(Paper presented during the 2nd anniversary of the Inter-Faith Council of Leaders, Silsilah Dialogue Movement, and 20 September 2003. Presenter is Executive Secretary of Peace Advocates Zamboanga Foundation (PAZ). )
Priscilla (Baby) Valmonte
This paper is not a scholarly presentation of the subject matter assigned to me this morning: “Dialogue and Peace in the Church: Challenges and Experiences “There is no formal research work involve but is more a product of experience, reflection and action. It is focused more on a person’s day-to-day living as member of some religious organization of the Roman Catholic Church who is perpetually struggling in seeking a wholesome network of relationships.
Initiation to a dialogue of life and faith with a particular group of people had its humble beginnings in the early 80s. It is was facilitated by an extern Carmelite nun who by the grace of God and the promptings of the Holy Spirit met a Muslim lady who was in a very difficult situation at that time. She was a political prisoner. The story is quite long but the point that would like to bring out here is that this dialogue movement that brought us together once again today was really anchored in deep friendship between two people with a few friends of both [I still see some of them around], but have attracted more people within a few months. One of those is Fr. Sebastiano D’ Ambra. It was a loose group, yet we have experienced trust and respect for another. There was no name for the group then, but we were regularly meeting every Saturday for some sessions on Islam and the Catholic faith and ending it in silent prayer together. The objective then was to deepen our knowledge of our own faith and be comfortable to talk about it to others and at the same time learn to listen with respect to people of other religious affiliations.
The Silsilah Dialogue Movement:
At the prodding’s of Fr. D’ Ambra, the group had a workshop to “set some
Direction”. It was a five day lived in workshop, discussing. Reflecting on the vision and mission of the group, until finally, the name was also drawn out by consensus. The interaction was so intense. The Carmelite nun and the Muslim lady facilitated the group of twenty more or less. The venue was in Pilar College Bonding was established. The group was mostly professionals. Christian and Muslim teachers, Muslim writer and some community workers, each one can see how this movement has grown through its summer courses and other activities relating to dialogue. Some original members of the group are no longer around but still the experience is lived and oftentimes shared like what we are doing now. Each one of us has a story to tell, according to there own perspective.
The Quest For Peace:
The quest for peace in the city of Zamboanga, around its nearby provinces, as well as in the rest of the Southern Philippines has been market serious and painstaking efforts to bring about socio-economic growth, Political reform, healing and reconciliation among victimized communities. However, the pervasiveness of the culture of violence has remained to be the main challenge to be met with mixed reaction from various fronts. With the kidnappings and killings perpetrated by lost commands, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and a criminal group called the Pentagon in the hinterlands of Western and Central Mindanao, respectively, even punitive military action in “selected areas” have not helped in attempts to restore security and order in the area. In such contexts where armed conflicts have influenced the social constructions of peace (or peace less), life is less valued. In characteristic violence-for-violence fashion, people quickly resort to arms rather than discussion or negotiation to settle disputes, and the young are primed up for engaging the adversary with prototype or authentic tools of warfare and survival such as war toys or real arms. The events of Iraq and Afghanistan, including other places have further abetted these animosities and the militaristic notion of carrying defined as security and order. Invariably, throughout the world, the face of the enemy has become homogenized as “Muslim” and the Muslim call for jihad regarded without qualification as a “call to war”. Thus, over the last decade, working for peace in Mindanao has had to be set against the hostility permeating these social relationships. The attempt to address the hostility and transform the conflict into more constructive relationships has oftentimes been seen to be futile.
The Peace Advocates Zamboanga:
Late in 1994, while peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) proceeded and as kidnappings, ambushes, raids and military/ police operations went on unabated, leaders of the Catholic Church convened a mixed group of Catholics-lay, religious, clergy-from the Western Mindanao area. They wanted to make of the situation and plan to take concrete steps for peace. It was clear that the Church had to be directly involved in the peace process in the region and to respond to the on-going tensions in ethnic and religious relations. After the conference, the eleven Zamboanga city participants stayed to plan fro more sustained peace advocacy efforts at least in their city. Thus Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) was born and launched on Human Rights Day-10th December 1994. In the same vein in 1994, within the Muslim community in Zamboanga City, steps toward organizing for peace began at a meeting between ulama and professionals in Zamboanga City. Leaders who had- as individuals-belonged to the religious as well as pre-partial law democratic movements convened the meeting. It initially aimed to explore a better practice of Islam among Muslims, and led to a consensus that the da’wah be considered the vehicle from which to draw solutions to current problems. The organization that was formed out of these efforts was called the SALAM Peace Foundation, Inc.