07/10/2019, 10.06
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Silsilah: dialogue and formation among the prisoners of Zamboanga

The Islamic-Christian movement has been conducting educational and human development programs in city prisons for years.  Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra (Pime) entrusted the care of the penal colony of San Ramon to Catholic operators and to an imam.  The testimony of a prisoner: "Volunteers give us hope".


 Zamboanga (AsiaNews) - Promoting the "culture of dialogue" even in prisons and offering prisoners an opportunity for redemption, through educational programs and human development: This is one of the initiatives that for years has characterized the presence of the Silsilah movement [in Arabic: Bond, link ed] in Zamboanga City. 

Born 35 years ago on the island of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, the group is a well-known presence of cultural awareness, formation and sharing, whose goal is to bring Christians and Muslims together.  Its founder is Fr.  Sebastiano D'Ambra, priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) for over 40 years in Mindanao and current executive secretary of the Commission for interreligious dialogue of the Philippine Bishops' Conference (CBBC).

Silsilah's commitment in prison institutions began several years ago in the city jail, located in the heart of Zamboanga City.  After a few years, the movement was invited by the inmates also to the San Ramon Penal Colony (photo). 

Fr. D'Ambra has entrusted the care of this structure to a group of volunteers from the Emmaus Dialogue Movement - a Catholic group affiliated to the movement - and to an imam, who teaches at the Silsilah madrasah [Islamic school ed].  The workers of Emmaus care for the Christian prisoners, while the imam for the Muslims.  Together, they conducted a six-month training program which recently ended with the graduation ceremony for dozens of prisoners.

On Silsilah's internet platforms, Fr.  D'Ambra wanted to share the testimony given by one of the latter.  Addressing the volunteers who followed him during the training program, the prisoner said: "Because of Silsilah, we have learned to communicate things that are related with our life. We have learned to have dialogue with God in different ways; we learned how to pray which we seldom did before. Through God, we have shared the things that we failed to share even to our closest friends and family members. Through Dialogue with God, I have asked for forgiveness to my wife, to my brothers and sisters, and to all people who I have wronged, especially to my Mother, who I have not talked to for too long until she died. She never knew I was put in jail. I know through my prayers, they forgave me for the faults I have done unto them".

"The operators - he continues - made us feel that we belong to society even if we are now living in jail, a place which we consider as a different community. We are in a community where people with different life stories are the ones who we socialized with every day, the life that we thought will only end up here, the life of no hope. However, you arrived and again, you opened up our minds, reminding us to value our life, that all things have sense and worth, that one day, God will allow us to be free and we can finally go back to our beloved families. Maybe, you came not to help us to be free literally out of this jail Sir/Ma’am, but you gave us freedom through peace of mind. This freedom that you gave us now is the greatest of all. This peace freed us from ourselves -the hatred, anger, and most of all the immoralities that we committed which became as our chains holding us back. You freed us from these things. You gave us hope."

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