Silsilah's 40 years of dialogue with Islam in Mindanao
by Santosh Digal

The organisation founded by Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra, a PIME missionary, celebrates its foundation in May 1984 in Zamboanga, a province where Christians are a minority. Its focus is young people, trained to become worthy leaders, dedicated to building peace. “We are gathering stories of individuals who have experienced the spirituality of life,” said Fr D’Ambra.

Manila (AsiaNews) – The Silsilah[I] Dialogue Movement, an organisation dedicated to interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Zamboanga, a province in the island of Mindanao (southern Philippines), marked its 40th anniversary last Saturday.

Founded in 1984 by Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra, an Italian missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), the NGO has passionately dedicated itself from the start to building peace, harmony, hope, and reconciliation between people of different religions in a region that has also been the scene of conflicts between Christians and Muslims in the past.

Mindanao is the second largest island in the country with a population of 25 million, with a large Muslim community. It has been the scene of a long and brutal conflict involving pro-independence militias and Islamist groups that left thousands of dead.

One of the victims was Fr Salvatore Carzedda, a PIME missionary friend of Fr D'Ambra active in dialogue with Muslims, who was killed on 20 May 1992 in Zamboanga City.

His death did not stop Silsilah, whose work is centred in Harmony Village, but radiates across the island and throughout the Philippines.

“We are gathering stories of individuals who have experienced the spirituality of life through dialogue as we prepare for the 40th anniversary of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement,” Fr D’Ambra said. 

Years ago, the missionary wrote a book titled Call to a Dream, prophetic words since many dreams of dialogue and peace have since come true, especially in the lives of people who have been touched by Silsilah, appreciated its values, which they have made their own.

On 18 May, a large gathering is planned in Harmony Village to mark the anniversary.

The Silsilah Dialogue Movement represents a beacon of hope at a time of divisions and conflicts around the world, which seemingly leave little room for other ways of living and relating to one another.

It does so by offering a path of dialogue – towards God, oneself, others and with Creation – to build peace, a commitment that has always defined Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra’s own story.

Above all, [the clergyman] taught us the true definition of love, which is that we are all deserving of it regardless of who we are or where we've come from,” said Amelita P. Estimo, a school teacher and a former Silsilah volunteer.

“We appreciate Fr D'Ambra’s efforts for providing us with the motivation we needed to get through life,” she added.

Undaunted even by the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation has continued to train thousands of Muslims and Christians, offering a voice of harmony.

For some 40 years, it has promoted extend interfaith sensitivity among different age groups and sectors of society, in particular young Muslims, Christians, and those of other faiths.

For instance, various youth programmes for boys and girls began in the early 1990s, to develop their interest in media, the arts, leadership skills, and community involvement.

Young people trained in these values can be Youth Leaders for Dialogue and Peace (YLDP). Once they become professionals in their field of specialisation, they can carry the culture of dialogue to achieve peace and bear witness to interfaith communication.

In doing so, they promote the Silsilah spirit among young people of all cultures and religions, strengthening their role as positive agents of change and peacebuilding.

They transform society through media, the arts, and sports, working with other organisations and local communities to promote peace, particularly among vulnerable youth.

Likewise, they promote effective personal and social training activities for young people, focusing on minorities, fostering life and work together through dialogue, passing on stories of change among young leaders. Silsilah’s 40-year story is destined to continue.

[I] Chain or connection in Arabic