Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Martyrdom of Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI

Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI - MARTYR

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI. He was shot on the day of the Holy innocents (his name sake) at the back of the Jolo Cathedral in 2000. Once again posting here what I have written two years year ago... on the need to re-think our idea of martyrdom...
Fr. Jun

Rethinking martyrdom…
Fr. Jun Mercado, OMIJanuary 26, 2011 8:09pm

During the months of December, January and February, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculateremember three of their four martyrs who were brutally killed in the Provinces of Sulu and Tawi Tawi.

On December 28th, the Feast of the 
Holy Innocents, we trooped to Barangay Ugong in Pasig to celebrate with the family, friends and the people of the barangay, the 10th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI. On the same day in 1990, Fr. Benjie as he was fondly known was shot just behind the Jolo Cathedral.

He was new to Jolo after spending about ten years of missionary life as teacher and a ‘factotum’ in aremote island somewhere in the Sulu Sea called Cagayan Mapum.

To many, Fr. Benjie was the least likely victim of 
violence. He was one of the kindest and one of the most peaceful creatures on earth. As a scholastic and a missionary, he would prefer to do house chores to street demonstrations. Yet, in the end, the lamb-like Fr. Benjie ended in the altar of sacrifice –victim of wanton violence and fanaticism in the name of God!

Then in January 15th, in our small 
chapel of the OMI Provincial House in Cotabato City, we remembered the third anniversary of yet another Oblate martyr, Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI. In the evening of the same day in 2008, Fr. Rey’s house was attacked by several armed men. The murderers tried to kidnap him. He was bludgeoned by rifles, hacked and later shot in another remote island called Tabawan somewhere near the Celebes Sea.

Fr. Rey was a man full of passion for the islanders. He worked for 
quality education in the said God-forsaken island to give the young people opportunity to pursue higher education. He invited NGO’s and some benefactors to journey with his people as they eke a livelihood in an island forsaken by the powers that be.

In the month of February, the OMI’
s will be remembering the 14th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI. Bishop Ben was brutally shot in front of the Jolo Cathedral on February 4th, 1997.

Bishop Ben and Fr. Benjie were made of the same stuff. They were kindness personified. Bishop Ben would go around Jolo and the whole Vicariate always with a smile and a greeting of peace on 
his lips. He would listen endlessly to the cry of his people, Muslims and Christians alike.

The fourth martyr was a bit controversial, because of his passionate commitment to clean and credible elections in the Municipality of Ampatuan during the 
local election of 1971. Fr. Nelson Javellana, OMI, then Director of Notre Dame of Ampatuan, and a group of CNEA volunteers believed that clean and credible elections were possible in Ampatuan. Riding back home in a mini bus after a seminar on the conduct of elections in Cotabato City, they were ambushed somewhere in Tambunan on November 3rd, 1971.

The brutal ambuscade just days before the 1971 local elections, many claimed, galvanized the Christian votes that marked the shift of leadership in the Cotabato Province and the City from the Muslim hands to the Christians. Carlos Cajelo became the first elected Christian Governor of North Cotabato that included then the Province of Sultan Kudarat. Teodolo Juliano became the first elected Christian City Mayor of Cotabato.

As we remember our martyred confrères, in many ways, we are forced to re-think the meaning of ‘martyrdom’. This does not mean that everything in our world has changed, but the actual situation provides new examples and trends of martyrdom.

In the re-thinking of martyrdom, two prominent theologians, Johann-Baptist Metz and Edward Schillebeeckx, have offered three points by way of appreciating this phenomenon.

The first is labeled as responsive mercy in a cruel world. The situation of injustice and poverty produces people albeit few in number who respond with mercy to defend the victims of the economic order, and for this reason they are violently and unjustly 
killed without being able to mount any defense. And there are also those who, in the midst of ethnic conflicts, work and struggle to overcome differences and to defend the human rights of the most oppressed.

Not everything in these conflicts can be lumped as ‘terrorism’, as some would lead us to believe. Many people go to the length of giving up their own lives for the weakest. All the deaths mentioned are, above all, an expression of love for the poor and the victims, and their exceptional nature stems from this love. Even if we do not give such people a particular title, they are responsively merciful to the end.

The second point is called as Suicide and terrorism. With the outbreak of terrorism and fanaticism, religions, which claim to be bearers of something good and absolute, can come to defend this something absolutely, which involve violence. They can also induce their members to be prepared, and even willing, to give their lives in defense of this absolute. This carries with it the double danger of generating the fanaticism of suicide (often undertaken from a belief in a reward after death) and of using suicide to bring about the death of innocent people.

The third point is to give a name to the crucified peoples. Here we speak of the deaths of millions of people, especially of children, in what used to be called Third World countries, in the form of poverty, exclusion, wars, massacres, in the everyday form of hunger in sub-Saharan countries (Somalia, Darfur, Eritrea, and others) and in some regions of Asia, of deaths from AIDS, particularly those of children, who are in no way to blame. What is happening is undeniable, but society and government do not even give these victims a name, let alone grant any sort of dignity to these deaths.

These nameless masses of people share with the ‘
martyrs’ the fact that they suffer death, indefensibly and unjustly, sometimes slowly through hunger and oppression, sometimes violently in wars and massacres imposed on them. The term used to designate these millions of human beings can be debated, but what cannot be done is to leave them without a name in a distant and everlasting anonymity.

The martyrdom of our four confreres in the Southern Philippines can only be understood within the three points outlined above. In many ways, the brutal killings of Bishop Ben, Frs. Nelson, Benjie and Rey give platforms to these nameless deaths, in society, a sort of giving one’s 
life to bring these crucified peoples down from the cross.

The martyrs teach us a great lesson that living is learning to suffer with grace, with elegance; to struggle, certainly, but at the same accepting suffering and tragedy without hatred or loss of hope.

In a similar vein, a liberation theologian, Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga, tells us that re-thinking martyrdom communicates, in our contemporary times, what he has seen, thought, and experienced over the course of many years. ‘Martyrs die with no trace of masochism or ‘sacrificialism’. They die with the joy of giving life to all, even to one’s enemies, and not taking it from anyone, with commitment, gratitude, and hope.’

 Bapa Jun

The Feast of the Holy Family (A)

Text: “…behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." (Matthew 2: 13)
 Meditation:  Like the Holy Family, there are times that we need simply “to flee” until the “tempest” is gone else we are destroyed…  The important thing is to discern God’s voice within us. God's message leads to a new understanding not only of ourselves but of the reality out there...
 1st step: Write the text or Dhikr (the Arabic word for REMEMBRANCE) in your heart.
2nd step: Let the text remain always in on your lips and mind - RECITING the text silently as often as possible...
3rd step:  Be attentive to the disclosure of the meaning/s of the text in your life.
Bapa Jun Mercado, OMI

Friday, December 20, 2013

4th Sunday of Advent (A)

4th Sunday of Advent (A): Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-15; Romans 1: 1-7; Matthew 1: 18-24

The short reflection is taken from the Gospel reading: “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’."  (Matthew 1: 20-21)

In facing life’s challenges, we are, often, afraid.  The message to us is similar to Joseph… ‘DO NOT BE AFRAID’. Trust in God… He is with us!

I considered some of the awful things my parents and grandparents had seen in their lifetimes: two world wars, Nuclear Explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killer flu, polio and small fox. But they saw other things, too, better things: the end of two world wars, the polio vaccine, and the post War Reconstruction and the space travels.

I believe that my generation will see better things, too -- that we will witness the time when AIDS is cured and cancer is defeated; when the Middle East will find peace and Southern Philippines will find the peace formula. Ever since I was a little kid, whenever I've had a bad day, my mom would put his arm around me and promise me that "tomorrow will be a better day." I challenged my mother once, "How do you know that?" she said, "I just do." I believed him. My grandparents did, and so do I.

What the future holds for the next generation, when I hear them speak ‘tomorrow’. I, too, want to put my arm around them, and tell them what the Angel Gabriel told Joseph:  “DO NOT BE AFRAID” Trust in God… He is with us!  Don't worry, tomorrow will be a better day. This, I believe.

Bapa Jun Mercado, OM

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reasons to Celebrate Christmas


Our Christmas celebrations, admittedly, do start too early, are too-commercially driven, do focus too little on anything religious, and do not take the poor sufficiently into account.  Too often too they serve to obliterate religious awareness rather than highlight it. And so it is easy to be cynical about the Christmas. It contains too many excesses.
There are seasons in life that are meant precisely for enjoyment, for family, for friends, for color, for tinsel, and for good food and good drink. There is even the occasional time for some prudent excess. Jesus gave voice to this when his disciples were scandalized by a woman’s excess in anointing his feet with perfume and kisses.
There is a God-given pressure inside of us that pushes us to celebrate. The celebration of festival and carnival, even with their excesses, help teach us that.  Christmas is such a festival. In the end, its celebration is a lesson in faith and hope, even when it isn’t as strong a lesson in prudence.
To make a festival of Christmas, to surround Jesus’ birthday with all the joy, light, music, gift giving, energy, and warmth we can muster is, strange as this may sound, a prophetic act. It is, or at least it can be, an expression of faith and hope. It’s not the person who says: “It’s rotten, let’s cancel it!” who radiates hope. That can easily be despair masquerading as faith.
It is the man or woman who, despite the world’s misuse and abuse of these, still strings up the Christmas lights, trims the tree and the turkey, turns up the carols, passes gifts to loved ones, sits down at table with family and friends, and flashes a grin to the world, who is radiating faith, who is saying that we are meant for more than gloom, who is celebrating Jesus’ birth.
(Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

3rd Sunday of Advent (A)

The Highway of Holiness Passes through the Desert
December 9, 2013 by Fr. Thomas Rosica Leave a Comment

The Third Sunday of Advent, Year A – December 15th, 2013
In his moving homily for the Inauguration of his Petrine Ministry as Bishop of Rome on April 24, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI spoke these words:

The pastor must be inspired by Christ’s holy zeal: for him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert.  And there are so many kinds of desert.  There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love.  There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction.  …The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One who gives us life, and life in abundance.

The deserts of our lives
There is no better starting point to understand the Scripture readings for the third Sunday of Advent, especially today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah [35:1-10], than by reflecting on Pope Benedict’s words.  The themes of geography and desert in both the Pope’s inaugural homily and Isaiah’s stirring reading invite us to reflect on the deserts of our own lives. How do we live in the midst of our own deserts?  How often have we become deserts of loneliness, desolation and emptiness, rather than flourishing gardens of community, joy and light for others?  How have we resisted transforming our own deserts into places of abundant life?  We may have to go into that wilderness where we realize we are lost, and alone, unfruitful and without resources – and only when we reach that point are we ready to meet God. 

The geography of salvation
We encounter the geography of salvation at many places in the Bible.  This geography forms the background for Isaiah’s portrayal of the coming of the Lord in chapter 35.  Whereas judgment of the nations is described in Isaiah 34, chapter 35 stands in stark contrast to the bleak picture of devastation and desolation in the preceding chapter as the Lord judges the land of Edom. Defeated in battle and driven from their homeland, the people of Israel were without hope.

Isaiah 35:1-10 announces the end of the Babylonian captivity, presenting a stirring vision of deliverance, freedom, and salvation.  The prophet recalls the joyous memories of the exodus from Egypt. A second exodus is in store, symbolized by the healing granted to the blind, the dead, the lame, and the mute. Israel’s singer of hope captured the paradox of barrenness and rejoicing – the paradox of Advent – as no other poet has.  Scanning the southern Negev desert’s gnarled surface he saw a vision of God’s new creation:  “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…”  [35:1].

A new exodus
Delivered and saved by God, all peoples shall return to their own land by way of the desert, in a new exodus. Salvation bursts onto the world scene through geography: highways, valleys, mountains, deserts, and plains!  The road, the desert, water, and joy are more than mere coincidence. Isaiah prophesies that there shall be one pure road and it will be called the way of holiness upon which the redeemed shall walk.  From desert to streams to the highway of holiness, Isaiah’s atlas of the geography of salvation leads us into the mountain of the presence of the Lord: The ransomed of the Lord will return and enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away [35:10].

The desert as metaphor
The desert has become a metaphor to describe the sense of alienation and despair that are the effects of human sinfulness. How many times have we used the expression: “I’m living through a real desert experience” or “I feel so alienated from God and from other people” to describe what we are feeling because of our sinfulness.  If we are complacent and self-satisfied, we’ll never begin to long for the coming of the Lord, or make ready to meet him.  The ways of the desert were deep within the heart of Jesus, and it must be the same for all who would follow him.  In the midst of the desert we hear what God will do if we open our hearts to him and allow God to make our own deserts bloom.

The geography of salvation… today
God has revealed himself to us not only in specific periods of time, but also in very particular places in creation.  For many Christians, these very places conjure up images of shepherds and olive trees, high walls and enclosed, ancient cities and towns as they existed in the age of King David or Bethlehem at the time of Jesus.  The Holy Land is a land without history, its people and places frozen in a biblical time frame, or locked in an unending political battle.  As Catholics, we have a double obligation to thaw out the frozen biblical time frame and make it accessible and inviting for Christians.
A visit to the Holy Land reminds us that we are caught up not only in the History of Salvation but also in the Geography of Salvation.  Both the story of our own lives, coupled with the biblical stories, show us how God can write straight with our crooked lines.  The best-selling Holy Land Guides do not bear witness.  They merely indicate.  Only people, not stones and marbles can bear the most authentic and eloquent witness that at one shining moment in history, the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.  And we continue in our day to behold his glory.

Were the Holy Places turned into museums or archaeological curiosities as they have been in other countries, tangible historical links would be severed.  Without the presence of local churches and communities of Christians, the witness of Holy Land would be terribly diminished and even non-existent.

The word of God and the Holy Land
As we journey through this season of Advent, I encourage you to read Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation “Verbum Domini,” and especially the following section that speaks eloquently aboutthe word of God and the Holy Land:

89.  As we call to mind the Word of God who became flesh in the womb of Mary of Nazareth, our heart now turns to the land where the mystery of our salvation was accomplished, and from which the word of God spread to the ends of the earth. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word became flesh in a specific time and place, in a strip of land on the edges of the Roman Empire. The more we appreciate the universality and the uniqueness of Christ’s person, the more we look with gratitude to that land where Jesus was born, where he lived and where he gave his life for us.

The stones on which our Redeemer walked are still charged with his memory and continue to “cry out” the Good News. For this reason, the Synod Fathers recalled the felicitous phrase that speaks of the Holy Land as “the Fifth Gospel”.  How important it is that in those places there be Christian communities, notwithstanding any number of hardships! The Synod of Bishops expressed profound closeness to all those Christians who dwell in the land of Jesus and bear witness to their faith in the Risen One. Christians there are called to serve not only as “a beacon of faith for the universal Church, but also as a leaven of harmony, wisdom, and equilibrium in the life of a society which traditionally has been, and continues to be, pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious”.

The Holy Land today remains a goal of pilgrimage for the Christian people, a place of prayer and penance, as was testified to in antiquity by authors like Saint Jerome.  The more we turn our eyes and our hearts to the earthly Jerusalem, the more will our yearning be kindled for the heavenly Jerusalem, the true goal of every pilgrimage, along with our eager desire that the name of Jesus, the one name which brings salvation, may be acknowledged by all (cf. Acts 4:12). 

The Sunday of rejoicing
The way of Israel in the desert is the way for all of us.  As we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent,Gaudete Sunday or the day of rejoicing, we join with the exiles of Israel and the disciples of John the Baptist as we yearn for salvation, and long for new life to blossom. This week let us carve out some spiritual space in our lives where we can strip away the false things that cling to us and breathe new life into our dreams and begin again. In the midst of the desert we hear what God will do if we open our hearts to him and allow him to make our own deserts bloom.  What God does to the southern desert of Israel, God will do for us: transform our barrenness into life, and trace a highway and a holy way in places we believed to be lifeless and hopeless. 
Are we on the Highway of Holiness?  Are we making progress on it?  Are we enjoying the travel?  Are we inviting others to join us on the way?

Come, Lord Jesus!
We need you now more than ever.
Make our deserts bloom.
Quench our thirst with your living water.
Give us strength to follow you on the Highway of Holiness.
Fill our hearts and minds with rejoicing!

[The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are: Isaiah 35.1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5.7-10; and Matthew 11.2-11.]

Saturday, December 07, 2013

2nd Sunday of Advent (A)

Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3: 1-12

Text: In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3: 1-2)

Meditation:  The reign of God is at hand… it finds home only in a repentant heart.  Change our old ways and bad habits!  After receiving the Baptism of Repentance,  we make visible our commitment to new life.   This takes courage…!

1st step: Write the text or Dhikr (the Arabic word for REMEMBRANCE) in your heart.
2nd step: Let the text remain always in on your lips and mind - RECITING the text silently as often as possible...
3rd step:  Be attentive to the disclosure of the meaning/s of the text in your life.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christ the King NAILED and HANGING on the Cross

Dhikr for the 34th Sunday of the Year (Christ the King) Year C

Readings: 2 Samuel 5: 1-3; Colossians 1: 12-20; Luke 23: 35-43

Selected Gospel Passage: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power." And Jesus said to him: "truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 42-43

Meditation: Our King is Jesus hung on the Cross for his great love for us...  this reminds me of the story told by Elie Weisel at the Nazi Concentration Camp.  The night before a prison guard was killed. The camp rule said that for a guard killed, 10 prisoners were taken to be hung before all the prisoners of the camp.  So that morning, the Nazi gathered ten young boys... and they hung them before all the prisoners.  A loud cry came at the back: "'Where is Yahweh, our God!" And answer came back: 'There is Yahweh, our God, HANGING IN THE GALLOWS...'.  When we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, NEVER forget that the Christ the King is NAILED and HANGING on the Cross.

Visit:  www.badaliyya.blogspot.com


The “other” person that journeyed (mystically) with Fr. Charles de Foucauld in that “enterprise” (Badaliyya) in the world of Islam is Fr. Louis Massignon.  One of the great contributions of Fr. Massignon in Muslim-Christian Relations is his monumental studies on Islamic Mysticism, specifically on the Life and Martyrdom of the Great Sufi Al-Mansour Al Hallaj.

Louis Massignon’s Meditation on Badal (Ransom)

In Charity.  It is an active and sensitive charity.  Solidarity understood as the ability to suffer with those who suffer injustice.  It is an attempt to liberate … at least to know how to protest with sorrow.  It is to accompany the poor with help and sympathy. Charity is shown with great delicate respect to a person before many and varied religious option.

With the Figure of Abraham.  The figure of Abraham is a mystery of election and exclusion.  Is it also a mystery of acceptance and a mystery of rejection?  Ismael vs. Israel, David and Paul…  Hadith has it: “No one is truly a believer until one prefers not for his brother what one prefers for himself.”

Being Badal – Ransom/Substitution.  Louis Massignon had “discovered” the reality of BADAL – Ransom/Substitution for the reparation of injustices and for witnessing to the poor and victims of injustices.  Ransom/Substitution demands an offer of the total self – similar to the test of fire.  The witness “par excellence” is the one who does complete or offered as a total ransom for all that is lacking in truth that God knows… Massignon found this in the life and martyrdom of Husayn at Kerbala in the Shi’a Theology.  Husayn is the vivification of the mystery of redemption.

The Ram in place of Isaac/Ismael
The Paschal Lamb for the first born of Israel
The tribe of Levi for the nation of Israel
Jesus for humanity.

Examples used by Fr. Louis Massignon…
The demand on the part of Christians at Najran – the Test of Fire
The offer of St. Francis at Damietta – the Test of Fire
The Desire of St. Raymund of Lull - Ransom
The acceptance of Fr. Massignon mystically to become Badal…
In their lives, each person is assured by Christ, ransomed by him and in return they assure and ransom others … assuming unto themselves all others and standing in the place of others notwithstanding their weaknesses before the mystery of God through via dolorosa unto the violent death of the cross.


Dhikr is an Arabic word for remembrance. In the “tariqa” (the way) movement, dhikr developed into a form of prayer… It is a prayer of the heart… following three simple steps:

1. Write in one’s heart a certain passage of the Holy Writ…

2. Make the same passage ever present in one’s lips.

3. Then wait for God’s disclosure on the meaning of the passage…that interprets one’s life NOW…!

It takes a week of remembering (dhikr)…or even more days to relish the beauty of this method…

Monday, November 18, 2013

Badaliyya Deepening...

Dear Friends of the Badaliya,

We are continuing to explore the meaning of the Badaliya by deepening our understanding of Louis Massignon's original intent. In our time we are called to a different expression of it yet realize that we also need to be grounded in the essence of Badaliya as a spiritual call.

Grounded in the monthly prayer gathering of the original Badaliya, Massignon grew to more and more involvement in the Muslim community and its well being. Beyond the Christian/Muslim dialogue and founding a shared pilgrimage that survives to this day, he volunteered for thirty years to teach French and Mathematics to Algerian political prisoners and finally in his late seventies marched in the streets of Paris for an Independent Algeria in the 1950's and early 1960's.

Today we are challenged to allow the Badaliya to open our hearts to welcome our Muslim neighbors and move us towards reconciliation through mutual trust and understanding. It is a journey that we must begin with our own conversion of hearts.

We welcome the many folks from around the world who are joining us in spirit at each of our gatherings held on the last Thursday of each month.

Pace e Bene,
Bapa Jun Mercado, OMI

November 18, 2013
Cotabato City

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Mystical Imagination

Text:  “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner’.” (Luke 18: 13)

Meditation:  The Pharisee and the Publican offers to us two ways of “praying”… The former is self-righteous and the latter is asking for righteousness… The Publican went home justified, not the Pharisee. Beware!

1st step: Write the text or Dhikr (the Arabic word for REMEMBRANCE) in your heart.
2nd step: Let the text remain always in on your lips and mind - RECITING the text silently as often as possible...
3rd step:  Be attentive to the disclosure of the meaning/s of the text in your life.

A Mystical Imagination


For this reason, faith is a struggle, but so are a lot of other things. When the surface is all that there is, it's hard to be enchanted by anything, to see the depth that's uncovered by poetry, aesthetics, altruism, religion, faith, and love. And it's especially difficult to understand community.
When the physical is all that there is, it becomes virtually impossible to conceive of the body of Christ and it becomes difficult even just to understand our real connection with each other.
As human beings, we are connected to each other in ways beyond the physical, beyond time, beyond separation by distance, and even beyond separation by death. But to understand this we need a mystical imagination.
The mystical imagination is the other half of the scientific imagination and, like science, its purpose is to help us see, imagine, understand, speak about, and relate to reality in a way beyond fantasy and superstition. But the mystical imagination can show us something that science, wonderful though it is, cannot, namely, it can show us the many grace-drenched and spirit-laden layers of reality that are not perceived by our physical senses. The mystical imagination can show us how the Holy Spirit isn't just inside our churches, but is also inside the law of gravity.
But how do we learn that? A saint might say: "Meditate and pray long enough and you will open yourself up to the other world!" A poet might say: "Stare at a rose long enough and you'll see that there's more there than meets the eye!" A romantic might say: "Just fall in love real deeply or let your heart get broken and you'll soon know there's more to reality than can be empirically measured."
And the mystics of old would say: "Just honour fully what you meet each day and you will find it drenched with grace and divinity."
(Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Religious Leaders and Building Peace - The Philippine Experience

Religious Leaders & Building Peace: The Philippine Experience
Prof. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI (Graduate School Faculty, Notre Dame University)
Fulbright 2002 New Century Scholar (Georgetown University)

I believe, a very important attempt to weave the experiences and lessons of religious leaders’ participation in building peace.  There are many and varied lived experiences of peace building that involve religious leaders of all faiths. It is interesting to note that both violent and peaceful people continue to use religious images and passages from the Scriptures or Holy Books to “justify” their acts and actuations that either promote conflicts and violence or building peace.

The peoples of Mindanao are witnesses to and participants in these two strands. They have seen both the violence and bloodshed in war and rehabilitation and reconstruction in peace building. In fact, war, piracy and kidnappings have always marred, from the very beginning, the encounters between Islam and Christianity in Southern Philippines.  It is often said that the Southern Philippines has really not known peace. What we, sometimes, experience are fleeting truces that allow peoples to build anew their homes and livelihoods until war erupts again and send them back to evacuation centers. 

A multi-awarded movie of the late Marilou Abaya Diaz produced a movie entitled “Bagong Buwan” (New Moon) that became the top grosser during the Manila Film Festival in 2002. The movie was a masterpiece that captured the continuing cycle of war and peace in Mindanao. Peoples live in a continuing “evacuation”.

 I will borrow Shakespeare’s words to describe the relations between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao.

" . . . Creeping murmur and the pouring dark
Fill the wide vessel of the universe:
From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch. . .
Each battle sees the other's umber'd face."

So Shakespeare's chorus described the eve of Agincourt. The words might well have been written also of Mindanao, more particularly of Muslim-Christian relations. When faiths and religious traditions confront each other, it is, for the most part, with "fixed sentinels" and even with the "whispers of each other's watch".
It is said that Christianity and Islam are, indeed, physically adjacent.  Yet, for all their nearness, the relations between these two faiths and their respective followers are largely shrouded in mutual suspicion and darkness. There are few exceptions on either side to rise above the general ignorance and suspicion. But these are rare … When faiths and religious traditions confront each other, it is for the most part, with "fixed sentinels." It is in the context of that “fixed sentinels” in Mindanao realities that I will share with you the few exceptions in building peace.

In the Philippines, particularly in the South, Christianity and Islam have always been presented as two competing faiths for the same geographical area. Wittingly or unwittingly, the recent spate of lawlessness like kidnappings, terrorism and plain and simple banditry is read along the understood "separateness" between Christianity and Islam.
This tragic and sad reality is further exacerbated by the contemporary surge of the so-called fundamentalist movements both in Islam and Christianity. The likes of the Abu Sayyaf and Pentagon Group/s that are often associated with fanaticism send jitters to the people in the area.

All these are familiar enough and part of our present problem. Often, they exercise tyranny over our spirits. They have produced a culture and a habit of suspicion and confrontation that make inter-religious collaboration and dialogue, truly, a very difficult task. It requires a commitment and determination to steadily school ourselves to resist and reject our habit of preferring suspicion to trust; our instinct to prefer the familiar confrontation to a new relationship of partnership in the world that is in difficult transition.

In the past as well as today, there is an ever-growing awareness of common territory and affinity between Islam and Christianity. The Qur’an in Chapter 5 verse 82 unequivocally encourages Muslims to cooperate with Christians. “Thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are the ones who say, ‘We are Christians’; that because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud” (S.5:82).     

The Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate, clearly articulates the common territory and affinity between Christianity and Islam.

 “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own.  Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer alms-deeds and fasting.

Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The Sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”  (NA3).

Muslim-Christian Partnership towards Peace & Development

Long before the historic document, Nostra Aetate, there were a few Religious Leaders in the Southern Philippines (the traditional Bangsamoro Homeland) who have understood the importance of Muslim and Christian understanding to attain a lasting peace and sustainable development. There were difficulties, frustrations and pains, yet, they were transcended as they continued to learn how to live as neighbors. The Missionaries of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) have pioneered the new relationship between Muslims and Christians right at the very heartland of the Bangsa (Nation) Moro.

These attempts now constitute the noted “few exceptions” that trail blaze Religious Leaders participation in building peace in Southern Philippines. I will outline five traditions of Muslim-Christian leaders’ involvements in peace building that are associated with the OMI.

The first tradition was the continuing attempts to bridge the education & development gap in the Southern Philippines due to long years of government neglect. In the then empire province of Cotabato and the Archipelago of Sulu, OMI’s began the Notre Dame School System that brought quality education to the Moro peoples long before the establishment of the Mindanao State University.  The Notre Dame School system has generated so much social capital that educated Moro people and the leadership both in the rebel front and in local government easily point to their experiences in the Notre Dame campuses all over the Southern Philippines as examples of harmony and unity between Muslims and Christians.  This was also true in the island province of Basilan with the Claret Schools under the Claretians.

Post Vatican II, Sulu, Basilan and Cotabato had embarked on development programs following the universal call from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio  that specifically articulated that “development is another name for peace.”  Resources were generated to bring potable water to the rural communities, clinics were established in remote areas, to build houses for the poor and the “evacuees” now called “internally displaced persons”. To bolster agricultural productivity, farming cooperatives and credit unions were established.  Five foreign Bishops epitomized this tradition. They were Bishops Gerard Mongeau, OMI in Cotabato, Francis McSorley, OMI in Sulu, Philip Smith, OMI both in Sulu and Cotabato and George Dion, OMI in Sulu and Jose Maria Querexeta, CMF in Basilan. 

The ‘original’ Mindanao Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) and its Implementing Arm, the MSPC Secretariate, ventured farther in Muslim-Christian Relations. With some Protestant churches and Muslim leaders, they carried further the dialogue into meaningful activities such as “Duyog Ramadhan” (Accompaniment during the fasting month of Ramadhan) and conferences on the rights of the Moro people to “self-determination”.

In a similar vein, the Protestant Churches through their Mindanao institutions had also launched dialogue and development programs both in Lanao del Sur and North Cotabato. The Dansalan College in Marawi City and Southern Christian College in Midsayap with their pioneering extension programs served rural Muslim communities.  These two institutions became the leading local partners of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines’ programs of dialogue among peoples of living faiths and of educating Christians about Muslims or PACEM.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI and Bishop Antonino Nepomuceno were pioneers in the beginning of this Interreligious dialogue both at the national level and local levels that involved the Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.

The second Tradition was the struggle for justice and human rights, particularly during the dark years of Martial Law.  Arbitrary arrests and detentions, Military “zoning” (military encirclements of a community where all males were lined up in the public square and houses were searched and ransacked usually at nights), Cases of “salvagings” (killed or liquidated and later the bodies were dumped into the river) and ‘disappearances’ led to the formation of the first Christian-Muslim Leaders Association of the Philippines. Prominent personalities in this struggle were Bishop Antonino Nepomuceno, OMI, Episcopal Bishop Manguramas, and Sheik Omar Bajunaid. This group conducted capacity building for dialogue and monitoring human rights violations for priests, Imams and Pastors (Through Bishop Nepomuceno, I got involved in this work). 

They constituted the first “quick response” team to assist Muslim individuals and communities that were constantly harassed and repressed. The military wantonly violated their rights during military operations both in urban areas as well as in the remote areas.
It is a tradition that speaks of concern and sincere effort to achieve understanding between Muslims and Christians and to work together to preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice, and moral values.

The association was there to protect people’s civil rights against the constant assaults of the fascist army of the Dictator Marcos. In times of war and calamities, Bishops Nepomuceno, Manguramas and Sheik Bajunaid were in the forefront to give relief, assistance, release of prisoners and moral support as well. They were able to forge Muslim-Christian solidarity that witnessed to the common tradition of trust, friendship and hospitality amid the legacies of suspicion, anger and hatred.  The Social Action Center in Cotabato, during the Martial Law years, became the powerful symbol of Muslim and Christian solidarity for justice, freedom and brotherhood..

The third tradition is the path personified by Bishops Bienvenido Tudtud (Lanao del Sur) and Benjamin de Jesus, OMI (Sulu). Both Bishops were gentle, jovial and friends to all, but most especially to the poor and the vulnerable sectors of Philippine society. Their passionate commitment to the poor and dialogue of life led them to venture in a humble and non-threatening friendship with the Muslims in the Vicariate of Sulu and the Prelature of Marawi. They wanted to be the humble and compassionate servants of the peoples of Sulu and Lanao del Sur. This path is now enshrined in the universally accepted dialogue of life that translates into everyday life the desired friendship that should characterize the relationships between and among neighbors.  It is a path that continues, in daily living, to break down the walls (both visible and invisible) that separate Muslims and Christians.

To advocates of this path it is actually a dialogue of life that carries out the joyful and humble work of proclaiming God’s unconditional love and his inclusive kingdom that recognizes and respects the dignity and spiritual treasures of the Muslim neighbors.

The fourth tradition is the pioneering peace education and advocacy began by the OMI run Notre Dame University (NDU).  It is the first institution of higher learning that has integrated peace education in its curriculum where both Muslim and Christian students are required to take peace studies.  The University’s peace advocacy has led to mediation and conflict resolution efforts of the citizens (Muslims and Christians) in Southern Philippines.

Following the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front, Peace Education became one of the flagship programs of President Ramos. Funds were appropriated for NDU to train people and build capacity for all Mindanao Universities with the hope that these Universities would in turn establish their own training centers.  Today, the government Mindanao State University (MSU), the Jesuit run Ateneo de Davao University and Ateneo de Zamboanga University are few examples of Institutions of Higher Learning that grant degrees on Peace and Development Studies. These institutions also conduct a non degree peace education workshop to high school and elementary teachers both in the public and private schools. The aim of these institutions is to integrate in the formal school system, particularly in Mindanao, the culture of peace.

The fifth tradition is the actual involvement in peace making and peace building.  Beginning with the Peace Talks between the Philippine Government and the MNLF in 1992 until 2000, prominent religious leaders like Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI of Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, Sr. Amelia David, ICM of the Diocese of Pagadian and prominent lay leaders Josephine Leyson of the Diocese of Dipolog (in Zamboanga del Norte) and Atty. Alan Flores of the Diocese of Iligan in Lanao del Norte got involved not only in that historical peace process between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) but also in the transitional Consultative Assembly from 1996 to 2002 implementing the 1996 Final Peace Accord. 

It should be noted that a Protestant Pastor (Rev. Absalom Cerveza) became a prominent negotiator in the MNLF Peace Panel. He also served as the deputy Chair of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD) during the time of “transition” from 1996 to 2001.

In many ways this tradition is symbolized by the NDU Peace Center that also helps in the forging of the initial ceasefire agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). NDU was also tasked to form the religious leaders both Muslims and Christians to monitor and supervise the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. From 1997 to the days immediately prior the “all out war” policy of President Estrada, the religious leaders under the leadership of NDU Peace Center monitored and supervised the ceasefire agreements.

It also facilitated the birthing of the still functioning Coordinated Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) that continues to monitor and supervise the existing ceasefire agreement between the Philippine Government and the MILF. 

Beginning the 2000 all out war policy of President Estrada, another OMI, Fr. Roberto Layson, OMI got involved in giving sanctuary to refugees. With the Church-led organization like Tabang Mindanaw (Mindanao Assistance), he is has been in the forefront of rebuilding people’s lives ravaged by a never ending war.

These traditions show concrete Muslim-Christian collaboration on the ground that indicates the heart of dialogue and peace building. Like politics, peace building is local. They are rooted in “being” with the people, especially the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society. It is a “rootedness” that is shaped and fashioned by a shared living, sympathy and solidarity. This becomes the well-spring of active participation in all human endeavors, economic, political and cultural, always in favor of the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.  Oftentimes, this kind of witnessing is clearer and more eloquent than any signing of agreement.

Muslim-Christian collaboration is not something abstract. It is a human activity which involves our total life experience. It takes place in the individual as well as communal lives as peoples of differing faiths live out their faiths and conviction according to the living traditions. No doubt, the partnership and collaboration depend upon a bridging leadership that enhances mutual trust and understanding. It demands respect for the identity as well as the integrity of the other. It rests on the conviction that God who is all merciful and compassionate desires to draw all peoples and the whole creation into a relationship of love and peace.

This type of partnership should enhance a new culture that enables and empowers peoples to draw from each other’s traditions and common resources to help face today’s threats to global survival and work together toward peace with justice and the integrity of creation. Religious leaders as exemplified in the five concrete traditions on the ground should spare no effort to live and work together towards reconciling conflicts, eradicating bigotry and prejudices, and empowering grassroots level communities to act upon their own choices in self-development towards a more just and participatory society.

There are no simple formulas for enhancing collaboration and partnership. Every situation demands a serious study and reflection of the many and varied factors at play. Some of these are historical, social or doctrinal. But whatever the factors and their magnitude, it is, in the final analysis, everyone’s duty to see a better community where peoples of differing faiths and traditions live in love, justice and peace. As religious leaders, we have the obligation to emphasize that which unites us and to make a determined effort to set aside that which would divide us. We can only do this if we have full understanding of what the other believes, and are committed to the principle of respect and recognition of the beliefs and feelings of every community and person.

In concrete terms, there is the urgent need to steadily school ourselves to prefer trust to suspicion; prefer friendship to familiar confrontation; and above all, prefer love and service to the usual hatred and bigotry.  This demands a shedding off the old as well as dying …. But is this not the meaning of the saying:  “the old gives way to the new and death leads to life?”

It is precisely in this reality of continuing search for peace that I would like to cite two people. The first is the former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali in his message to the 2nd International Forum on the Culture of Peace, 26 November 1995: “Peace is the basis for the realization of all the finest aspiration of life itself.”  The second is Pope John Paul II, a man known to harness both the religious leaders and traditions to promote peace and dialogue among religions. During his visit to the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, 6 May 2001, he said: “It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as COMMUNITIES IN RESPECTFUL DIALOGUE, NEVER MORE AS COMMUNITIES IN CONFLICT”. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence.  Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures, and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.”

“Better mutual understanding will surely lead to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each other’s religious beliefs at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions NOT IN OPPOSITION, as it happened too often in the past, BUT IN PARTNERSHIP FOR THE GOOD OF THE HUMAN FAMILY.”

Again in his departure address (8 May – Damascus), he appealed to all the peoples and to their political leaders “to recognize that confrontation has failed and will always fail.  Only a just peace can bring the conditions needed for the economic, cultural and social development to which the people of the region have a right."

In our commitment to peace building, we have to continue to believe and assert that PEACE is essential premise for human development, accomplishment and success.  This belief and assertion need always to be nurtured with care and protected from assaults and degradation by violent and evil men and women of our age.

There is no ready-made culture of peace for Mindanao or anywhere for that matter.  There are no easy quick-fixes to our difficulties and problems.  But together, we can weave a new “mat” where PEACE can take roots, grow and flourish.  But to be able to weave that new mat, we need to teach ourselves to speak the language of peace and reject the language of war!  

My dear friends, notwithstanding the difficulties and at times what appears hopelessness of our efforts… it is our collective responsibility to transform the language of war to language of peace – from force to reason, from imposition to dialogue, from exploitation to partnership, from enemies to friends.  It may sound as a new utopia…. But there is a the urgent need to plant, cultivate and nurture a new and refreshing attitude of openness in mind and heart, an essential disposition in understanding and living through the relations between Muslims and Christians in Mindanao.  The Arabic word for this is TADABBAR.  This is the new attitude that will pave the way for a new beginning for each one of us and for each of our faith communities – yes, a new PASSAGE from the culture of war to a culture of peace.

In conclusion, I would like to quote a ten-year old Negah’s understanding of Peace…

"I know what a mine, a tank or a gun is, but I don't know what Peace looks like, because I haven't seen it.  Some people say it is a bird.  Some people say it is luck.  But I know when there is peace everyone can go to his homeland and live in his home.  When it comes, I will see what peace is and I will forget the names of all the weapons that I know." (Read at the IA Consultation – London, October 5-6, 2004)