PEACETALK: The “Document on Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”: a gift of God to the world, but especially to us here in Mindanao

(Presented by Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ at the Conference on  “Walking and Working Together for Healing and Reconciliation” sponsored by ADDU and OPAPP” at the Ateneo de Davao University, Calungsod-San Vitores Center on 14 August, 2019)

Asalaam alaikum! The Peace of God be upon you all!

My task is to present to you the “Document on Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

You have the document in your kits. I presume many of you have already had the opportunity to read it.

The privilege I have is to present this document as I see it from the viewpoint of Mindanao.

Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, President of the Ateneo de Davao University and President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, at the conference on “Walking and Working Together for Healing and Reconciliation” on 14 August 2019 at the Ateneo de Davao University. Tabora said the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together is “a gift to the world” and “especially to Mindanao.” Photo courtesy of OPAPP

The document is a gift of God to the world, but especially to us here in Mindanao. For centuries our prayer here has been for lasting peace and a way for our diverse peoples to live together. The document suggests that peace and living together can be found in a deeper appreciation of our shared fraternity.

We gather today and acknowledge the importance of the of the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Just the fact that these two religious leaders, one coming from Rome, the other coming from Cairo, came together in the Arabian Peninsula was already historical.

The Catholic Church recognizes the Pope as its head who in communion with the other bishops governs and guides it.

Islam on the other hand, does not have a Pope. Its guiding norms based on the Holy Koran are determined greatly by Muslim scholars. Among the most authoritative of these is Ahmad Al Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar – the foremost Islamic (Sunni) University in Egypt.

Between the Catholic Church and Islam there has been a long history of conflict, violence and war. Both believe in one God of Compassion. Both are religions of peace. Both respect human life as the work of God’s creation and so to be cherished and protected. Yet both bear responsibility for centuries of mutual “othering”, for misunderstanding, contempt, and hatred, that have allowed their religions to be used as battle cries of rulers and politicians driven not by submission to God’s holy will, but often by sheer mundane power. We know: there is nothing that can make the exercise of political power more absolute and thereby more diabolical than the claim that it does “God’s will.”

That is why we must not underestimate the importance of how in Abu Dhabi the Pope and the Grand Imam came together. They jointly owned and shared an extraordinary document with the world, their “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” This document brings us together today.

The document emerged out of prior dialogues between religious leaders of Islam and of Christianity. The foundational insight in these dialogues is expressed in the Introduction to the Document:

“Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express his human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.”

Faith can be Islamic or Christian.
“The other” can be a Christian or Muslim.
“The other” is seen as brother or sister
God created all human beings; they are equal, brothers and sisters, on account of his mercy upon creation.
They are called to express their fraternity
by safeguarding creation
and supporting all persons,
especially the poorest and those most in need.

For us in the Philippines the Document could not have been more timely.

Just before its issuance, the Bangsamoro people of the Philippines ratified the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RA 11054). The ratification was a historic yes to peace in Mindanao and in the Philippines between Muslims and Christians who had been at enmity with each other for centuries. Because of issues of who had the right religion, who truly worshipped the one God, whose religious values and traditions were to shape the culture of the land, who was legitimately or fully “Filipino”, who had the real right to govern the land, an Islamic revolution had demanded independence from the Philippines. Thousands were killed. Hundreds of thousands displaced.   An arduous peace process had determined that the historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro could be righted in the creation of an autonomous homeland for Filipino Muslims who respected the diversity of religions and the mutual coexistence of Muslims, Christians and Lumad in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region within the Philippines.

Before the votes ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law could be counted, two bombs exploded in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Jolo. Foreign suicide bombers identified with the Abu Sayaff or with the ISIS killed twenty two Catholic worshippers and wounded over a hundred others.

Two days later, a grenade blast in a mosque of the city o Zamboanga killed two Muslim worshippers.

Again, precious Filipino lives were lost to political violence in the name of religion!

On the international level, the Document on Fraternity is issued in the context of the war in Yemen where some sixty thousand have been killed in what is said to be a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Syria, in a war between Muslims and Muslims, which created the ISIS and involved superpowers like the United States and Russia, 560,000 people have been killed and 6,200,000 people displaced. The successful international campaign against the ISIS in Syria has forced them to search for new territorial footholds. One of these is the Philippines, supposedly through Marawi with its Maute sponsors. Its military defeat there has driven them underground. But they are still active and recruiting supporters. These do not accept the Bangsamoro “political entity” created under RA 11054, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). They do not accept the Philippine State. Their religious belief insists that God rules if and only if he rules through an Islamic State, meaning of course, through them.

Meanwhile the Bangsamoro Transition Authority is in place. It is a political entity where self-determination of the Bangsamoro can be achieved. A transitional cabinet under Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim is in place; a transitional parliament is functioning. The desire is for a moral government; decisions are thought through and take time. The desire is for an efficient government; decisions of some sometimes overtake those of the majority. The desire is for the disarming of the combatants; but Rido militates against disarming anyone. The desire is for a urgent solution to all that has not yet been done for the rehabilitation of Marawi; decisions do not seem to be being made fast enough. Non-Muslim friends of the Bangsamoro want to help, but, respecting the autonomy of the Bangsamoro, do not quite seem to know how. Homegrown enemies of the Bangsamoro combat it by terror acts, which seem recently to have included a Filipino suicide bombers.

In this context, the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar say:

In the name of God…
In the name of innocent life that God has forbidden to kill…
In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized…
In the name of orphans, widows, refugees and those exiled from their homes and their countries…
In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace, and the possibility of living
together, becoming victims of destruction, calamity and war…
In the name of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal…
In the name of this human fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit
or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women…
In the name of freedom…
In the name of justice and mercy…
In the name of all persons of good will…
In the name of God…

Al-Azhar al-Sharif and the Muslims of the East and West, together
with the Catholic Church and Catholics of East and West,
declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path;
mutual cooperation as the code of conduct;
reciprocal understanding as the method and standard. 

We call upon ourselves
“to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace;
to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of blood
and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing. 

…to rediscover the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence.

This Document declares that it upholds the following, some of them stunning.

First: “The firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace, to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence…

to re-establish wisdom, justice and love; and to reawaken religious awareness among young people so that the future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law.”

I think this means it is not just enough to cite religious texts and teachings; they must be authentically interpreted.

The Pope and the Grand Imam are of the “firm conviction” that religious texts and teachings are authentically interpreted when they invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace, mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious existence.

We are challenged to reawaken religious awareness among the youth. That is to be addressed to all our Catholic schools and madaris, as well as to our youth moments, like the Salaam, with which we are associated. Religion, the Pope and the Imam are convinced, protects the youth from materialism, unbridled greed and indifference to the suffering of humankind.

Stunningly the Document says such materialism, greed and numbness to suffering is rooted in the law of force rather than in the force of law.

The law of force is coercion and power to subdue freedom; the force of law is reason that understands the common good and insight unto freedom that allows human beings to embrace it.

Second, Freedom is the right of every person; each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which he created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept.

This is a reaffirmation of religious freedom both by Islam and Catholicism. God created us diverse, and not one group blessed with a monopoly on truth, and all other groups damned because they have no truth. Together, we affirm religious freedom and the “freedom to be different”…

aware that we have had our Inquisition;
aware that we have taken off people heads in the name of God;
aware that we have burned people at the stake for not accepting our religious dogmas;
aware that we have fought wars to force religion on whole peoples;
aware that have considered peoples of other faiths condemned by God, imperfect in their humanity, second-class citizens, inferior human beings.

The statement is a declaration we should never do this again, and certainly not in the name of God.

Third: Justice based on mercy is the path to follow in order to live a dignified life to which every human being has a right.

This is stated where we often believe:
True Justice is merciless; it is unfeeling, cold, blind.
It is achieved by by power and force

Fourth Dialogue promotes a culture of tolerance, and reduces economic social, political and environmental problems

This is stated where we often believe:
Tolerance is wishy-washy
Listening to other’s convictions endangers one’s own.
Intolerance and Dogmatism are virtues,
since we already possess the truth.
Implementation of policies based through power, force and killing of dissenters is the most efficient way.
But here we are saying the culture of dialogue is the true path.

Fifth: Dialogue among believers means “coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and “transmitting the highest moral values that religions aim for.”
This is stated where we are afraid of the religious “other”, afraid we will lose our faith.
But we are encouraged to dialogue.
Dialogue among believers strengthens individuals in their beliefs, enriches religious communities and the world.

Sixth: Places of worship are to be protected
This is stated in the context of:
Suicide bombers in Cathedral of Jolo
Grenade blasts in the Mosque of Zamboanga

Seventh: Terrorism is deplorable
This is stated because many believe
Terrorism is a legitimate political means of oppressed people

Eighth. Citizenship is based on equality of rights and duties, under which all enjoy justice. Full Citizenship. Reject term “minorities”
This is stated because many do not care about the responsibilities of citizens for the common good.
They believe in private rights over others’ rights

Ninth. Good relation between east and west: fundamental human rights
This is stated because some world leaders urge:
Just the east!
Just the west!
“America first”!
Saudi Arabia has the true Islam.
Iraq has the true Islam.
The Vatican has the true Christianity.

Tenth. The right of women to education and employment and to exercise their own political rights

Eleventh. The right of children to grow up in a family environment, to receive nutrition, education and support

Twelfth. Elderly , weak, the disabled, the oppressed. Their protection is a serious obligation.

The Document concludes with a joint “aspiration” – a stated hope that:

  • this Declaration may constitute an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among all believers and non-believers, among all people of good will
  • this Declaration be an appeal to every upright conscience that rejects deplorable violence and blind extremism; an appeal to all those who cherish the values of tolerance and fraternity that are promoted and encouraged by religions;
  • this Declaration be a witness to the greatness of faith in God that unites divided hearts and elevates the human soul;
  • this Declaration be a witness to the closeness between East and West, between North and South, and between all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another. That is what we hope and wish to achieve with the aim of finding a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life.

I suppose this Document on Fraternity of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar begs for an appropriate response Christians, Muslims, groups and organizations of men and women of good will with whom God brings us together today in fraternity and mutual understanding.

I would suggest:

That this Document on Human Fraternity be read, comprehended, meditated and reflected on, and prayed over by all of us, that it may become part of our faith and part of our daily life in faith.

That this Document on Human Fraternity become material for reflection, prayer and mediation in recollections, retreats and during Ramadan and during Lent.

That we undertake measures to make the Document on Fraternity known, understood and treasured by our Muslim and Christian individuals and organizations and that we collect and publish the signatures of those who subscribe to this Document of Fraternity, beginning with our own.

That we follow the example of the Bishops-Ulama Conference of the Philippines that has formally adopted this document and undertaken to spread it among their constituencies.

That we request the CEAP and the NABEI to spread appreciation of this Document of Human Fraternity in associated Catholic schools and Bangsamoro madaris. That our Catholic and Bangsamoro classrooms be incubation cells of peace through culturally-sensitive dialogue, peace and mutual understanding.

That we request the CBCP and the various Muslim Associations of Ulamas and Ustadzes to spread appreciation of this Document of Human Fraternity in our respective faith community/umah.

That we urge the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to adopt this document as a guide towards the successful implementation of the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (RA 11054). We note Sec. Galvez’s resolve to support this with the BTA.

That our youth organizations, especially the Salaam, take the lead in spreading appreciation of this document among the youth, especially in its challenge for a refreshed awareness of religion so that youth may be moved not by the rule of force but by the force of law, ie, the common good upon which all good laws are based.

That we promote research in Islamic and Christian theologies, philosophies, and social sciences that would promote a deepened understanding of this Document of Fraternity.

That we promote face-to-face and life-to-life encounters between Christians, Muslims, Lumad throughout the Philippines in order in the Bangsamoro to promote:

the culture of dialogue as the path;
mutual cooperation as the code of conduct;
reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.

(Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ is President of the Ateneo de Davao University and President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines or CEAP, which has 1,484 member-schools in the country’s 17 regions)