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Religion and Society

From the Philippines: the Secret of Dialogue

In the actual rediscovery of the value of dialogue between cultures and religions, oftentimes motivated by fear, economic interest and geo-political calculations, and in front of the phenomenon of terrorism, the movement for dialogue Silsilah proposes itself as a new challenge for me and for many others who are connected to the movement as members, friends and partners.


My mission in the Philippines began in 1977 in Siocon, in Mindanao. As soon as I had arrived here as a missionary I could better understood the conflict that was underway. I experienced the conflict between the Muslims and the government and the beginnings of the revolutionary movement called Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a struggle which has its roots in the history of the colonisation first by the Spaniards then the Americans and coincides with the "reawakening" phenomenon taking place in Arab countries.


As a missionary I immediately felt the need to be a bridge of hope between the tribal groups, the Muslims and the Christians, and so, thanks to the friendship with some of the Muslim leaders who welcomed me as one of their own, I went to live in a Muslim village. There I started to study their language, to understand their culture and above all to understand their aspirations of freedom which lie at the root of the liberation movement MNLF.


During this time I prayed a lot, I lived in poverty with the Muslim people of the village. The smile of the young children around me, the presence of the rebels who came to see what this "white man" was doing among the Muslims and the many emotions and reflections that accompanied me every day helped me to shed light on a truth which has remained with me to this day: the "secret" of the movement for dialogue Silsilah: the dialogue commences with God and draws us to God. What is new in all of this? I discovered that it is not enough to know a truth but one must live it to the full. For me this new discovery gave meaning to the message of God's love for humanity that every religion expresses albeit with different shades. In this spirit it was possible for me to accept the role of mediator between the rebels and the government, to tolerate difficult situations among the rebels in order to bring messages of peace, to draw closer to the Christians in order to help them understand that I was a "father" to everyone, not just the Christians, and above all to embark on a path of conversion towards God which has helped me to re-discover and propose a spirituality that today the movement Silsilah presents as the "spirituality of life in- dialogue". This spirituality is a very precise sign which overcomes the concept of dialogue as a strategy and brings everyone to think again about inter-cultural dialogue and inter-religiosity as an experience of faith.


After a series of difficulties, threats and various problems which I faced with my first companions, Christians and Muslims, on 9 May 1984 we officially founded the movement for dialogue Silsilah in Zamboanga City in Mindanao. In those years the martial law of President Marcos reigned and the violence between the MNLF and the military had brought about the death of more than one hundred and twenty thousand victims and sown a profound hatred.


To speak about the spirituality of life-in-dialogue in the early 1980s was something novel, just as Silsilah (Arabic for chain or tie, a term used by the Sufi, Muslim mystics, to express the tie with God). Many still saw dialogue as a "strategy" or as a good formula to work together to build peace through shared development projects. The movement adopted the word Silsilah as an icon which could be re-discovered by all religions in their relationship with God, with themselves, with others and with creation, to experience faith, dialogue and peace in the human family. The big challenge is to walk together and to deepen the same spirituality taking our own religions as our starting point. It is this proposal for dialogue and peace which challenges us to take a fresh look at the faith we profess as a journey which has as its starting point God and which draws us toward God. This challenge has led us to initiate many programmes especially training programmes, but also solidarity initiating also in collaboration with many other local, national and international groups and institutions. Among the many projects I recall the summer courses promoted for Muslims and Christians to encourage them to study Christianity and Islam together in a climate of dialogue: the Christians would spend some days in Muslim families and vice-versa. Many, many leaders have been formed by these courses, leaders who are now involved in guiding many initiatives for dialogue and peace especially in Mindanao.


Right from the outset we started a magazine which is today present in seventy nations across all continents. It reminds everyone to that in a situation of conflict such as Mindanao it is still possible to have signs of hope, no matter how many are discouraged or deluded by this slow and difficult journey which is so often marked by blood. Various ex-students of our courses, including a Bishop and a number of priests have been kidnapped and some have even been killed while on mission. The case which has most marked us and which has at the same time given us a new strength to continue is that of my dearest friend Fr. Salvatore Carzedda of PIME, who joined Silsilah in 1990 and worked enthusiastically in the Movement. He was killed on 20 May 1992 in Zamboanga City.


I believe that future peace can only come through the spirituality of life-in-dialogue: it will be like the young David who struck and beat the giant Goliath.