Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Response to the Call of Inter-religious Dialogue - the Case of the Philippines

A Response to the Call of Inter-religious Dialogue - Philippines
by Fr. Eliseo 'Jun' Mercado, OMI

I am happy to respond to the call on interreligious dialogue…for variety of reasons.  I would like to begin my remarks with a quotation from the acceptance speech made by a martyred Peace Laureate, Dr. Martin Luther King, when he was conferred the Nobel Peace Award in 1964. He said:

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, other-centered can build up. I still believe that one-day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and non-violent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the Lord. And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.

I still believe that we shall overcome….”

In Southern Philippines and in many parts of the world like Sudan, Moluccas, Southern Thailand, etc., we are too familiar with what self-centered men and women have torn down.  Their works, thirst for power and greed continue to divide our people between the have’s and the have’s not, the powerful and the powerless, and between the privileged and the deprived.  They manipulate for their own personal interests and ambition the natural social fault lines like ethnicity and religions and cloak them with the guise of tribal and religious values and beliefs.  They hand over to us from one generation to another the myth that this land is exclusively theirs, other claimants are the enemies, and a good Moro is a dead Moro.  Yes, for quite sometime now, evil men and women continue to dominate over the land finding ourselves prisoners of spiraling culture of violence and a culture of separatism.

Is there a way out for us … caught in this tragic human drama?  Do we not find ourselves often locked in a room with no exit?  Has education shown the way, broken the barriers that separate us and has made us bigger or larger than the parochialism or provincialism of our origin and culture?  

In these troubled times, especially post September 11, 2002, more than ever, we urgently need people who will find the “path” to move forward… The tragic reality is the fact that even highly educated and professionals, sadly including men and women of faiths are no longer exempted from the prevailing bigotry and biases that continue to exercise tyranny over our spirit.  

Tragic legacies… there are aplenty! The lingering resentments & injustices are deep in the psyche of relationship.  With few exceptions, there was no mutual openness between faiths, but only survival within supercession, conquest, colonialism and cultural domination.  There is only the steady accumulation of the instinct by which both faiths developed a sort of exclusivism of culture & identity around their inner focus of faith & rite drawing all things into a calculated otherness and exclusivism from which we now struggle so hardly to escape.

All those legacies are familiar enough and part of our problem. Is it simply escaping from their tyranny over our spirits?  Is there a way out for us… caught in this tragic human drama? Do we not find ourselves often locked in a room with no exit? Has our faith shown the way to break down the barriers that separate us? True faith in God is to steadily school ourselves to resist and reject our habit of preferring suspicion to trust, to reject the instinct to prefer familiar confrontation to new relationship of partners and common “stakeholdership”.  

Why?  Because despite these legacies of enmity and otherness, we have to wake up to the reality that we inhabit the same small planet, we breathe the same air, and cultivate the same land we considered our own, and we are co-workers in the same work places and more, there are fascinating areas of common spiritual territory within our simple religious ancestry. For better or for worse, our lives, liberation and development are bound to each other. 

The Call to Dialogue…

Today we hear the urgent call for greater involvement and participation in dialogue. The call to dialogue, in different languages and tongues, is being launched and heard from the mountains to the plains, from big cities and small alike, from the Vatican to Cairo, from the smallest ‘pesantren’ and madrasah (Islamic School) in an Indonesian or Southern Philippines village to a small basic ecclesial community or BEC.  People of different faiths and ethnicities are struggling to grapple with our diversities and embrace the challenges and demands of dialogue. 

Why has the issue of dialogue become a paramount issue in an era of globalization?   Few years back, people believed, especially the prophets of modernization and secularization, that religion and ethnicity would be the first casualties of globalization.  It did not happen.  Instead, the world was shocked and continued to be shocked by the increasing religious and ethnic intolerance.  The ethnic war in Rwanda and Burundi with its accompanying tragedy of “genocides” is a classic example in Africa.  The partition of former Yugoslavia and the ensuing ethnic and religious war, again, with the ugly face of “ethnic cleansing” has shocked the world in this so-called era of globalization.  The same thing can be said in East Timor, Indonesia and Southern Philippines.  Yes, the world is experiencing the malady of religious and ethnic intolerance and killing.  

Then the terrorists’ attacks both in New York and Washington happened and the world is no longer the same again. Terrorism has acquired a new face and notoriety. Rightly or wrongly,

“Fundamentalism” in religion, ideology and ethnicity and political policies that perpetuate injustices and inequity, perceived or real, are seen as the seedbeds of “terrorism” that have held the world hostage since September 11, 2001. No doubt, the surge of fundamentalism and the present paranoia over terrorism contribute to the urgency of religious and cultural dialogue.  The manifestations of fundamentalism have not only shown intolerance, but also have made dialogue very difficult.  For one, the narrow, inflexible and exclusive worldview of fundamentalism admits no compromise or dialogue.  

The truth is the fact that we are peoples of many and diverse faiths, cultures and political ideologies.  Though many and different, the relationships need not be hostile or indifferent. The diversities invite us to make a shift in our paradigm from hostility to partnership; from indifference to involvement; from being closed to being opened to one another, and from being exclusive to inclusive in our outlook.  Our diversities need NOT LEAD to that famous slogan of “CLASH of civilizations.  What we need today is DIALOGUE between and among our diverse cultures and civilizations.

We have to believe and hold that our life and future are bound up with each other. Our path is need not be characterized by war but of dialogue. We are together in the journey through life.  For better or worse, we are neighbors and as neighbors, we can be partners in building not only of a better world but more so of a friendlier community where you and I, and our children can live as brothers and sisters.  

There are three basic steps that will help us walk this new path of dialogue.  

 First is the recognition that our life, future and destiny are bound up with each other.  No, we cannot espouse a politics of separatism, culture of exclusivism, nor act as sole proprietors of the land.
 Second is to be open, that is, Eph’pheta/Iftah, to each other - learning not only from each other but more so to live and work as partners in shaping our common lives and destiny in peace, justice and care of the earth. Yes, we must not be afraid or hesitate to accept, to trust and to work with each other as partners.
 Third is our commitment and involvement in the promotion and guarantee of the rights and dignity of every person regardless of faith, gender, culture and color within our society/community.

The basis of this commitment is our belief that all peoples even though they belong to different religions, nations, etc. all form ONE human family, created by the ONE and same God, living in the same world/community, and destined for a common end.

Again in a more recent time, Pope John Paul II presents to the world his dream and hope for Christianity and Islam as we journey together into the new millennium in his Addresses in Syria (John Paul II 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.”

“May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship, so that the Almighty may bless us with the peace which heaven alone can give.  To the One, Merciful God be praise and Glory forever. Amen.” 

I appeal once more to all the peoples involved 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." And you my dear GRADUATES, I charge you to be bearers and instruments of the good news of PEACE.  Yes, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”

I will conclude my response to Prof. Pham by taking cognizance of the now famous Muslim Letter to all the Christian leaders at the end of Ramadan in 2007.  

This Letter is a first Muslim initiated step in dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  Often Christians have taken the first act regarding dialogue, and they have so done well. It is important that this first steps continue in this direction with increased clarity, even showing differences and the need for correction. As the Letter is addressed to various leaders of the Christian world, we can hope that there will be a reply to this letter, which is the result of an immense effort by the Muslim part.

The title of the letter is taken from the Qur’an: “A Common Word between Us and You” (Sura of the family of Imran, 3:64). This is what Mohammed says to the Christians in the Koran: when he sees that he cannot reach agreement with them, then he says: Come let us agree on at least one common ground:  that we shall worship none but God (the oneness of God) “and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God.”

But this Letter is certainly also addressed to Muslims, even if not explicitly.  What weight will it bring to bear in the Muslim world, considering that priests continue to be kidnapped, apostates persecuted, Christians oppressed? Up until now there has been no comment from the Islamic side.  But I think that with time this document could create an opening and a greater convergence.

Above all, it is to be hoped that the next step will focus 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 both the Muslim world (and I would say above all Muslim people) as well as the West.

Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado, Jr., OMI
Graduate School
Notre Dame University
Cotabato City 9600

A Response to the Common Word - The Case of the Philippines

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.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

From Security to Compassion

by Dr. Aref Ali Nayed

Compassion architecture is built on the theological fact that true security can only come from God’s own compassion towards humanity and the compassion of humans towards humans. Compassion is the condition of possibility of true security.
A Common Word, which was launched in October 2007, is an important  contribution to an alternative compassion architecture. Its signatories, whose number has since grown to 301, include Muslim scholars and thinkers of all theological schools, both genders, all ages and occupations.
The response from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians has been very  positive and several constructive conferences have already been held with them to explore our common ground. Some Jewish scholars have also made positive and encouraging comments and they will be addressed in a similar document.
For example, Muslim scholars met evangelical Christian leaders last summer at a conference at Yale University, for many the first time either had sat down to discuss faith with the other.  It was a transformative event.  The dark and twisted images Muslims and evangelicals often had of each other came tumbling down. A door for compassionate cooperation opened.
Last November, a Common Word delegation of two dozen Muslim scholars, led by Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric, met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and held three days of talks with leading Catholic scholars there.  The encounter was soothing and healing after the wounds of the pope’s speech in Regensburg in 2006.
Last month, one of Islam’s top Muslim television preachers, Amr Khaled, toured several Muslim countries including Sudan to rally tens of thousands of young people around the theme of A Common Word. The response proved overwhelmingly positive.
Initiatives such as A Common Word are giving rise to a “network of networks of compassion” with multiple nodes and growing complexity and inter-connectivity. Much like the internet, this network of networks does not depend on any one node. It is robust and resilient precisely because it is so widespread and interconnected.  Compassion architecture will rise from a wide variety of initiatives such as A Common Word coming together.
In a ‘stuck’ or ‘jammed’ world situation, A Common World hits the reset button with fresh and purified presuppositions. Now, we watch the lights come on in a fresh way, a way that may very well get our world going again. What better presuppositions to start with than Love of God and Love of Neighbor?
Reorienting and purifying intentions is the most important change to make if the Obama “change platform” is to work. Change requires a shift from self-righteous arrogance to attitudes of humility, concern for others, brokenness-before-God, compassion and understanding.
What humanity needs most today is a prophetic teaching of compassion and love. Inherent in A Common Word is a lofty, scriptures-based exhortation from which many lessons, sermons and much guidance can flow.
Today we are all frightened, in one way or another, physically, politically, socially, and economically. For too many years, fear ran our lives both as actors and acted-upon. During those terrible Bush years, the generals and security agencies thrived on offering their “Security Architectures”. It is time for true change: change from fear to hope, from hate to love, from madness to sanity and from cruelty to compassion. The new day is indeed luminescent with rays of hope!
God knows best!

Monday, June 22, 2015

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Short Reflection for the 13th week of the Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Wisdom 1: 13-15. 2: 23-24; 2 Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5: 21-43

Selected Gospel Passage: “She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.  She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’  Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.” (Mark 5: 27-29)

Reflection: In our journey through life, we, too, have experiences of healing touches.  Like the woman in the gospel, we do say… ‘if but I touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’  We should have that faith of the woman, then our healing begins…!

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Testimony of Paul

St. Paul's following of Christ was NOT an easy one... Here in the reading from 2 Cor 11:18, 21-30, we see his testimony amidst travails...

"Brothers and sisters:
Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.
To my shame I say that we were too weak!

But what anyone dares to boast of
(I am speaking in foolishness)
I also dare.

Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they children of Israel? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
Are they ministers of Christ?
(I am talking like an insane person).
I am still more, with far greater labors,
far more imprisonments, far worse beatings,
and numerous brushes with death.
Five times at the hands of the Jews
I received forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned,
three times I was shipwrecked,

I passed a night and a day on the deep;
on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race,
dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city,
dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea,
dangers among false brothers;
in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights,
through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings,
through cold and exposure.

And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me
of my anxiety for all the churches.
Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness."

Monday, June 15, 2015

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Short Reflection for the 12th week of the Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Job 38: 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-17; Mark 4: 35-41

Selected Gospel Passage: “He said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.” (Mark 4:39)

Reflection: We all experience turbulence and storms in life…  It is during these times that we need to hear, once again, Jesus’ words: “BE QUIET! BE STILL!” Trust in the Lord!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Short Reflection for the 11th week of the Ordinary year (B)

Readings: Ezekiel 17: 22-24; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10; Mark 2_ 26-34

Selected Gospel Passage: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.” (Mark 4: 31-32)

Reflection: The kingdom of God is planted to each one of us at Baptism. Like the mustard seed, the reign of God grows in us through listening to his Word, celebration of the sacraments and through good deeds.  What is important that we should ALWAYS pay attention is the ever increasing presence of God in our lives… both in our words and deeds.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Prophets of our Time: Are We Listening?

Prophets for Our Tme: Are We Listening?
by Dorothy C. Buck

When I think of Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Muhammad, the ancient Hebrew prophets, Abraham, Elijah, Moses then John the Baptist and Jesus, in fact the religious reformers and visionaries of all cultures and traditions in every age, one word overshadows all else. They knew how to listen, first to God, then to the voices of others in the world around them. 

As Christians we talk of God “calling” us into relationship, of the prophets being “called” to speak publicly for God, to challenge and confront the ways that God's voice was not being heard. In the Gospel according to Matthew John the Baptist is heard quoting the major Hebrew prophet Isaiah,

“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! ...A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Matthew 3:2, Isaiah 40:3)
Unless we listen to the prophets among us we are likely to wander farther and farther away from the kingdom of God's love into a maze of tempting cultural values and materialistic idols. 

We hear competing voices inundating our TV programs enticing us with more and more “things” we must have and that we are told will make us “happy”. Even cigarettes and an SUV are claimed to fulfill our longings for love and companionship, and more and more credit debt is the capitalistic means of achieving the successful consumer lifestyle that feeds our economy, but not our souls.

We have ample voices throughout our short history as a country who has warned us of the dangers of not heeding the call of the poor, of not feeding the hungry, offering a drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and welcoming the strangers in our midst. Now we are challenged, almost beyond our capacity to respond, by the fear of terrorist attacks and the distrust and hatred felt towards this country in many parts of the world. Are we listening?

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Short Reflection for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (B)

Readings: Exodus 24: 3-8; Hebrew 9: 11-15; Mark 14: 12-14. 22-26

Gospel Passage: “While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many’.” Mark 14: 22-24)

Reflection: Corpus Christi Sunday reminds us that we are truly “partakers” of Jesus’ Body and Blood.  We are invited to take and eat, that is, his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. As Jesus is broken and shared for the life of many… so are we! Yes, we, too, are called to be ‘broken and shared’ for the life of others, especially those in need…

Bapa Jun, OMI