Christian-Muslim relations in PH ‘improving,’ but mediator warns of ‘systematic plan’ to worsen division

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ZAMBOANGA City, May 10, 2013—After 35 years of doing mission work in Southern Philippines, the Italian founder of Silsilah Dialogue Movement (Silsilah) claimed that while Christian-Muslim relations have been improving through the years, there are still outside forces that systematically plan on worsening the division. 

Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME made the assessment on the status of Christian-Muslim relations in Mindanao in a message he sent to the CBCP Media Office before celebrating his 71st birthday yesterday.

D’Ambra arrived in Mindanao in 1977 and founded Silsilah in 1984 in an aim to help mend the wounds of the “Moro conflict” in the 1970’s through dialogue and reconciliation.  

But after spending half of his life in the Philippines and 30 years of advocating dialogue among Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, D’Ambra admitted that fear and hatred among the two religious groups are still “visible.” 

“One of the things that I observed, since the beginning of Silsilah Dialogue was the ‘prejudices and biases’ as part of the life and culture of many Christians and Muslims. Both groups carry up to now the emotional ‘wounds’ of experiences of violence and division. Thus, fear and hatred of Muslims against Christians and vice versa, are still visible,” he said. 

But D’Ambra expressed optimism in the eventual reconciliation of Filipino Christians and Muslims, especially with the experience of Silsilah as a movement. 

“I am convinced that religions sometimes can be occasions of division and conflict, but our dream has to approach religions as instruments of dialogue and peace. After thirty five years from my arrival in the Philippines and almost thirty years since the beginning of Silsilah as movement for dialogue and peace, I see many signs of hope,” he said. 

While there are signs of improvement in the Christian-Muslim relations, the Italian missionary however warned about a systematic plan of ideological-religious groups that advocate violence and worsen the existing conflict. 

“The relationship among Christians and Muslims is improving, but at the same time today we experience alarming ‘ideological-religious groups’ that advocate forms of violence often coming from outside of the Philippines. Today there are those who are systematically planning to divide Muslims and Christians, using all the strategies, including religion and geo-political strategies,” D’Ambra added. 

Nevertheless, the priest expressed optimism despite the increasing secularism and globalization, saying global communication is also becoming a powerful means to forge dialogue and reconciliation among Muslims and Christians.   

D’Ambra cited the open letter of at least 138 respected Muslim scholars of the world to Pope Benedict XVI in the year 2007.   

“This letter ends by saying: ‘… So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to one another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.’

“And I add: ‘let as continue our revolution of the heart that guides us to rediscover that we are brothers and sisters created and loved by the same God.’ With this hope it is worthy for me to continue my mission here up to the end of my life,” D’Ambra added. (KB/CBCPNews)

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