DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 January) — A few days before Pope Francis’ visit in our country, I reflect on the significance of this visit in terms of interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding in Mindanao. It is indeed an opportune time to find shared meaning in this visit and, most importantly, to reflect on the universal message of mercy and compassion that Pope Francis brings.
In a Pastoral Letter of Socrates B. Villegas, D.D., Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan, he said, that “the underlying spirit of this Papal visit is the theme of mercy, compassion, and the cherished ideals of Jesus.” How does this message of mercy and compassion resonate to the peoples in Mindanao? How will it help in re-building relationships in areas of armed conflict and political divide?
Take the case of Mindanao. Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, in a paper he delivered during the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Businessmen’s Conference in Taguig, Metro Manila on July 8, 2003 said that, injustice is the “root of the conflict in Mindanao.” He classified this injustice into three points: injustice to the Moro identity; injustice to Moro political sovereignty; and injustice to Moro integral development.”
Reflecting on these points, I would like to ask the same questions that Cardinal Quevedo asked back in 2003: “given the injustices that I have described, where do we go from here? Will the fighting ever stop? Will the evacuees ever return home? Will integral development of the Bangsamoro ever seriously start?”
These questions may be answered after the Papal visit, or it may never be answered within our lifetime. But as a nation of diverse people, let us not forget to think about these questions as we experience Pope Francis’ visit in our country.
In another frame of analysis, studies showed that “the conflict in the South is not merely a Muslim problem but is in fact a Christian problem – a legacy of the Spanish era.” As early as the setting up of the first Filipino nationalism, even Jose Rizal, the national hero, regarded the Muslims as part of the Filipino nation, and in the statutes of La Liga Filipina, drafted in 1892, he proposed to unite the archipelago into one “compact, vigorous and homogenous body.” However, the Christian delegates to the Malolos Congress, who were influenced by the Spaniards, were unable to appreciate Aguinaldo’s call for unity. Spain’s crusading spirit inculcated fear and hatred of Muslims.” (Rosario – Braid, 1995)
Connecting the past and our present context, connecting the views of Cardinal Quevedo and the call for a strong Filipino nationalism, we need to learn from the past, address the issues of social and historical injustice through our support of the Bangsamoro peace process.
Pope Francis will arrive in the Philippines this week to bring the message of mercy and compassion to humanity. Not surprisingly, Islam speaks of the same message.
The concepts of unity of God (tawhid), risalah (messenger-ship of Prophet Muhammad), and compassion are central to Islam. We, Muslims, are taught to do everything in remembrance of Allah (SWT). We begin our prayer by reciting Bismil Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim (In the name of God Who is Compassionate and Merciful). We are always reminded of the very nature of Allah as the most compassionate and most merciful God. It is also mentioned in the second verse of the first chapter of the Qur’an.
The Prophet of Islam also represents universal mercy. Allah (SWT) sent His Messenger Prophet Muhammad also as the Mercy of the World (Qur’an 21:107). As the Messenger of God, he is representative of His Mercy and hence the Prophet himself is known as rahmatal lil ‘alamin (mercy of the worlds). Muslims must be reminded that the message of the Prophet (SAW) is for us to be merciful and compassionate to all humankind.
As a Filipino Muslim, the Pope’s visit encourages me more to engage in dialogue with my Christian brothers and sisters.
I believe the Pope Francis’ visit is a valuable opportunity for our nation to commit to dialogue. Pope Francis may lead the Filipino people towards peace, reconciliation, healing, and to find God in all things and in all religions. In Evangelii Gaudium, he writes of the bond between Christians and Muslims saying that “The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need” (Evangelii Gaudium, 252).
In this shared meaning that Pope Francis brings, may we, as individuals and as a nation, continue to move forward in humility and work tirelessly for justice, protection, and promotion of human rights for our people with mercy and compassion. This for me is the importance of Pope Francis’ visit. Although he may not visit Mindanao, his message will resonate to the people of Mindanao who long for peace and understanding among its people. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mussolini T. Lidasan is Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute at the Ateneo de Davao University).