06/08/2004, 00.00
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Bishop says, 'Catholic schools are venue for inter-religious dialogue'

Isabela (AsiaNews) - The Bishops-Ulama Conference, which holds its yearly Week of Peace in Mindanao, focuses specifically on  youth by holding a youth camp with Muslims and Christians participants. This year, the Mindanao Week of Peace is on November 25 to December 1 and the theme is "A reconciled family, agent of reconciliation". For other dioceses, vicariates and prelatures in the Mindanao area, outreach to the youth takes place through the Catholic schools. One of the main priorities of the Philippine Bishops, especially in Mindanao, is  Muslim-Christian dialogue. This is a long process which  bishops, clergy and religious have been striving for in the past years. But this is one necessary path toward peace in Mindanao.
Such is the case on Basilan Island, where more than 70 percent of the population are Muslims, with 27 percent Catholics (3 percent  are of other Christian religions.)

 "Muslim-Christian dialogue is very important in Basilan, especially since some of the Muslim leaders here really want to drive out the Christians from the island," Bishop Martin Jumoad  stated. Basilan is also home to the dreaded Abu Sayyaf Group, an armed fundamentalist Islamic faction guilty of terrorising the island, demanding that it become an independent country with Iranian-style rule.  "That is why, from the very beginning of the prelature, the main concern of the first Bishop of Basilan (Claretian Bishop Jose Ma. Querexeta) when he was appointed in 1963, was to establish  places where Muslims and Christians could  come together." Five Catholic schools and a Kindergarten, founded by the Claretian missionaries on the island have become places for this.

But even for Bishop Querexeta, who passed away in 1997, sustaining the Claret Schools of Basilan was difficult. The students were mostly children of poor families who could hardly afford quality education. For this reason, the bishop had to go to his home country and beg for donations from friends.

The Bishop would repeatedly tell Bishop Jumoad, then a young seminarian, of his frustration in acquiring funding for the school. "He told me that when he (Bishop Querexeta) went to Rome, he asked for help and he was told that since Basilan is a Prelature, that Propaganda Fide could not help him."

The Claret school in the main town of Isabela is one of the most important institutions in the Prelature, "because it is in the school where the children are that there is a possibility to have inter-religious dialogue among themselves as young people," Bishop Jumoad said. "And hopefully when these children grow, this dialogue will continue and eventually bring peace in Basilan."
To add to the bishop's frustrations, in August 2003 half of the school, including the library,  burned down.  "The school [enrolment of 1,800 students]," the bishop reiterated, "is important for the harmonious relationships of the children and youth, whether Muslims or Christians.

 However, due to financial constraints of the Prelature, we are unable to re-construct the school," Bishop Jumoad stated. (S.E.)


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