr. Angel Calvo CMF) and other religious congregations based in Zamboanga City as well as representatives of schools, non-governmental organizations and other groups  in the late 80s-early 90s. For many years, it was only PAZ that had organized activities lasting a whole week.  Then in 1999, the Bishops-Ulama Forum took up the PAZ initiative and then encouraged Local churches throughout Mindanao to follow the lead of PAZ.  Through the eruption of wars and uneasy momentary peace, through the various highs and lows of contemporary Mindanao history and through the thick and thin efforts promoting peace, this Week has expanded to various parts of this Land of Promise.  And for a while, one felt optimistic that this movement will further intensify.

But alas, is this true?  Yes, PAZ in Zamboanga City is still going strong.  And despite the lack of media coverage, one assumes there are pockets of very creative celebrations in the many dioceses and parishes where the church leaders – both clerics and lay – especially where the inter-faith dialogue has remained vibrant especially where it was born, namely, the Prelature of Marawi.  Fortunately, many Catholic schools linked to CEAP and local organizations like the DACS have been encouraged to include this week in their school calendar.

Could one reason be that there is still a substantial segment of the Christian population who are not convinced of the value of this Week of Peace?  If true, what are the reasons behind this resistance to the admonitions of the hierarchy? After all the Magisterium – since the time of Pope John XXIII to the highly esteemed Pope Francis –  have been exhorting the people to reach out to those of other faiths and there have been many apostolic exhortations and documents providing the theological, missiological and pastoral reasons why we should do so. Could it be that we still have a long way to go before Christians’ biases and prejudices against the Moro people would ever dissipate?  Is it because of our fear as to the repercussions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law?  Is it because we have not been provided a good historical context of the Moro people’s right to self-determination? Or all of the above as well as other reasons?

There is no doubt about it that aside from INTER-faith dialogue, we Christians need INTRA-faith dialogue.  But are there enough church leaders who would promote this missiological thrust?

The theme of the 2014 Week of Peace (as articulated by PAZ) is Healing the Past, Building the Future.  We can only heal the past if we can all take part in resolving our historical conflicts that will lead us towards embracing one another no matter our religio-cultural differences. We can only build the future if in the HERE and NOW, we embrace the challenge of working together for a just and peaceful Mindanao where everyone has access to the fullness of life! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)