04/04/2009, 00.00
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Claretian missionaries in Basilan, promoting peace and dialogue for more than 50 years

by Santosh Digal
The work of the missionaries has fostered the emergence of schools, parishes, hospitals, promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The message of peace and development is stronger than the violence, kidnappings, and the killings of missionaries and teachers. Educational projects for tribal populations.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The long march toward peace, the no less difficult journey to development, and the great challenge of strengthening the bonds among Christians, Muslims, and the tribal populations. These are the themes that have distinguished the missionary presence of Claretian priests who have been in Basilan, an island in the southern Philippines, for more than 50 years.

The missionary work of the Claretian fathers has allowed the construction of schools, the founding of parishes, the creation of a hospital, and other development projects, laying the foundation for a future of peace. Fr. Eduardo Apungan, a Claretian missionary, recalls some of the figures who have characterized the presence of these religious in Basilan. These include the deceased bishop Jose Maria Querexeta, Fr. Angel Calvo, a promoter of peace and interreligious dialogue, Fr. Eduardo Monge, kidnapped by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and Fr. Fernando Blanco, kidnapped by groups affiliated with the fundamentalist movement of Abu Sayyaf.

The martyrdom years ago of Fr. Rohel Gallardo, who was killed at the Claretian school in Tumahubong, became a source of inspiration for the young missionaries on the island. The school in Isabella, which has been operating for 61 years, is the only multi-level educational institution - with an elementary school, a high school, and a college - of religious inspiration on the island. It serves more than 3,000 Christian and Muslim students. The parish school of Saint Vincent Ferrer, also in Tumahubong, has twice been razed to the ground and rebuilt with the help of donations. During the second raid, the extremists kidnapped a number of students and killed some of the professors.

Fr. Apunang stresses that in spite of the difficulties, attacks, and violence suffered by the Claretian priests, they continue to believe strongly that "remaining on the island" and "helping our lowliest Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters" gives a "deep meaning" to their mission in Basilan. Without forgetting the indigenous populations of the area, which are supported with numerous development projects. These include an educational program for 212 children and more than one hundred adults of the indigenous Badjaus tribe.

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