Missionary in Mindanao hopes a spirit of human fraternity comes out of Christchurch tragedy
PIME member Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra is the founder of Silsilah, a movement for Islamic-Christian dialogue. Moved by the attack in New Zealand, the priest shares his thoughts and commitment to peace and dialogue, inspired by his experience of violence in Mindanao.
Zamboanga (AsiaNews) - Despite the dismay and the grief, Christchurch's murder madness can lead people in the right direction, that is, towards a new spirit of "human fraternity," this according to Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra (pictured), a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who has spent more than 40 years in Mindanao, southern Philippines.
The priest is the founder of Silsilah, a movement for Islamic-Christian dialogue, and the executive secretary of the Commission for interreligious dialogue of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
In an open letter, the missionary starts with the Christchurch tragedy to share his thoughts, based on his personal experience and that of Silsilah.
"One of the reasons why I started to embrace the mission of dialogue and peace in Mindanao in 1977, and after continue it through the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in 1984, is rooted in the situation of violence that I experienced when I arrived in Mindanao.
"That was the time of the conflict of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and I witnessed the terrible situation [. . .] in my first mission in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, Mindanao. Thousands of people were displaced. Poverty and hatred were visible”. It “was the beginning of the terrible revenge of the ‘Ilaga’, a group of Christians who reacted killing Muslims."
Relations between the Christian and Islamic communities on the island was based on prejudice, Fr D’Ambra notes. “I said to myself: If this is the situation, I have to do more on the path to dialogue to share my love to all, including to Muslims brothers and sisters”.
"Instead of discouraging me, this reality gave me more determination to do more for dialogue”. He went “to live in a Muslim village”. Later he began “helping in the peace process with the MNLF”. For two years, he travelled to “the forest of Siocon to meet the MNLF as negotiator. They were my friends which greatly surprised the Christians. I was there respecting them although they knew that I was against any form of violence."
One episode stands out in his visits to the rebels. “One day one young MNLF member said to me: ‘Father, this is the logic of the revolution; we have to kill many to bring attention in our mission.’ I listened in silence praying…. That sad story was an additional reason to dedicate my life to dialogue and peace.
“I I said to myself: ‘If there are those who risk life for a mission that is implemented through violence, why can we not have the same determination through a mission of dialogue and peace? How can we tell the world that love is stronger than hatred?’ These and similar reflections have been part of the motivation to invite people, especially Muslims and Christians in Mindanao, to follow the path of peace, promoting the culture of dialogue.”
Fr D’Ambra ends on a positive note about an event that recently drew world attention, namely the meeting in Abu Dhabi between Pope Francis and Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, on 3 February.
On that occasion the two leaders gave the world a beautiful document titled Human Fraternity for world peace and living together. It contains “many reflections and statements that humanity needs to reflect” upon, especially one passage in which the two religious leaders call for a “culture of dialogue as a path, mutual cooperation as the code of conduct, reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”