Dann Pantoja is beginning to use his Tagalog indigenous name — Lakan Sumulong. This is a statement that our indigenous identities can be a redeeming factor in healing our ‘being’ (that is, who we are as a people); help symbolize our determination to contribute what we ought to be ‘doing’ as a nation (that is–active, non-violent, radical transformation); and, determine how we will prioritize what we will be ‘having’ (that is, inclusive growth and national development based on justice and peace).
Asked what fuels his positive outlook in life: “It’s the influence of Jesus, a first century Palestinian carpenter who was executed by the imperial power of his time. He said: ‘Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.’ Jesus defied the ultimate negative factor in our cosmos–death.”
Evolving leaders of PeaceBuilders Community—MetroManila: (L-R) AJ Moldez, Joji Pantoja, Boyet Ongkiko, Chi Ongkiko, Missy Moldez, Herman Moldez, Lakan Sumulong
The PeaceBuilders Community in MetroManila is being enriched by the participation of a few more people who are challenged to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Many of them are especially attracted to the Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) Theology and its application to the various issues in life and society that they are concerned about.
The Man of Peace in MetroManila, as far as the leadership of PeaceBuilders Community—Philippines is concerned, is the Rev. Herman Moldez, a retired pastor and a respected Christian leader in the Philippines. He was Joji’s mentor in the mid-1970s during her early days with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Our paths crossed when his son, AJ Moldez, became an active member of PeaceBuilders Community and participated in our mentorship program at the PeaceBuilders School of Leadership. Soon, AJ’s parents invited us for dinner and started interacting theologically with us. Their family opened their discipleship training center and guest house in Quezon City to PeaceBuilders Community workers. We needed a facility like this whenever we pass through MetroManila, travelling from north to south and vice-versa. AJ has been referring to this place as “PeaceBuilders Hub Manila”.
Two weeks ago, Rev. Herman Moldez and I served as plenary speakers in a national mission conference.
Last week, AJ bought me a ticket and introduced PeaceBuilders Community to a group of young professionals. He has been sharing the work of PeaceBuilders to this group. Before our meeting is over, they made a commitment to be a long-term prayer and financial partner of PBCI, with an initial gift of P30,000.
PeaceBuilders Community—MetroManila is getting rooted in genuine relationships and a sincere commitment to grow together in advocating radical transformation, active non-violence, and inclusive development based on biblical peacemaking.
Permanent link to this article: http://waves.ca/2017/11/03/peacebuilders-metro-manila-is-attracting-more-par-practitioners/
For this reason, we have established Kapeyapaan (Tagalog, kape=coffee + kapayapaan=peace)—a low capitalization business for rural ‘farmerpreneurs’ (from coffee farming, to coffee processing, to operating inexpensive but high quality rural coffee shops).
The home of Kapeyapaan Shop, which will also be the house for Kalinaw Youth Movement, BeyondBorders Christian Community, and PAR Bukidnon is being built in Valencia City. The seating capacity for a regular coffee shop operation will be 60. The seating capacity when used as a worship center on Sundays will be 90-100. Joji continues to oversee the plans designed by Architect Gloryrose Dy Metilla.
The day-to-day building construction management is being done by Clay Rojo. This is made possible through an impact partnership with GiversTrust, Inc.
We thrive! We don’t merely survive.
We give all the glory to the Creator-Sustainer of all!
Permanent link to this article: http://waves.ca/2017/10/19/the-building-of-the-new-kapeyapaan-shop-is-well-under-way-in-bukidnon/
Last night, after two days participating in a Joint Advocacy Planning, I had a great time with my friends and colleagues from the ‘All-Out Peace Network’ and ‘Mindanao PeaceWeavers’ — Yols Rafol Esguerra, Violeta M. Gloria, Ryan Rosauro, Edsal Edres, Randy Ponteras, and Lyndee Prieto. We had laughters, food, and great espresso-based beverages at Coffee For Peace Bistro.
We missed most of our colleagues from various parts of the country who needed to fly back home.
I’m grateful for friends and colleagues who are so committed to love this land and people by advocating justice and peace. Being around these folks energizes me to continue working for peace and reconciliation in this beautiful land.
I was asked to give an opening statement as part of the hosting group. Photo by Violeta M. Gloria.
Just before this relaxed evening, this same group were part of a conference among the leading peacebuilding and human rights advocates from all over the country. We were expanding our constituency base.
The Mindanao PeaceWeavers, with whom PeaceBuilders Community is affiliated, served as host to this national conference we refer to as ‘All-Out Peace Network’. I was assigned to welcome the delegates and to give a keynote address to help set the theme and atmosphere of the conference:
“We hope to forge joint actions in promoting an advocacy agenda on the peace process and humanitarian appeal… prolonged armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Marawi/Lanao… taking into account the growing uproar on the culture of impunity with the killing of Kian delos Santos as a potential tipping point…”
The conference objectives were:
a. To draw reflective analysis on the various conflict milieus and contextual factors that underpin the peace process and change agenda;
b. To identify the crucial role of civil society actors in engaging the peace process and addressing the security challenges brought about by the human rights situation and the threat of violent extremism;
c. To develop a common action agenda and civilian advocacy roadmap as basis of concrete collaborative actions on peace and human security of participating networks
Some of the major tasks that were accomplished were:
a. Defining a scope — we formulated a desired change, vision, idea, measure, or project. (What will be different?)
b. Mapping the forces, ideas, people, happenings that may impact successful implementation of desired changes.
c. Assigning scores as to weight of the identified forces, and tried to see what total force combined.
I learned a lot from this seasoned community organizers and movement leaders. One of the highlights of my learning was an approach to process people and organizations towards a broad coalition of justice and peace advocates.
Some questions that assisted us in determining who should be involved and why are as follows: :: What roles do various stakeholders play in the process (authority, role)?
:: Who will participate in the process?
:: Who are the potential beneficiaries?
:: Who will be adversely affected?
:: Are the stakeholders organized?
:: Who has existing rights? Who has control over resources?
:: Who are likely to be voiceless?
:: Who are likely to mobilize resistance?
:: Who are dependent on whom?
:: Who are responsible for the intended plans?
:: Who has money, skills, or key information?
:: Whose behavior has to change for success to be reached?
:: What power gaps exist between staleholder groups? How to deal with them?
This learning conference is so enriching — intellectually, spiritually, psycho-socially.
It was great to have a chance chatting one-on-one with Pastor James Wuye. The story of Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye was told in a movie The Imam and the Pastor, which is widely used in Christian-Muslim inter-faith dialogue.
I’m also grateful for Clay, June, and Sihaya — our regional team leaders in advancing Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) in Mindanao.
We’re extra-blessed to get to know Abel and Gimaidee better; Abel is June’s younger brother.
RATIONALE Since 2010 there has been an increase in the number of violent global conflicts, with 19 all out wars and 43 high-scale conflicts reported in the last year. The conflicts have also become more deadly, killing 180,000 people in 2015 and making another 60 million refugees, internally displaced persons, or asylum- seekers. The current international reality makes clear that war has a growing momentum over the prospect of peace. War results in a dismantled identity, requiring a response that humanizes both the other and ourselves. Dialogues between divergent religious groups have the potential to serve as a unifying force between seemingly contrasting viewpoints and approaches. Religion is a foundational component of society, shaping the cultural, political and economic realities of a people. Prominent religious leaders have acknowledged that world peace is only possible if the two largest faith groups, Muslims and Christians, reconcile with one another through conversation. However, in the past two decades religion has been found to be at the center of most violent conflicts around the world. Violence perpetrated by groups that manipulate religion and religious identity is a major security challenge at the global, national and local levels. Amid the challenge of violent extremism, there had also been an increase in multi-religious collaboration among faith-based actors. Interreligious action and cooperation involve multi-dimensional approaches that strengthen community expressions of religion in complementation with social, political and economic affairs to promote human dignity and transformation of society. The conference will gather together religious and spiritual leaders, dialogue practitioners and peacebuilders from different regions of Mindanao. Participants will reflect together with two renowned religious peacebuilders from Nigeria- Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye on practices, challenges and lessons in interreligious peacebuilding. The organizers believe that this gathering will help galvanize faith-based approaches in peacebuilding. The shared learning process is envisioned to affirm shared values and commitment of religious peacebuilders to demand justice, foster solidarity and sustain peace amidst the continuing challenges of conflicts and violence in the region.
CONFERENCE OBJECTIVES For religious leaders, dialogue practitioners and peacebuilders to Reflect on practices and challenges in interreligious peacebuilding as an approach to prevent and address conflict and violence in the context of Mindanao and Nigeria Enhance understanding and appreciation on the distinct roles of faith actors in peacebuilding and social cohesion Formulate concrete actions to bolster and promote interreligious collaboration for peace in Mindanao and in Nigeria Strengthen and support network of actors and institutions involved in interreligious peacebuilding efforts.
“Learning Conference: Advancing InterReligious Action for Peace.” 21-23 August 2017. Davao City. Organized by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Philippines
Permanent link to this article: http://waves.ca/2017/08/24/our-mindanao-par-team-enjoyed-being-together-in-a-learning-conference/
Participants and leaders in the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW) and All-Out Peace (AOP) take time for this photo opportunity after a dialogue with Mohagher Iqbal, Chair of the Peace Implementing Panel, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) . 25-26 July 2017, The Pinnacle Hotel and Suites, Davao City, Philippines.
The chair of the Peace Implementing Panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who is also a member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission updated us on the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF. He also shared his views on the Marawi Crisis. Inspite of the Marawi Crisis, the MILF, according to him, will still pursue the Peace Process and will continue partnership with the GPH in implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) through the enabling law called the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
Government troops are seen during their tactical operation against the Maute Group-ISIS who have taken over large parts of the Marawi City. 25 May 2017. Photo by Romeo Ranoco
The 2017 Marawi Crisis. The initial skirmishes started in the afternoon of 23 May 2017 between Philippine government security forces and the Maute Group, who were joined by the Abu Sayyaf groups, and claimed themselves to be part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The clashes began when elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) launched an operation in Marawi City to serve a warrant of arrest against Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon is a leader of the Abu Sayyaf who was in Marawi to join forces with the Maute group. The Maute group had pledged allegiance to ISIS and are believed to be responsible for the 2016 Davao City bombing according to AFP and PNP reports.
They also occupied the main street and set fire Saint Mary’s Church and Dansalan College, run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. The group also attacked the Marawi Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church, taking The Rev. Fr. Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub, its Vicar-General, along with several church-goers as hostage.
The downtown area of Marawi City burns as the Philippine Air Force sustains its air strikes against the Maute Group-ISIS.
At around 11:20 PM, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Martial Law all over Mindanao from Moscow, where the Russian government was hosting him with several of his government officials. Maute group militants attacked AFP’s Camp Ranao and occupied several buildings in the city, including Marawi City Hall, Mindanao State University, a hospital and the city jail.
On 26 May 2017, the AFP stated that some of the terrorists are foreigners who have been in the country for quite some time, offering support to the Maute group in Marawi.
Almost one month after the Marawi armed conflict started, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that over 314,800 people are displaced. 94 per cent are staying with host families, while 17,700 (6%) people are staying in 83 evacuation centres.
As of 28 June 2017, the casualties reported are as follows:
299 militants killed (11 foreigners)
9 militants captured
71 government forces killed (10 by ‘friendly fire’)
297 government forces wounded
110 civilians dead (59 due to illness)
Most government agencies and civil society groups responded promptly to the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with relief goods and emergency services.
Residents of Marawi are moving out of the armed conflict area towards the adjacent City of Iligan.
It’s easy to be merely reactive in this kind of an all-out war scenario. But we want to be proactive. So, we have to look deep within ourselves and make sure that our actions are centered on who we are, which will determine what we will do and what we need to have.
:: First, we will stick with our sense of identity and will be governed by the heart of our mission. PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) is a fellowship of Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) missionary-consultants — peace building operatives, conflict transformation specialists, restorative justice practitioners, disaster response specialists, and community development workers — who are dreaming and working together for a just, radical, and active non-violent transformation of our beautiful land. We normally work in partnership with religious institutions, civil society organizations, political fronts, business corporations, and government agencies.
PAR is the heart of our ministry. PAR is Peace and Reconciliation. Peace—from the Hebrew term ‘shalom’ and the Arabic term ‘salaam’—is understood here as harmony with the Creator (spiritual transformation); harmony with our Being (psycho-social transformation); harmony with Others (socio-political transformation); and, harmony with the Creation (economic-ecological transformation). Reconciliation is focused on building relationships between antagonists. The primary goal is to seek innovative ways to create a time and a place to address, to integrate, and to embrace the painful past and the necessary shared future as a means of dealing with the present.
All our activities in Marawi will be framed in peace-and-reconciliation principles and practices.
1. Lakan Sumulong exchanges perspectives with Lt. Col. J. Herrera, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the Marawi Crisis. 2. A Muslim representative from the victims of this war, accompanied by Christian civil society colleagues, shares her views and feelings to AFP officers. 3. Lt. Col. Mamon (a field commander of AFP), Jehan Usop (a Muslim civil society leader), and Lakan Sumulong (a Christian peace worker) pose for a souvernir photo symbolizing inter-faith, action-oriented peace dialogue.
1. Gus Miclat (Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue), Zia Alonto Adiong (spokesperson of the Lanao del Norte Crisis Management Committee), and Lakan Sumulong (President of PeaceBuilders Community) pose for a picture after a brief information exchange. 2. Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista (Commanding General, 1st Infantry ‘Tabak’ Division, AFP) and Lakan Sumulong show the “Bangon Marawi” banner representing the civil society Peace and Solidarity Mission to Marawi. 3. Lakan Sumulong, Reinna Bermudez (representing the Commission on Human Rights), and Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo (a Muslim human rights lawyer) briefly shared human security concerns at the Lanao del Sur Capitol Complex.
The whole 3-day event ended in a day of listening session to each other as an All-Out Peace Movement.Together, we were able to develop initial strategic course of actions on how we would respond to Marawi as a network of civil society organizations.
:: Third, we will continue to support the Peace Process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). We affirm what the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Jess Dureza, said: “I always say this before, and even now, I can build easily the [physical] structures destroyed by the [armed] conflict. I can also build the school buildings that were burned down. But building of the relationships, bringing back social cohesion, and mending the torn social fabric brought about the conflict takes time. The healing takes time.”
We also laud the statement of the MILF expressing their determination to continue the Peace Process, particularly their call to proceed with the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB):
The MILF is firm in its resolve to settle the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people through the negotiated process now contained in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The different mechanisms of the peace process are still engaged with their esteemed counterparts in government and are working towards finding ways on how best to address the challenge posed by the violence being committed in Marawi by groups who have chosen to take violence without regard to the best interest of our people. Now more than ever, the MILF and the government must work closely to ensure the protection of the gains of the peace process and to even forge with greater resolve to immediately implement the peace agreement so that no other groups may use its non-implementation to justify their continued pursuit of violence for violence’s sake.
For PBCI, the most practical next step in the implementation of CAB is for the Philippine Congress to pass the newly-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law.
:: Fourth, we will start our Marawi PAR initiatives through psycho-social debriefing and peace education of children traumatized by this continued violence. The Maute brothers were young men who embraced the violent, radical expression of religiosity propagated by ISIS. They were able to recruit hundreds of young people with their ISIS outlook and were able to challenge the AFP and the PNP over the control of the Islamic City of Marawi.
Please continue praying with us as we discern the Spirit in our on-going response to this human-induced disaster. Pray for sensitivity and humility among us, leading these operations, and among our field workers, so that we might not do harm as we seek to do good.
Our continuing prayers, and the long-term action path we are taking, are:
Permanent link to this article: http://waves.ca/2017/06/29/reflections-and-action-plans-as-we-serve-civilians-in-war-torn-marawi/
Those who felt protected by the security sector celebrated the declaration of Martial Law. For them, the uniformed presence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), along with their guns, tanks, and other enforcement materiel, symbolizes stability, safety, peace, and order.
There are those who felt threatened by the presence of AFP and the PNP. Most of them were from areas where big international mining companies are operating. Many of those mining operations were protected by the AFP and the PNP against local and indigenous folks who are defending their ancestral domains against the exploitative and destructive operations of the mining corporations.
And then there are those who have vivid memories of the dark days of Martial Law under the oppressive dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. I’m one of those who have been traumatized in those two decades of military atrocities. Like many survivors of Martial Law in the 70s and 80s, I shouted “Never Again!” to Martial Law. Not even by the President whom I supported during the May 2016 general election.
Stand with Marawi. Save the Peace Process. Defend our Rights.
Marawi, the “Philippine’s premiere Islamic City” is battered but stands strong.
True to the origins of the name Marawi, it is indeed a “destination point” or “rendezvous”, for much of Mindanao’s Islamic south. The name has also meant “arrival” or “coming” – but these last few days, Marawi’s monicker has had a devastating connotation. The city that has served as a melting pot of peoples from different cultures and histories is now getting razed by bombs and fire into a virtual “ghost town.” The city is occupied by Maute extremist militants on a rampage, sowing terror in different parts of the city – threatening, hurting and even killing innocent civilians, burning buildings and properties, hostaging helpless people and turning them into “human shields” as their forces scamper through the city’s interiors. The armed hostilities prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the whole of Mindanao to address the crisis situation and specifically wipe out the Aby Sayaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and the remaining Maute militants involved.
We, the convening networks and allied peace partners of the Mindanao PeaceWeavers (MPW), condemn in the strongest terms the terror that is besieging Marawi City. We are deeply saddened that this tragedy occurred during the Holy Month of Ramadhan, a period of spiritual reflection for Muslims. But for the people of Marawi, it is currently a disquieting time when danger, violence, and death are at their doorsteps.
We appeal to the heart and conscience of President Duterte to see the face of humanitarian crisis.
Aside from ensuring the safety and security of civilians in the conduct of clearing operations by the government forces, we invoke the state’s responsibility to protect and fulfill the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) during evacua-tion until their safe and dignified return to Marawi City. In hindsight, we believe that a combination of keen foresight and leadership coupled with political will and military intelligence, the government can address the crisis situation in Marawi without resorting to a declaration of Martial Law.
The prolonged armed engagement between the government security forces and the Maute militants have led to the excessive use of artillery and aerial bombardment, endangering the lives of trapped civilians and violating the rules of engagement in situations of war and armed conflict. Worse, the botched AFP-PNP operation to arrest the ASG leader failed to assess the risks and options impacting on non-combatants; public safety has now been jeopardized when the scenario of pre-emptive and forced evacuation was not prioritized by the government troops just before the conflict flared-up.
We are disheartened with the extent of civilian casualties – most of whom are women and children – caught in the crossfire while fleeing to safer grounds. The government says that as of today, a total of 92 casualties have been recorded – 16 civilians, 15 government forces, and 61 Maute militants. According to a report, only 5% of the total city population of 200,000, remain trapped inside the city.
The Marawi crisis is considered the tipping point of the Martial Law declaration. But we pray that martial rule won’t be the last straw before we lose the gains in the peace processes through the years. Despite the safeguards that are already embodied in the 1987 Constitution, we still dread the thought of Martial Law turning draconian in the days and weeks to come. Because, as a country, we committed to listen to the wisdom of history – “Never Again” – was our collective mantra in the aftermath of the Marcos dictatorship. Yet now in a seeming instance, Martial Law is upon us again.
We are seriously alarmed with the declaration of the 60-day Martial Law in the whole of Mindanao. Appalled by the sudden turn of events, we, as advocates of civil liberties remain wary of the factual basis and intention of this proclamation. President Duterte’s brinkmanship in the standoff with Maute militants launched a full-scale combat operation at the heart of a bustling civilian community. A military solution will not address the key drivers of armed conflict, radicalization and violent extremism in the country. Developing sustainable solutions towards durable peace can be derived from the heart of an inclusive political settlement, good governance and multiculturalism. That is why as civil society, we continue to feed the civilian policy lens on matters of peace and security. To sustain this impetus under these trying circumstances, we are respectfully submitting the following recommendations for consideration and immediate action.
OUR URGENT APPEALS:
For President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr, DND Sec Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano, ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, Western Mindanao Command Chief MGen Carlito Galvez Jr, DSWD Sec Judy Taguiwalo, Peace Negotiators in the Bangsamoro peace process and the GRP-NDFP peace process, BTC Chair Ghadzali Jaafar, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr, Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez, Peace and Order Councils of ARMM, Lanao del Sur and Norte, Reg 10, 11 and Reg 12, and humanitarian groups :
Support the appeal towards a “humanitarian passage”– a half-day “cease and desist from all forms of armed action” and invoke universally-accepted protocols on displacement and civilian protection accorded to IDPs and at the same time with deference to the observance of the Holy Month of Ramadhan.
Provision of humanitarian corridor/s within Marawi City or adjacent towns where IDPs have sought/can seek refuge, to ensure their safe passage, safety, security and unhampered access to humanitarian aid in these buffer zones.
For the security actors, in concert with the Marawi city government and trusted local mediators to address the hostage situation and secure the safety of Fr Teresito Suganob, his staff, parishioners and any other residents who are still being held captive by the Maute militants.
Mobilize broad support for prompt and adequate humanitarian assistance in coordination with the ARMM-HEART and the local multi-stakeholder convergence on emergency support and crisis response in the cities of Marawi, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.
Immediately stop the airstrikes, indiscriminate firing and artillery shelling directed at civilian dwellings and public structures wherein trapped IDPs are seeking sanctuary. Forcing them out with the razing of these structures effectively puts them further at risk and in harm’s way.
We appeal to President Duterte to continue upholding the primacy of the peace process. Corollary to this, we are respectfully requesting that the declaration of Martial Law be rescinded. While the military action in Marawi and adjacent towns continues, we hope this will not affect the momentum and continuance of both the Bangsamoro and the GRP-NDFP peace tables and the unimpeded implementation of all signed interim and final peace agreements;
We urge both the government forces and the New Peoples Army (NPA) to withdraw/reposition their troops and discontinue any armed offensives especially in remote villages and ancestral domains of IPs. Sporadic attacks, harassments and militarization further contribute to an explosive situation in the midst of a Martial Law imposition;
Lastly, we call on all citizens to remain vigilant, defend your rights, organize and engage our communities to actively monitor the situation on the ground, and help contribute in conflict mitigation and de-escalation.
Finally, as the President himself recognized and admitted in the past, no military solution can ever resolve the deep socio-economic and political problems that have blighted our land and bred terror and extremism that we are confronting today. What is needed is recognition of the legitimate grievances, historical injustices and ongoing justice issues perpetrated on our peoples and addressing the root causes of armed conflict through structural change.
Stand our ground in engaging the peace process!
Resolutely defend our fundamental rights and freedoms!
Permanent link to this article: http://waves.ca/2017/05/25/mindanao-martial-law-i-resonate-with-the-voice-of-my-fellow-just-peace-advocates-in-mindanao/
Senior local and international clerics underlined the role of religious authorities in combating violence and terrorism and promoting coexistence. Al-Azhar International Peace Conference, Cairo, Egypt. 27-28 April 2017 / 1-2 Shaaban 1438 AH.
The impact of the Al-Azhar International Peace Conference in Cairo, Egypt last 27-28 April 2017, on me, was life-changing. It was an opportunity to practice the Great Commandment moment-by-moment and with a deeper understanding. I was given a global context to love Jesus more and to be more faithful to Jesus by embracing and affirming the Other. It was a series of events when I enjoyed the absolute now — a glimpse and a taste of being intimate with the One whose self-reference is The Great I Am.
The conference was used by God to open my heart to love and embrace all parts of the Body of Christ, all segments of the People of God, and all the respectable representatives of God’s humanity. As one coming from an evangelical anabaptist background, my sense of connection with all human beings from all faiths and worldviews became wider and deeper. Love, Joy, and Peace were incarnated in this two-day event.
Speakers on the first day called on followers of different faiths and worldviews to work together to denounce extremism, terrorism, and promote peace and co-existence framed in God’s love, justice, and peace.
Please allow me to share some of my personal reflections and learnings, almost a week after this event:
:: It was an opportunity to practice the Great Commandment moment-by-moment and with a deeper understanding. There were around 400 of us — religious leaders, scholars, political figures, and ground workers from around the world. I was one of the ground-workers who was given the chance to experience this historic event. Throughout the conference, the Spirit of God made me so aware of my neighbors in this globalized city or village. I sat with them. I ate with them. I listened with, and to, them. They listened to me. I was with my neighbors from all over the world.
I was wondering how I would I interact with them? There were people who came from very rich countries who looked and behaved differently and I felt so poor and tempted to become insecure around them. There were people coming from poorer countries who looked and behaved differently, and I was tempted to be arrogant around them.
The voice of the Spirit was clear. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. I had to read and reflect on Matthew 22:36-40 again. Jesus was asked about his view of a God-worshiper’s highest priority: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” His reply was straightforward: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Great Commandment is the very foundation of the justice and peace that humanity has been seeking.
The work of peace is possible because of love. Pope Francis alluded to this in his speech during the closing session of the conference. He said, “God, the lover of life, never ceases to love people, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly covenant…” He also emphasized that, “it is essential that we reject any absolutizing that would justify violence. For violence,” he continues, “is the negation of every authentic religious expression.”
Pope Francis also shared his basis of confidence in Christian peacemaking. “God,” according to him, “assures all those who trust in his love.” Global understanding between differing religions and cultures is possible because “the way of love lies open to human beings and that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain.”
The more we love God, the more we can love the other. Loving the other implies a radical call of action. Pope Francis called for “an end to the proliferation of arms.” He warned that “if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used.” He further said: “Only by bringing into the light of day the murky maneuverings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented.” He obliged the national leaders, institutions and the media “to undertake this urgent and grave task… to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states.”
Through this fresh reflection on the meaning of the Great Commandment and its implications to local, national, and international peacemaking, I began to quietly pray: “By your grace and mercy, please make me a funnel of your love, moment-by-moment.”
It was an existential moment listening to Pope Francis while sitting on my assigned seat at the fourth row in front of his podium at the Al-Azhar Conference Center. He emphasized that, because of God’s love, “we must categorically reject all forms of hatred and violence in the name of God.” Al-Azhar International Peace Conference, Cairo, Egypt. 28 April 2017.
:: I was given a global context to love Jesus more and to be more faithful to Jesus by embracing and affirming the Other. Christian faith, by definition, centers on the person of Jesus Christ. Emil Brunner once said that, “the center and foundation of the whole Christian faith is Christology, that is faith in Jesus Christ” (The Mediator, p. 232). For most Christians like me, christology is the central doctrine.
A Christian’s christological view necessarily affects her or his relationship with the religious Other. In an exclusivistic christology, the Other is treated as one who is to be converted, or as an enemy. In an inclusivistic christology, the Other is treated as an anonymous Christian, or as one who may have wisdom but still incomplete without the full knowledge of Christ.
Can I continue to love and claim Jesus Christ as the Incarnate and Risen One without “exclusively” or “inclusively” alienating the religious Other?
Based on David Jensen’s Dialogical Christology (In the Company of Others: A Dialogical Christianity), it is possible to both affirm the Christian claim that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate and the Risen One, and at the same time, be dialogically open to, and genuinely embracing of, the Other in the context of religious pluralism in a global era. The Kenotic Christ — that means, Self-Emptying Christ — is the Incarnate and Risen One who relinquished his own self-privileges to identify, as closely as possible, with the radically different, or rejected, or oppressed Other. But the relinquishment of his self-privileges does not necessarily mean self-abnegation. The Incarnate One and Risen One is present in his absence. The challenge of Jensen’s dialogical christology is that, the Kenotic Christ calls us to an active experience of self-emptying discipleship in a face-to-face encounter with the Other.
In this inter-faith peace conference, I was brought into an existential opportunity to demonstrate that a kenotic or self-emptying christology can be applied in an experiential dialogue with a specific religious Other—Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Taoists, Hindus, Jews, and various Indigenous Spiritualities. There are doctrines that cannot be resolved between us as propositional statements of particular truth-claims. But a kenotic view of truth can open doors for a more embracing relationship with the religious Other while affirming valued Christian claims such as Christ as the Incarnate and Risen One on my side, and various worldviews, faith statements, and belief systems on the side — that of my new friends and colleagues in peacebuilding
This kenotic christology also has significant implications toward my understanding of ethics and ministry in a pluralistic world; it demands a careful, self-emptying, self-examination of one’s ethical motive for mission and global ministry in the context of a face-to-face encounter with the religious Other.
:: It was a series of events when I enjoyed the absolute now — a glimpse and a taste of being intimate with the One whose self-reference is The Great I Am. I came to this conference unprepared. The Rev. Dr. Efraim Tendero, general secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance, sent me to this event on his behalf due to another commitment. I had no money for this. I had a very important commitment to be with a political front as they negotiate with the government and I had to ask their permission and blessing to exonerate me from our scheduled peace talks. The organizers of the Al-Azhar International Peace Conference paid for my air travel and hotel accommodation to be in this conference. The visa arrangement took a day to be released.
In each step of the way, I had to submit to the Spirit’s leading while doing my best and had to tell myself, “Believe! At this very moment, the Spirit is working beyond your capacity.” That moment-by-moment submission liberated me from stress. I just enjoyed the The Power of the Now.
After the conference, I decided to stay in my hotel room and just planned to wait for my Cairo-Doha-Manila flight the next day. I had no extra money for any tourist activity. One of my new friends called me and invited me to join him to see the Great Pyramid of Giza. He already rented a van and all I had to do was to voluntarily contribute with what I can, pay for my own entrance fee, and enjoy the tour. While preparing for the Giza trip, a friend of my children from Canada, who is now living in Cairo, invited me to see the Old City and to have a dinner with her family. After our trip to the pyramids, Shannon Aziz and her family picked me up from where I was and gave me a treat to experience their everyday Cairo life as a family.
Trusting the Spirit of God moment-by-moment is a spiritual discipline that I’m beginning to enjoy now that I’m 60 years old. It’s actually a glimpse and a taste of being intimate with the One whose self-reference is The Great I Am — The Eternal Now.
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05 April 2017. Today, I gave a lecture on A Christian Theology of Peace and It’s Application in the Peace Processes in the Philippines as the final activity of a 10-day inter-seminary exposure program on inter-faith dialogue. The audience was primarily a select group of religious and spiritual leaders coming from Mindanao’s Indigenous People, Bangsamoro, and Settlers; the participants also included Christian theology students from other parts of the country and Southeast Asia.
I pray that the hearts and minds of the listeners would be transformed by the Spirit of the Creator in accordance with the Creator’s purpose and will. For sure, my heart and my mind have been enriched by interacting with these young spiritual and religious leaders. I’m so hopeful for the future of peacebuilding as initiated by spiritual and religious leaders.