10/04/2008, 00.00
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Mixed marriages, a hope for peace in Mindanao

by Santosh Digal
The testimony of a Christian-Muslim couple able to overcome mistrust and misunderstanding. The spouses have undertaken concrete projects, a sign of hope for lasting peace. Their two daughters are being raised according to the principles of the two faiths.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Mixed marriages can "aid the peace process in Mindanao". Difficulties and misunderstandings "are not lacking", but through life in common, "problems can be faced, and overcome". The testimony is from a couple on the island in the southern Philippines, who have been able to overcome the misgivings of their families and build a solid relationship, from which two daughters have been born, 13 and 8 years old.

Armand Nocum, who is Catholic, a former seminarian who once worked as a journalist, and Annora Sahia, a Tausug Muslim trained as a nurse, say they hope that their story can be "an example for all the inhabitants of the region", still marked by sectarian violence that sows death and destruction. This witness is not given only by their married life, but has given rise to concrete projects in favor of peace, like Books 4 Guns, an initiative to get books to children who so far have known only the logic of war and weapons. But even more than books, the couple emphasizes, it is important to guarantee "food, a means that permits gathering people around the table, overcoming borders and divisions".

Today, Armand and Annora are the owners of a small restaurant called "Satti Grill House" in Manila, which serves food from the Arab in Malaysia tradition, and is especially enjoyed by immigrants from Zamboanga (where Armand is from) and Suli (Annora's home town) who come to the capital looking for work. "We plan to flood Mindanao with books and magazines", the couple says, "both old and new, in order to open the eyes of young Christians and Muslims there to the reality that they have a better future if they pick up a book rather than a gun".

The couple was married according to the two different rites: Catholic - celebrated by Fr Angel Calvo, a leader in the promotion of interreligious dialogue, and Muslim - celebrated on October 7, 1995. Their two daughters, Ashia Marie and Arizza, study at the Holy Spirit school, run by Catholic sisters in Quezon City, a suburb near Manila. They will be the ones - as their parents say, each of whom has continued to practice his or her own religion - who, when they are of age, will "decide which faith to profess: it will be their free choice".

A call to "peace" and to the construction of "bridges" capable of "uniting" the faithful of the two religions in Mindanao also comes from Juan P. Dayang, president of the Publishers Association of the Philippines, who stresses that "culture embodies the way of life, the values, the traditions at the basis of the two societies". Fernando Capalla, archbishop of Davao and a member of the bishops and ulemas conference, has announced a project on the basis of which an area will be designated in North Cotabato - the theater of bloody warfare in the past - in which Christians and Muslims will be able to share "common projects" at the "economic and cultural" level.

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