Manila (AsiaNews) - The pope has assured his prayers for the population of Mindanao. The announcement comes from Amina Rasul-Bernardo, a member of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID). The only woman on the Muslim delegation to the Islamic-Christian Forum held at the Vatican from November 4-6, Rasul communicated the news through the network created by Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Order of Mary Immaculate, who for a long time has worked for dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the Philippines.
Seizing the opportunity of the moment in which Benedict XVI greeted participants at the Forum one by one, Rasul spoke with the pope. In communicating the news through the network of Fr. Mercado, the member of the PCID wrote: "I told him that I had a letter from all of us, requesting his help to end the humanitarian crisis in Mindanao by convincing the government and the MILF to go back to the peace process. He said he would pray for us."
News of the pope's concern for the situation of the population in Mindanao comes together with that of new clashes between Filipino government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which on November 10 caused the death of 10 rebels in the area around Wao and Bumbaran, in the district of Lanao.
The conflict that has opposed the rebels of the MILF and the government in Manila has lasted for almost 20 years, with its ups and downs. Amina Rasul-Bernardo took advantage of her participation at the Islamic-Christian Forum to express to the pope the distress of the population, and to communicate to him the content of the letter-appeal signed by the Muslim inhabitants of the Islamic majority state of Bangsamoro.
In the message entrusted to the network of Fr. Mercado, Rasul tells about giving the letter of the PCID to Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, with the request that the secretary of state intervene in this regard. "We hope Your Holiness could help us bring peace and justice to our brothers and sisters in Mindanao," reads the letter addressed to the pope, "by expressing concern about the unfolding humanitarian crisis and appeal for restraint for the protection of all civilians, as well as for the opening of access for the provision of speedy humanitarian assistance to the affected population."
The letter also cites the importance of coexistence between Christians and Muslims all over the planet, a necessary element in order to realize "meaningful peace in the world, for the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."
"As a concrete manifestation of how our faiths move us to help restore the dignity of our people in Mindanao by granting them their most cherished life in peace, we are making this appeal to Your Holiness to help us convince the Philippine government and the MILF to go back to the negotiating table as soon as possible."
The entourage of president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has commented on the letter from the PCID to the pope through the words of its communications officer. Jesus Durezza says that it was not necessary to take the step of appealing to the pope in order to put an end to the conflict in Mindanao. The spokesperson of the Malacañang, the Filipino presidential palace, has affirmed that while the army continues to pursue those responsible for attacks and kidnappings in the region, the resumption of peace negotiations remains the highest priority of the Arroyo administration. Under the present conditions, the government is carrying forward consultations with different sectors of the society of Mindanao, in order to reach the broadest possible consensus to bring peace back to the region. Durezza affirms that only at the end of this work of dialogue will it be possible to define the next step in the peacemaking process. In regard to talks with Muslim separatists, the spokesman of the Malacañang says that these can take place only on the condition that the MILF decide to lay down its weapons, demobilize its forces, and proceed with the reintegration of militants back into society.
Concerning the situation of the population in the region, Durezza assures that the Arroyo government is continuing to send sufficient aid to the population and the displaced, and blames the PCID for sending false information about refugees in Mindanao to the pope.