CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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Don’t destroy the good relations of the past

ZAMBOANGA (SE): An emergency appeal over rising tensions between Christians and Muslims in Jolo, Sulu province, from Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, a long time promoter of interfaith dialogue and peaceful relations among rival religious and ethnic groups, says the good work done by people in the past is being destroyed.

The director of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement based in Zamboanga City, called on local and national government officials on August 4 to act to pacify the brewing tension in a statement posted by CBCP News.

Father D’Ambra decried what he called the worsening persecution of Christians in Jolo, saying, “The beautiful relationship between Christians and Muslims in Jolo is no longer a reality. Many Christian Chinese have left and many other Christians are planning to leave if they have a chance.”

He added, “Many live now in fear in Jolo and this is what the bad elements, who claim to perpetuate violence in the name of Islam, exploit.

The Christians are afraid to talk, afraid to go to Church, even if there are military watching the cathedral in the centre of the city.”

He pointed to a recent murder of a Christian in Jolo and a plan to neutralise or kidnap several others that is strongly rumoured and has instilled fear into the Christian population.

However, Father D’Ambra said that this is only half of the problem, as the rebels also find reason to kill any Muslim they consider to be an infidel (kafir).

“The situation is also alarming for good Muslims, because today the bad elements find reasons to kill Muslims too, saying that some are kafir, like Christians. They forget the great tradition of Islam to respect Christians as people of the book,” the Italian priest from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions explained.

Despite the brewing tension in Jolo, Father D’Ambra said the only solution that anyone has come up with to date is pointing the finger at the authorities and this can never be a real solution to the problem.

However, he seriously questions their silence during what for many people is a life and death situation.

“Why are national and local leaders of different sectors in authority silent? And why do those who have power not act and find proper solutions?” he queried.

“We hear some voices, even among the military, who complain and point the finger in the right direction, but we do not yet see any relevant solutions,” he lamented.

Father D’Ambra is appealing directly to the Christian and Muslim communities alike to work together to restore the lost harmony across the island.

“I appeal to all, especially to Muslim leaders, who are part of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, as part of the Interfaith Council of Leaders, those who have attended the different courses on dialogue and peace promoted by Silsilah, those who receive our Silsilah Calendar, those who have been trained by Silsilah as Madaris Gurus for dialogue and peace, those young people who have been part of the SilPeace Programme of Silsilah and other respected leaders,” he said in an appeal not to waste the enormous effort that has already been put into promoting better relationships.

He described his appeal as being to everyone, because, in fact, every resident of Jolo cares deeply about the situation.

“Like many of you, we dream of a future peace in Jolo, where all are respected and free to pray following their own religion,” he said.

Father D’Ambra also called on Muslim tribal leaders in Jolo to take action.

“I have been in Mindanao for 40 years and I know that the Tausugs of Jolo are courageous. I appeal to the courage and goodness of the people of Jolo before it is too late and the world accuses you of being silent during the agony of the Christian community of Jolo, as well the agony of other Muslims,” he said.

“In sharing this painful reflection and reality about Jolo, I am convinced that the situation can improve and Jolo can again become a beautiful place where all can go and live,” Father D’Ambra concluded.

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