09/13/2004, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Silsilah, 20 years of dialogue for peace

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Silsilah Dialogue Movement, one of the Philippines most important peace movements, has turned 20. Its mandate was and still is to promote greater understanding and better relations between Muslims, Christians and other religions and peoples.

True to the meaning of the Arabic word for 'chain', Silsilah has brought together people from different parts of the Philippines. True to its mandate, it has worked to work for peace in Mindanao.

Founded in 1984 in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Silsilah initially took small steps. In the beginning, said founder Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra of the Pontifical Institute for foreign Missions (PIME), it "was my way of sharing the experience of dialogue and peace with my Muslim and Christian friends who were open and interested in journeying with me. This required courage, determination, faith and hope."

The first seeds of the movement were planted seven years earlier, in 1977, when Father D'Ambra was sent to his first mission in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, Mindanao. "It was here that I saw conflict and division among Muslims and Christians. It was here that a great desire to be a bridge of peace was born in my heart," he recalls. "It was here that I understood in a deeper way what meant 'dialogue starts from God and brings people back to God.' This inspiration and understanding encouraged me to continue the mission of peace through dialogue that has its roots in a spiritual experience."

Although things were not easy at the start, Father D'Ambra did find friends with whom he shared similar concerns. The most difficult moment came when Fr Salvatore Carzedda of PIME, the movement's co-founder, was killed on May 20, 1992. It was a big blow for everyone in the movement. Yet, everyone knew that the road was going to be one of sorrow and hardship. For Father D'Ambra work had to go on. For him "obstacles in life provide opportunities to strengthen one's commitment, vision and mission."

After 20 years membership in Silsilah is in the hundreds. Its contribution to the community includes setting up Emmaus Dialogue Community in 1987, a community of Christian laywomen in Zamboanga City, whose members are blessed with the charisma of the Beatitudes of the Gospels and the spirituality of "life-in-dialogue". With the help of local youth, Silsilah has also set up "Media for Dialogue and Peace".

In addition to the Silsilah Center in Zamboanga, the Father D'Ambra's movement runs a 14-hectare Harmony Village outside the city where it offers training courses. The village includes a small mosque, a small chapel and a demonstration farm for environment friendly farming methods. It is the perfect site to reflect upon God's blessings. (SE)

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