Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Shared Muslim-Christian Pilgrimage

A Shared Muslim-Christian Pilgrimage:
A Beacon of Light for the Future
by Dorothy C. Buck

     Fifty years ago, at the beginning of the French Algerian conflict, the well known Professor Louis Massignon, a scholar of Islam and the Arab world and a man devoted to Christ and the Catholic Church, brought Muslims and Christians together to participate in an ancient Breton pilgrimage. On the week-end of July 24th and 25th, 2004, the fiftieth anniversary was celebrated by hundreds of pilgrims gathered at the ancient chapel of the Seven Sleepers nestled in the tiny hamlet close to the village of Vieux-Marché.

     Massignon's vision and the spirit of a shared Muslim and Christian witness to the desire and hope for peace and inter-religious reconciliation remains alive and well. The changes over the years have served to enhance the experience of the pilgrimage. In honor of this special 50th year the combined choral groups, the Madrigal of Brittany and the Loguivienne, opened the festivities Friday evening with a concert in the chapel singing diverse pieces from many cultures and religions. For the last few years, the Saturday morning and afternoon preceding the evening's opening ceremony, a seminar has been offered choosing significant themes for lecture-discussions. This year the theme, "To Live Together: from the Reality to the Hope" attracted an audience of 300 to discuss and reflect on the difficulties and the signs for hope.

     Monsignor Henri Tessier, the Archbishop of Algiers, was both a speaker and the presider for the pilgrimage and his sermons pointed to the hope intrinsic in this shared Muslim-Christian annual pilgrimage. The project for next year is to establish a sister pilgrimage dedicated to the Seven Saints at one of the sites of their devotion in Algeria held in solidarity with the Breton Feast the same week-end. Having been deeply moved by the assassination in 1996 of seven monks from the monastery at Tibhirine in southern Algeria, Mgr. Tessier, recognizing the spiritual correspondence, would like to associate their memory to that of the Seven Martyrs of Ephesus honored during this pilgrimage.

     In 1963, just after the death of her father, Louis Massignon, Geneviève Massignon wrote a wonderful description of the pilgrimage in anticipation of its 10th anniversary. Geneviève was Louis Massignon's second child. She was born on April 27, 1921 and died at the age of 45 on June 9, 1966 three years after writing the article included here. Her research interest was Folklore and Mythology and like her father she leaves us an extensive archive of her research and many publications. The following is her tribute to her father's life- long efforts towards serene peace among the three Abrahamic religions.

A Devotion Common to Muslims and Christians (1963)
by Geneviève Massignon Ph. D. (1921-1966)

    1. The Importance of the Site in Ephesus

     The name Ephesus evokes the ancient Greek city in Asia Minor where the cult of Artemis (Diane), which preceded Christianity, manifested itself by a temple classed among the seven marvels of the world. But it is also inseparable from Saint Paul who preached on the agora in the year 57 of the Christian era, or from Saint John, who lived there (where the Basilica containing his tomb has been found ), and of the third Ecumenical Council when the Mother of Christ was proclaimed Theotokos (Mother of God) in 431 of the Christian era.

     Placed under the protection of Saint John, the Virgin would have accompanied him to Ephesus during his apostolate. It is likely that he settled her outside the ancient city on a neighboring hill where it is believed that her house was discovered. It is known today by the name Panaya Kapulu ( that is to say, the "Port of All Saints").

     In fact it is not on the edge of the shore, but well into the mountain that it is necessary to search for traces of the past. (The sea has receded from what was one of the biggest ports in antiquity). Not far from the building called Panaya Kapulu on the side of another hill, beside the tomb presumed to have been that of Mary Magdalene, one finds a sepulcher known by the name of the Cave of the Seven Sleepers.

     2. The Origins of the Devotion to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

     In 1926, research by the Austrian Archeological Institute uncovered the ruins of the basilica of the Seven Sleepers (built above the cave) which permitted them to specify the date. It dates back to the middle of the 5th century. Archeology was able to confirm implicitly the epoch evoked by an ancient writing that we can thus summarize. Seven young people from Ephesus were buried alive in a cave for having refused to deny their faith in God during the persecutions ordered by the Emperor Décius; they woke up after a long sleep of several hundred years and died several hours later after having testified to their experience. They were seen collectively by the inhabitants who decided afterwards to build a sanctuary dedicated to them. The historian, Honigmann, established that this tradition was common to Melkite, Nestorian, and Jacobite Christians, and therefore precedes their division (Vth and VIth centuries). As for the liturgical names of the seven saints, they were already reported in 530 by a latin pilgrim from North Africa, Theodosis, in a Jacobite list in Nubia. In its liturgical calendar the Eastern Church celebrates the Seven Sleepers twice: October 22nd (Common of prayers to the Martyrs), and August 4th (the traditional feast day), while the Latin Occident celebrates them on July 27th.

     But, what is more remarkable, the example of these martyrs for the faith is venerated beyond the limits of Christianity. In fact, Sura XVIII of the Qur'an read every Friday in the Mosques (and thus preceding the death of Muhammed in 632) is entitled al-Kahf, that is to say, the Cave. This Sura exalts the abandonment to God of these seven young Ephesians buried alive, describing their witness to fidelity in the face of an impious demand, then their ‘dormition' which it states was 309 years. Sura XVIII could be considered as the Apocalypse of Islam; not only does it magnify the attitude of the seven martyrs for their faith by their anticipated resurrection, but it also presents the announcement of the Last Judgement. 4 "In their fierce adoration of One divine Transcendence," writes the Islamic scholar Louis Massignon, "Muslims make exception for the Seven Sleepers and tolerate the building of sanctuaries to these martyrs because their temporary resurrection made them precursory witnesses of the Last Judgement, saints of the End Time".5 Shustari, one of the most interesting commentators on the Qur'an, said that, "All Saints lose their normal sleep and enter into the sleep of the Seven Sleepers".

     Parallel to the liturgical texts of the two great religions, popular devotion has not ceased to surround the Seven Sleepers, as much for Muslims as for Christians. At the beginning of the twentieth century the navy in the Turkish war always had them as protectors and their names engraved on the stern of the ships in Aden. Even further from Ephesus on the Comoro Islands, a Muslim archipelago in the Indian Ocean, every house is dedicated to the Seven Sleepers, where their names are inscribed on the trees in the paddy fields.

     3. Locations of Devotion to the Seven Sleepers in Islam and Christianity.

     From their original sanctuary in Ephesus, which has received pilgrims from very far away since the first centuries of this tradition, the devotion to the Seven Sleepers has shined throughout the Orient and the Occident. In Islamic lands it often localized in caves, sometimes cemeteries, and even in the Mosques, from Turkey (Ammuriyag Hadj Hamza: subterranean cave of an ancient Greek convent, and Tarsus; grotto), Syria (Damascus: the Ahl al-Kahf Mosque, with seven qibla in the crypt), Egypt (Cairo: cave of the Maghwari in Moqattam) all the way to North Africa where these sites are particularly numerous.

     In fact, Tunisia honors them at Mount Gorra (cave), at Mides (koubba), El Oudiane (koubba), and Tozeur (cave); Algeria at Cap Matifou (cave), at Foum el toub (cave and megalithic tomb). Guidjel-Ikjân (pillars in the cemetery), N'gaous (tombs); and in Morocco at Sefrou (cave). It is not only to Muslim Spain ("rooms of the sleepers" at Gandia de Valencia; cave at Loja de Grenada), that they have been venerated, but also to the other extreme of the Muslim world in Afghanistan (at Meymar: mosque and Upiyan: tomb), and in Chinese Turkestan (at Toyoq: grotto and mosque).

     In Christianity, the diffusion of relics attributed to the Seven Sleepers seems to have created the dedication of many sanctuaries. We know that Saint Gregory of Tours (died in 597) was the first to make the life of the Seven Sleepers known in the Occident, leaving a Latin translation of the Syriac legend. Later, the Golden Legend contributed in the spreading of their example to the people.

     In Germanic countries (the Rhineland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria), devotion to them seems to be connected to the bringing of relics of the Seven Sleepers to Trève in 942, transferred from Rome. From there they were brought to Rotthof where a Basilica in the Rococo style replaced a Gothic chapel. These saints were invoked in Germany in order to cure certain illnesses and to forecast meteorological events.
     In Rome a very ancient oratory, or chapel, of the Seven Sleepers, recently discovered near to the Via Appia is being turned into a museum.

     In France the Marmoutier Abbey (near Tours) had a crypt dedicated to the Seven Sleepers. But the most ancient monument dedicated to them is definitely the dolmen (a prehistoric standing stone) that became the crypt-dolmen of the Chapel of the Seven Sleepers in Vieux-Marché next to Plouaret in Brittany. Not far from this Christianized dolmen where seven small statues representing the martyrs are venerated, one finds a natural spring that is also dedicated to them; the slab where the water flows out of this spring is pierced with seven holes placed in a centered hexagon, a significant connection to the same devotion found in different religious populations on distinct continents: we can see this same configuration at the spring with seven veins in Guidjel, near Sétif in Algeria.

     But while the Breton pilgrims come to make their devotions to a dolmen (transformed into a crypt), at Guidjel, in the Sidi Messaoud ben Driss cemetery, they point out seven stele dedicated to the Seven Sleepers; these stele are made of Roman pillars topped by domes, with kânouns (entrance ways) where visitors can burn incense.

     In some cases the devotion to the Seven Sleepers has newly consecrated and styled a monument already honored in antiquity, dolmen (standing stones) or pillars. In Guidjel, two pilgrimages take place each year, the last Friday in July and the Friday following September 6th -- dates that are close to the feasts of the Seven Sleepers in the Byzantine calendar.

     In Brittany, the annual pilgrimage takes place the Sunday following the feast of Mary Magdalene (July 22nd), the date inscribed in the dedication visible on the front of the Chapel -- built in 1703 above the dolmen. This connection between the devotion to Mary Magdalene and the one to the Seven Sleepers could even go back to the origins of their diffusion in the Occident since the tomb of the Seven Sleepers is next to that of Mary Magdalene in the vicinity of Ephesus.

     The Breton pilgrimage is accompanied by a very beautiful ‘hymn', the Gwerz ar seiz sant (Hymn of the Seven Saints); at the beginning of this gwerz the dolmen is represented as the work of God Himself, "built as far back as the creation of the world" -- symbol of the universal Temple of believers -- then it explains that the life and death of the seven young Ephesians was exalted there; thus evoking the miracles connected to their invocation.

     We know that the very ancient cult that built the ‘menhirs' and ‘dolmens' was sharply fought against by the Evangelizers. Also there is room to suppose that the dedication of the dolmen at Vieux Marché to the Seven Sleepers took place earlier than the edict forbidding access to these monuments to Christian believers. Gaidox cites some analogous cases for a crypt-dolmen in the Asturias (at Canga de Onis), and for a church-dolmen in Basque country (at Arrechinaga).

     Professor Massignon believed that the veneration to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus was able to reach the region of Vieux Marché via the small port of Yaudet (in Latin: Civitaten, in old Breton: Guéodet) near to Lannion, the port through which l'Armorique (this region of France) opened itself to exchanges with the Orient. We can also encounter other Eastern saints in this region, notably Saint Thècle in Ploubezre; and some sculptures of Eastern origin representing the Virgin lying down for the Nativity that can be found at Yaudet.

     4. - A Ten Year Old Islamic-Christian Pilgrimage And Its Symbolic Value
     It is in this Armorican framework, associating the Orient with the Occident in the same devotion, that the Islamist Louis Massignon thought of bringing Muslims and Christians together, joining themselves to the immemorial Breton ‘pardon' (pilgrimage), that passes on the glory of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus to the extremity of the Occident.

     Every year since 1954 a Muslim delegation formed specifically of North African laborers coming from areas around Paris, joins with the crowds of traditional pilgrims from Brittany in order to go across the moors to the old sanctuary surrounded by chestnut trees. The evening before, preceded by a banner where one reads phrases of angelic greetings in Arabic letters -- common in the Qur'an and in the Hail Mary -- the Muslims joined in the procession leading to the tantad or fire of joy, a ceremony marking every ‘pardon' or traditional pilgrimage in Brittany.

     This Muslim-Christian event ends with a diffa offered by the Muslim delegation, where couscous is served with a lamb slaughtered according to the ritual of Abraham. Presided over for nine consecutive years by Professor Massignon from the Collége de France, recently deceased, the Muslim-Christian pilgrimage to the Seven Sleepers brought together hopes and sorrows in the prayer for a serene peace between peoples. This year again, this ceremony took place at Vieux-Marché the 27th and 28th of July, 1963, gathering together numerous Christians and Muslims desiring to continue this work of peace and spiritual reconciliation.

     During painful periods of conflict, the Algerian friends of Professor Massignon returned, at the peril of their lives, to the spring at Guidjel near to Sétif (in Algeria) in order to join in the prayers of the pilgrims in Brittany. Thus the devotion itself to the Seven Saints of Ephesus joins together the hopes of believers in two religions, like the devotion to the Virgin at Panaya Kapulu near Ephesus, where every year this sanctuary receives the homage of dozens of thousands of pilgrims, the majority of whom are Muslims.

     This 50th year at the July 2004 pilgrimage, Mohammed Loueslati, the Muslim chaplain at the prison in Rennes, Brittany participated for the third consecutive year. He explained, "I have the right and the obligation as a Muslim to be present here. The wars and the conflicts have changed, but the urgency of this gathering survives, to testify to what we share in common, to write history together".

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Martyrs of Jolo Vicariate

The Three Martyrs of the Vicariate of Jolo

The usual understanding of Martyrs in the history of the Church is what is captured in a Latin phrase, ODIUM FIDEI or literally translated as ‘Hate of the Faith’.  Martyrs were the people who died because of their faith. They endured pain, persecution and death, because of their faith in Jesus, the lord.

In many ways, Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI (Bishop of Jolo), Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI and Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI - who were all killed in the Vicariate of Jolo in 1997, 2000, and 2009, and whose Cause for Martyrdom, we want to open during the 75th Jubilee Celebration of the arrival of the Missio9onary Oblates to the Philippines.

Bishop Ben, Fr. Benjie and Fr. Rey at their funerals in 1996, 2000, and 2009 Muslim mourners described him as "the bishop and fathers of the Muslims, too." Hence the peoples of goodwill - Christians and Muslims alike, also stake a claim to their memory, as a sort of spiritual antipode to Islamophobia and the "war on terrorism."

In a time when discussion of Christian/Muslim relations is dominated by ideology and abstract theological debate, the three Martyrs of the Vicariate  represent an utterly different path: a life lived as a "guest in the house of Islam," not blind to the challenges and never fuzzy about their Christian identity, but relentless in their commitment to friendship.

The greatest discovery of their lives as Missionaries in the Vicariate of Jolo , was to see the Muslims as their "neighbors."

Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI - Martyr

In Sulu, Tawi-Tawi missions, Bishop Ben got used to riding on boats to visit the different islands to administer the sacraments or visits the school. He was exposed in dealing with top government officials of the province/municipality and military officials. This was particularly true in Sulu. Bishop Ben spoke in several occasions when his life was endangered and trembling with fear he carried on the work. He would share ‘the times of difficulties in trying to be faithful to the vows’. During the 50th Jubilee of OMI presence in Jolo, he shared ‘Thanks be to God I preserved in His service! If God gave me the grace to be faithful for the past 27 years as a religious and 21 years as a priest, I hope and pray that by the grace of our OMI Golden Jubilee celebration, I will be able to persevere unto the end, singing praises to God for the good things He has done in me and through me to the people that I serve. Oblate vocation is truly a gratuitous gift of God to me. I am an ordinary human being, weak, vulnerable, but God used me to proclaim his love and compassion to others.’

Bishop Ben was kindness and friendship personified.  When he was shot in front of the Jolo Cathedral in the morning of February 4th, 1997, shock waves reverberated to the entire Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and to the Philippine Church. He was the first Bishop brutally killed few months after the Final Peace Agreement between the Philippine Government and the Moro National Liberation Front was signed on September 2, 1996.


Fr. Inocencio, 42, was martyred on Thursday, December 28, 2009. He was ordained to the priesthood at Grace Park, Caloocan City, Metro Manila on April 25, 1992. He was first assigned to Timanan in June 1992. Three months later he was assigned to Cagayan de Mapun in Tawi-Tawi, where he became the Parochial Vicar of Mapun Parish and at the same time the Director of Notre Dame of Mapun. He spent more than eight years of humble and faithful service to the people of island.

In June 2000, he was assigned Chancellor of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jolo with Bishop Angelito R. Lampon, OMI, DD. At the same time, he served as Chaplain of the Notre Dame of Jolo College.

Beside the Cathedral of Jolo, Fr. Inocencio was shot on the head that caused his sudden death on the feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, 2000.

The Martyrdom of Fr. Benjamin Inocencio, OMI fondly called as Fr. Benjie, is a second brutal murder of the servant of the Catholic Church which took place in Jolo. The first was the senseless killing of Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI, DD on February 4, 1997.

Fr. Jesus Reynaldo Roda, OMI - Martyr

When his killers arrived at his house, Fr. Rey was praying in the chapel. Some of the students were working at the computers since they put the generators only in the evening. They looked for him and they wanted to kidnap him. He refused to go with them. So they ‘manhandled’ him and they brutally killed him in the evening of the 15th of January 2009 in the Island of Tabawan.

 “How can people harm such a real nice person?” Bishop Lampon asked during his 25-minute homily, interrupted first by a 35-minute silence then another 10-minute silence as tears clouded his eyes.

Bishop Lampon quoted from the encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI to describe the life of Fr. Rey.

The Pope wrote, “His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire.’ But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.”

Fr. Rey’s life, according to Bishop Lampon, was “fire that sears through.” “They lost a father. The people of Tabawan want to go with him all the way. All the way,” he said.  “Can we count with our fingers how many will die for us because we’ve entered their lives?” the bishop asked.

Fr. Rey’s sister, Pet, told those who attended the mass that her brother was the middle child. “As brother he was our friend and confidante, as an uncle, he was an inspiration to his nephews and nieces, as cousins, he would tell them to love one another and as a person, he was simple, humble, caring and loving.”

Fr. Rey had a quite personal understanding of inter-religious dialogue. He was not involved in the big events that took place after Vatican II, the great Muslim/Christian conferences in Manila or Hong Kong or Bali. His inter-religious dialogue was building partnership and friendship so that the least would have access to quality education, basic health services, and good governance from their leaders.

Do you believe that Bishop Ben, Fr. Benjie and Fr. Rey were killed in odium fidei?  

The brutal assassinations of Bishop de Jesus, Fr. Inocencio and Fr. Roda can only be understood as part of the increasing extremism, a template for radical Islamic movements in Southern Philippines and elsewhere. In that context, the killing of the three Martyrs of the Vicariate is a symbol for the ‘Paradigm of Clash of Civilizations’ at the hands of extremists and fanatics.  The Missionaries and ordinary Christians in the Vicariate of Jolo are, after all, fully aware of the peril that stalked them, who refused to walk away, saying, "WE ABANDON THE ARCHIPELAGO OF SULU TO THE RADICALS."

On the other hand, Bishop Ben, Fr. Benjie and Fr. Rey were also men of dialogue down to their bones. Their deaths can only be understood from the perspective of the Garden of Olives where our Lord received the strength and the grace to drink the chalice reserved for him with courage and joy.

(Fr. Eliseo ‘Jun’ Mercado, OMI)

Saturday, February 08, 2014

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

 Readings: Isaiah 58: 7-10; I Corinthians 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16
 Text: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” (Matthew 5: 13)
 Meditation:  Christians are called to give taste to both individual and communal lives. In modern parlance, the taste or flavor to life is the ‘value added’ of Christianity or of following Jesus.  Translated into concrete lives… this means walking the extra mile… giving also our coat as well… loving our enemies or doing and living that ‘MORE’ that is required of Jesus’ disciples.
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.

Reflection on the Common Word

Common Word….
By Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado, OMI

The interreligious gap and misunderstanding in the Southern Philippines has a long history. It dates back from the period of colonialism when the Philippines was annexed by Spain in the 16th century and later by the US at the turn of the 1900.

The encounter with Spanish forces was characterized by continuous war, except for intermittent truces that resulted to alienation and opposition between the Christianized Filipinos and the Islamized Filipinos now known as the “Bangsamoro peoples”. 

The period during the American period was also characterized by war, only this time, by decisive military victory that put an end to the once powerful Sultanates in Mindanao and their annexation to the Philippines. This annexation paved the way for the programs of pacification and assimilation which included among others the opening of Mindanao for migration from the Luzon and the Visayas.

These historical facts have given rise to three significant realities that continue to haunt Muslim-Christian relations in the Philippines, even today. To wit:

  1. The lingering suspicion and lack of trust that continue to characterize the relations between Christians and Muslims;
  2. The sense of injustice on the part of the Bangsamoro and the Indigenous peoples for their lost ancestral domain.  After years of migration, they have found themselves a minority in their traditional homeland.  The Muslims are now majority only in five provinces out of the 24 in Mindanao; and
  3. Poverty and neglect that led to, among others, the highest in mortality, illiteracy rate, lowest in access to basic services, especially health and education.
 The above three are few of the causes of the renewed rebellion in the Southern Philippines.  The peace process in the Southern Philippines follows the ever changing tide and wind of the government in Manila.

This is the context that has made urgent the interface of Christianity and Islam in the Philippines

First, there is an urgent need to distance the face of our faith traditions from the stereotypes of rebels/terrorists, on the one hand and oppressors and the army of occupation, on the other.

Christians and Muslims of goodwill, specifically bishops, ulama, priest and lay leaders beginning in early 70’s stood for justice and respect for human rights even during the height of battles between the Philippine regular army and the Moro National liberation Front.  The provinces of Cotabato and Sulu – the lands of many battles have witnessed examples of solidarity of people of goodwill from Christianity and Islam who continued to stand for justice and human rights.  The first association of Christian-Muslim Religious Leaders in Mindanao began in 1973 few months after the declaration of Martial law.  Then following the Peace Agreement in 1976, a more formal national conference involving leaders of Catholics, Protestants and Muslims began to address the problems of the South and to bring these issues to the attention of the National government.

Again, following the 1996 Final Peace between the Philippine Government and the Moro national Liberation, the Bishop-Ulama Forum was formed to support the peace process in the Southern Philippines and the implementation of the said accord. 

Both associations contributed, through conferences and consultations, to a formation of yet another ‘thread’ beyond the familiar stereotypes and slogans in southern Philippines.  This a partnership, albeit still a minority, that work for peace, reconciliation and partnership in building a more inclusive communities and governance.

The second is interreligious dialogue. Interreligious dialogue has a particular and peculiar history in the Philippines both in the local and national level given the situation of the war in Southern Philippines.  Simply to name a few:
  • A partnership to stand for justice and defense of human rights;
  • A support to the peace process in Southern Philippines that continues from 1976 to the present;
  • An attempt of mutual accompaniment in celebrations of festivals like Duyog Ramadhan for the Muslims and Christmas for Christians;
  • A pressure on the protagonists of the war to go back to the negotiating table to settle their differences;
  • Involvement of the religious from both sides of the divide in Tract II of the peace process in Southern Philippines
  • Adopting Peace Education in schools and institutions of higher learning to imbibe a culture of peace in campuses; and
  • Assistance to the victims of war, specifically to the internally displaced.
 In a similar vein, the religious both Muslims and Christians (Catholics and Protestants) are active in various consultations and fora that seek to impact policies affecting the Southern Philippines.   These attempts to influence official policy formulation range from peacebuilding to the shape of peace agreement that will be acceptable to the major stakeholder in Mindanao.

The urgency for dialogue given the concrete context of the Southern Philippines and the attempts of leaders from both divides have greatly influenced the Philippine government to adopt interreligious dialogue as a priority in seeking a just and sustainable peace in Southern Philippines.  This has become an official policy that has marked the Philippines’ strong intervention and support to interreligious dialogue at the international bodies like UN and the Alliance of Civilizations, and of late in the Non Aligned Movement.

 New Wind blowing and shaping…

Peacemaking is at the heart of our faith tradition…”Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”  Peacemaking demands for a new relationship – a new solidarity for all peoples across political and ideological boundaries, across cultures and religions. 

I wish to echo the late Pope John Paul II’s message in Damascus at the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, 6 May 2001.

“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.”

In the same vein, I read the Common Word, with 138 signatories that speak of weight, influence and scholarship.  I personally consider the letter something historical with long enduring impact-

In the letter the Koran verse on tolerance is quoted: “Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works.  “Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ” (Al-Ma’idah, S. 5:48).

This Letter is a very important step in dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  Often Christians have taken the initiative regarding dialogue, and they have so done well. It is important that this first step continues in this direction with increased clarity, even showing differences and the need for correction.

I believe that with time this Letter can create an opening and a greater convergence on the more delicate issues of religious freedom, the absolute value of human rights, the relationship between religion and society, the use of violence, etc.., in short current issues that worry all believers in our world today.

People, institution, nation, communities, in fact, individuals endure and are recognized by their fidelity to values and traditions they stand for.  And to us, the three values that stand are family, joyful hard work and our faith & traditions. Today people admire Mother Theresa or Oscar Romero or Martin Luther King Jr. or Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela, not because of their achievements but for the values and beliefs they stood for. They believed and lived with integrity and no embarrassment. 

The need to provide the Story line…

Where do we locate ourselves within this flux and how do we view our confusion to say the least and deep crisis at worst in that new wind that blows and shapes a new world? 

More than ever before, there is a need to “re-appreciate” and perhaps even “re-construct” the stories of successes and failures, of power and wealth in the present age now labeled as both “post modernism” and “post ideologies”.  I turn to Gil Bailie (cf. Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads: 1996) for the apt description of this age. He takes the person of Bernard (a character in Virginia Woolf’s novel, The Waves) to depict the modern person.  In the novel, Bernard says: “I have made up thousand stories. I have filled up innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all the phrases refer, but I have never yet found that story.”

I believe that Christians and Muslims, notwithstanding the difficulties, have found the way to the writing of the needed story line… it is there in the story of our family, tribe and clan. It is a “kindredness” shaped not only by blood, but also by our community and eco-system.  And our story line rooted in faith and traditions that form our values that lay the foundational set of virtues to move together forward in achieving our goals for ourselves and for humankind. We are darn proud of our story and we share it with the world with smile in our faces and joy in our hearts.

In Conclusion

I will end this presentation with a quote from the martyred President of Egypt Anwar Sadat (yet another  Nobel Peace laureate) expressed at the Knesset during his historic visit of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

“… Yet, there remains another wall.  This wall continues and constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection, a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deeds or decision.  A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement... It is this official statement as constituting 70% of the whole process. Today, through my visit to you, I ask why don’t we stretch out our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we might destroy this barrier?”

No doubt, we can lead the way by stretching our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we may build a new world with no borders and barriers yet preserving our identity as we tell and re-tell our story line with smile in our faces and joy in our hearts. 

A final quote: “The age of nations is past. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudice, and build the earth.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ)

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Life is a JOURNEY!

Life is a JOURNEY...!
Fr. Jun Mercado, OMI
It is said that LIFE is a journey...  And when when we embark on a life's journey - or any journey - we do NOT begin from ZERO.  Where we are NOW... there we start the journey!

We begin to recognize the more familiar landmarks. Some of these landmarks have been there even before we were born... others, we have made ourselves. We mix these landmarks and we begin to discern patterns in those landmarks.

Landmarks are so mixed and at times confusing... like the typical road signs in the Philippines. Yet, we remember landmarks that lead to the wrong turns. We also recognize landmarks that bring us joy and happiness.

The PROMISE of Jesus, the Lord, is NOT to make the journey EASY and SMOOTH... but that we shall NOT be alone! He is there with us! When the journey becomes rough and tough, he is there at our side... With this, we echo what the Psalmist says: 'If I should walk in the Valley of Darkness... NO evil would I fear...' (Psalm 23)


Saturday, February 01, 2014

New Platform for Interreligious Dialogue

The New Platforms for  inter-religious
and inter-cultural dialogue

In Asia, dialogue takes concrete forms in the interaction with three realities: religions, cultures and poverty. The Church desires to be in continuous, humble and loving dialogue with all the realities of the life of the people and strives to make the history, values, aspirations, thoughts, language, songs and artistry of human communities her own. Dialogue assumes even people’s frailties and failings, so that they too may be healed.
There is a new turning point in the indigenous peoples’ assertion for empowerment and self-determination. Like their counterparts in the North, the tribes now consider themselves as nations poised to reclaim homeland and self-determination, which have been lost to years of colonial domination.

Many claim that the tragedies of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have exacerbated the ever widening divide between the Western world and the world of Islam. Europe is no exception to this cultural divide. In many ways, globalization has accelerated the movements of peoples – migrants. And when people move they also bring with them their specific cultures and religious beliefs. Europe is clearly composed of multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities. The conflicts that arise in these contexts have little to do with Islamic fundamentalism and more to do with a search for identity. Children caught between cultures belong to neither – which gives rise to the crisis of identity.

New platforms for inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue are now emerging. One of these is the Millennium development Goals which includes halving extreme poverty and building partnership by 2015. Another is the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. These are instances when we are called upon to rethink not only our sense of sin, but our sense of morality.

Another is the call to dialogue and alliance of civilizations and cultures. The dominating source of conflict is said to be cultural. Hence, religions become even more crucial because they form civilizations and are the defining elements of culture.

Another forum of dialogue is the youth movements that are growing all over the world. Finally, the World Social Forum, a platform for the poor and marginalized sectors who demand a more active role in shaping a new world social order. This is now a veritable forum for dialogue. The author also brings to the fore a number of Oblate initiatives in the world working for peace and reconciliation through dialogue.