Manila (AsiaNews) - In the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao, for over 40 years a theater of war between the Philippine army and Islamic rebels, "the message in this celebration of Holy Week and Easter calls on all peoples to commit to peace , justice and development of this land". This is the message of Mgr. Tolentino de la Cruz, bishop of Kidapawan (Mindanao). The prelate is one of 24 bishops of the Forum of Bishops and Muslim Scholars, an organization composed of Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, active since 1996 in promoting peace in the region through dialogue. Since September 2009 the MILF and the government have resumed peace talks and on 4 March in Kuala Lumpur drew up a new draft agreement supported by the international community.
How important are Holy Week and Easter in a context such as that of Mindanao?
The mystery of Jesus' Passover is the basis for all circumstances of our lives, the existence of the Church and its pastoral and missionary activity in the country and around the world. This important event pushes us all to work for peace, justice and development of our region.
How do Christians live their faith in a Muslim majority region?
The message of Christ is open to all. Every Christian should live their faith in every aspect of their daily life and be a witness for those who live with him. Christ's light should shine for all. The Gospel of Jesus calls all Christians, who have the opportunity to be promoters of the good news.
What are your concerns for peace and development in Mindanao?
People are tired of living under military control. Everyone hopes that sooner or later it will all end and for the beginning of dialogue between people. Peace can not be found at the end of the tunnel. It is a process that must begin first in the hearts of people, in order to spread to the villages and cities in the region. For this reason the Church and Islamic leaders continue to pursue interreligious dialogue through the Forum of bishops and Ulema. We have recommended dialogue with Muslims as a priority to all our priests and religious in their pastoral activities. Despite these openings, however, is difficult to promote peace in the region. It is only possible if the government and the people really want it and we Christians continue to pray and work for it. To do this, the politicians should take to heart the continuation of dialogue, but also ordinary people must do their part.
What future for Mindanao and provides what the Church's role in the region?
Mindanao is rich in natural resources, but poverty is widespread as is corruption in public and private sectors and the incorrect use of funds granted by the State. What we ask is proper and transparent policies that truly serve people. The region should have the opportunity to recover and peoples living conditions should be improved. The Church does its best among the population and spreads the Gospel values such as truth, peace and justice and it does so through its missionaries and their activities. But there is still much to do. We need to be guided by God to the bring people of Mindanao to the path of peace and prosperity.
Have efforts been made to extend the values of Christianity to the rebels of the MILF and Abu Sayyaf?
The Church welcomes all, including Islamist insurgents. They too need God. Through Buc, We are doing everything to achieve this. We have to try to inspire in them the need to abandon violence and return to the path of dialogue with the government. For years the Church has been trying to bring MILF and Abu Sayyaf to the negotiation table to resolve together the problems of Mindanao. We act as a bridge between them and the government. This is the mission of the Church, and MILF and Abu Sayyaf are aware of this.