02/12/2010, 00.00
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Mindanao: relations and dialogue between Christians and Muslims continue despite violence

by Santosh Digal
For 40 years, predominantly Muslim Mindanao has been the scene of violent fighting between the Filipino army and Islamic rebels. Catholic teacher in Basilan talks about his experience with Muslims, says everyone wants peace.
Basilan (AsiaNews) – “People who are from non-Muslim dominated areas of the country look at Muslims differently because of what they hear, read and see in mass media. The common perception is that Christians and Muslims can never co-exist,” said Daniel Febella, a Catholic schoolteacher  in Basilan (Mindanao). By contrast, he believes that Christians and Muslims can be friends. “I had mine,” he said, “and they were and still are the best friends I have”.

Febella has seen the violence in his region first hand and for a long time. For 40 years, the region has seen fighting between the Filipino army and Islamic rebels of the  Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf. Both Christians and Muslims have been affected. Thousands have been killed and 750,000 have been displaced.

Talks between the government and MILF resumed in September of last year but in November, the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao has cast a dark shadow and increased fear among the population.

When Febella was in high school, he witnessed a bomb explosion that occurred a few meters away from their home. He saw the bodies of teachers and students from another church-run claret school in Maluso town in Basilan. Some of his teachers and schoolmates were badly injured. Yet this did not prevent Muslim and Christian kids from becoming friends.

“I had Muslims classmates all throughout my elementary and high school years,” he said. “The Catholic students prayed the Holy Rosary daily inside the classroom while Muslim classmates went to their mosque inside the campus.”

Muslims also attended Catholic religious class as well. One of his best friends, Prem Abdullah, even joined Febella in stage plays based on stories from the Bible,

In high school, “I took part in a group project on Muslim businesses, with three more kids, two of whom were Muslim. Their friendship has lasted and we have never had any conflict,” Febella said.

In his opinion, Christians and Muslims have a lot in common. The ongoing violence has not broken the tie that binds him to his Muslim friends. “We trust and respect one another enough” and “all agree that Basilan deserves peace like any other place in the Philippines,” he said.

In Mindanao, the Catholic Church has been actively involved for years in Christian-Muslim dialogue. One example of this work is Silsilah, an inter-faith group founded by Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra (PIME).

For the past 20 years, it has been involved in a number of projects and initiatives like the Bishop-Ulema Forum and the Mindanao Week of Peace, which was celebrated last November across the region.

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