09/01/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao: Catholic army officer takes the lead in inter-faith dialogue By Santosh Digal

by Santosh Digal
For years Lt Col Johnny Macanas was involved in the fight between Christians and Muslims. Affected by the militarisation of the conflict, he decided to take the lead in the struggle for “peace and mutual understanding. Cardinal Rosales appeals for prayers to “end the war.”

Manila (AsiaNews) – Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Macanas, a Filipino army officer who served in the line of fire in the fight against Muslim rebels in southern Philippines, has decided to use his experience to promote peace in Mindanao. For him the cycle of violence must end; for this reason he has pioneered a project called ‘I Sincerely Love All Muslims’ or ISLAM that encourages greater understanding and respect among believers of the two great monotheistic religions. In his view love and respect should bind the two communities for it is the only path to end the decade-old conflict.

“I have seen how militarism has failed to address the armed conflict now raging again in southern Philippines. And I have noted how prejudice and our lack of understanding about Islam have helped separate us from our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Macanas said.

In realising this Macanas was prompted to set up the Project ISLAM., which now encourages young people from both communities to participate in workshops.

For years he was involved in operations of open warfare and saw examples of injustice and discrimination against Muslims.

I came face to face with the prejudice against our Muslim brothers and sisters during the government's relief and rehabilitation operation,” he said. “I became saddened at government personnel distributing rice and other food items because I learned that only Christian evacuees were given food.”

Distraught by the war and the prevailing selfishness and indifference he prayed, “asking the Lord what I can do to serve our Muslim brothers and sisters, and help bring peace.”

His inspiration came when he remembered a Protestant clergyman who advocated Christian outreach to Muslims. Thus Project ISLAM was born.

Eventually the lieutenant colonel mobilised Christian leaders to help Muslims and facilitate a return to normalcy by setting up schools and coming up with development projects.

Card Gaudencio Rosales, archbishop of Manila, also issued a letter to all religious in the archdiocese urging them to pray for peace in Mindanao and bring help and comfort to the victims of the conflict.

Tensions are still running high in the region though. The government and MILF rebels have not yet agreed to the areas that would be included in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

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