05/30/2014, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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"Silsilah": 30 Years of Christian-Muslim relations founded in spirituality

Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra, founder and soul of the movement, recounts a journey of “humble” beginnings "but which aims to be a "sign of hope" among people. A historic presence of formation, cultural awareness and sharing in Mindanao, which over time has received awards and accolades. Its successes includes having formed Christian and Muslim leaders .

Zamboanga City (AsiaNews) - The movement of "dialogue and peace" which started from "humble" beginnings but which thanks to the efforts of Christians and Muslims in Zamboanga (Mindanao), has grown over the years and which from an island in the Philippine archipelago "has gained a foothold in the world".

Relations between Islam and Christianity are fundamental aspects of modernity and it is essential that they are founded in "spirituality", a " key factor in the movement" but which should also be translated into "concrete projects" . This is what Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra , a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME ) tells AsiaNews. The priest has been in the southern Philippines since 1977, in one of the most sensitive areas for Islamic extremism, but where there are also hopes for a lasting peace. In order to encourage and strengthen relations among the faithful of the two great monotheistic religions, he founded the Movement for Dialogue " Silsilah " in 1984 which has become a historical presence in raising cultural awareness, formation and sharing.  In in May, it marked its 30th anniversary.

From its headquarters in the "Village" on the outskirts of Zamboanga - in the southern Philippines, the only Asian country with a Catholic majority - where there is a large Muslim community of six million people, "Silsilah" has tried to ease tensions and soothe outbreaks of violence. A task that is rooted in the very name of the movement, derived from the Sufi Islamic mysticism meaning "chain" or " bond " that unites man to God

The work done by "Silsilah" in recent years has also won prestigious international awards: the 2013 Goi Peace Award, awarded by the Goi Peace Foundation, a Japanese engaged in the promotion of peace, beyond the barriers of race, religion, creed. And again the 2014 edition of the World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) an award sponsored and supported by the King of Jordan Abdullah II . Receiving the award, Fr. D'Ambro pointed out that "when the forces of destruction are working hard, this is also the time when the forces of peace and harmony must work even harder".

His work is has earned both success and recognition, but has also known difficult times and frustration, as was the case last September when a Philippine Army raid in the South caused thousands of refugees and fueled ethnic and confessional mistrust. This led the movement to step up its efforts and resources in order to restore a climate of trust and dialogue in the area and to minimize the damage and violence inflicted by the conflict.

The PIME missionary recalls the first steps taken by "Silsilah" under "the Marcos regime, with martial law in force"; one of the secrets is that the institution "rather than an NGO that wants to solve problems - he says - is a movement of dialogue and peace , which starts from spirituality." This may have been difficult for many to understand at first, but now "it is beginning to gain a foothold in the world" thanks to extraordinary events such as the " letter of the 138 Muslim scholars to Pope Benedict XVI", based on the Koran and the Bible. "These facts - he adds - a little at a time can lead to a breakthrough: one of the successes of the movement is that it has formed in the course of summer camps, Muslim and Christian leaders who today who are in charge of religious communities or institutions".

The spirituality of the movement emerges from the experience of journeying together which "Silsilah" has promoted, such as the Emmaus Catholic Circle that formed Catholic laity and non- in the mission for dialogue and peace. Our dream, says Fr . D'Ambra , is "to do the same with Muslims" and also to offer them this "privileged context of formation".  From the recent National Week for Interreligious Dialogue to the National Congress on spirituality, the movement has proposed many different initiatives, in the hope of raising awareness among the entire population of the importance of having a "culture of the encounter and discussion" a "culture that comes from God and that leads back to God. "

The PIME missionary hopes that the peace agreement between Manila and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) - the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, CAB- can bring peace, even though there are dissenting voices. The road ahead for "Silsilah" is still long , he concludes, "we see the fruits but still have a long way to go and we must always be a sign of hope for the people".

 

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