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  September 5, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 15Oakland, CA

articles list

Churches mobilize with funds, prayers for hurricane victims

Houston Catholic parishes rally to aid arriving hurricane refugees

Safe Environment training aims
to protect children from abuse

Vatican review of all seminaries to begin in U.S. this month

Retreat for abuse survivors set for Oct. 8-9

Diocese has guidelines for abuse prevention

Catholic Conference aims to defeat marriage bill

Home for pregnant women in desperate need of funds

Nun remembered for her ‘life’ work

World Youth Day
Youth urged to reject ‘Do-it-Yourself’ religion

Pope makes historic gestures to Germany’s Muslims and Jews

Mindanao provides model for peacemaking

Honduran priest struggles for economic justice

New pastor hails spirit of W. Oakland parish

Hundreds of Catholics gather in Fremont for India Day

Prayers to end violence

























Mindanao provides model for peacemaking

I recently returned from the Philippines, where I participated in an international conference on “Peace Building” on the island of Mindanao. The conference was a creative effort to foster communication between academics and practitioners, including people described as “on the ground.”

The University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, supported by Catholic Relief Services, provided the initiative for this gathering. Those two groups have been cooperating in a visionary project to study effective peace building in areas of conflict throughout the world. They operate on the premise that Catholic social teaching makes peace building a responsibility.

We were joined in the Mindanao effort with personnel from Maryknoll; the Office of the International Justice and Peace of the Bishops’ Conference, a center from the Catholic University of America; the Saint Egidio community in the United States; and PAX Christi International. The aim of the conference was to engage with people involved in the peace process in the local area and to provide for a wide audience an information center for the best practices relating to peace.

Our visiting group involved 75 people from 21 countries, including a Dominican priest from Burundi, an organizer from Sudan, and a seminary rector from Uganda (who thought it would be a good idea if I went there next year to give a retreat). East Timor was represented, as were India and Pakistan. There were participants from Haiti and Colombia as well as Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. We were in the Philippines not to teach but to listen and learn.

Our gathering started in Davao, Mindanao’s principal city. Our group divided to spend the first two days in one of four places to view active Filipino programs. I went to the seminary in the Diocese of Kidapawan, a place I had visited 26 years ago. We were exposed to a remarkable dialogue that included Catholics, other Christians, and Muslim representatives. The dialogue also included representatives of 25 different ethnic groups who are an indigenous minority on the island.
With a sense of sophistication the Filipino Catholics told us that dialogue is not a strategy for conversions but an essential element to promote understanding in our mission as Christians, a position elucidated by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Bishop Romulo Valles told us of years of isolation, when he would drive through hostile Muslim villages without making any contact, a condition that has radically changed thanks in large part to the bishop’s inclusive efforts.

I was impressed with the freedom of the grassroots people to speak and the encouragement they were given to do so. One would have to be impressed too with the leadership of Filipino women, including Myla Leguro, an important organizer of our conference, who has been recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize.

We followed our listening experience with three days of presentations and conversation. We appreciated the perspective of Islam and the indigenous peoples. The Filipinos clearly showed that their association with one another had resulted in respect and even friendship. They graciously opened themselves to our presence.
We heard reports of the violent years — 1997 and 2001 to 2003. We learned, too, of the roots of conflict from Jesuit Bishop Francisco Claver. He told us that Mindanao was Muslim for 300 years but the Spanish occupation, the American and then the Filipino establishment all made an effort to subjugate and assimilate them.

The year 1913 was mentioned many times. I had not known that was the year that General John C. Pershing set the U.S. policy of bringing settlers from the north to Mindanao. In 1913, 76 percent of the population was Muslim. By 1939, it was reduced to 34 percent. In 1990 it fell to nearly 14 percent.

I could not help but compare it to Northern Ireland (where I had been in June for the ordination of our Father Aidan McAleenan) with its similar background of being overtaken by new settlers. I also thought of the words of a local Irish priest that there was little left of a center. No doubt the conversation had moved to extremes. Not so in Mindanao.

I admired their premises. First of all, forgiveness is an expectation. Dialogue is not a means to convert but to learn about the other and then hopefully to serve. One woman told me how she and her partners realized early in their dialogue that her Christian children would not be
safe unless the Muslim children also were safe.

Second, common effort mobilized local resources. The majority Catholic community was convinced of the capability of the Church, with its parishes everywhere and its presence within communities. It reminded me of my days at the California Catholic Conference in Sacramento when a woman newly appointed to prepare program policy for the elderly wanted to be in contact with our parishes because, she said, “You have more parishes than there are post offices.”

Third, the Mindanao efforts are backed by the large compendium of Catholic social teaching in addition to the writings and directions of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, the document that came from the Synod of the Church in Asia and, of course, the enormous resources of the religious traditions represented: Dominican, Jesuit, Sacred Hearts, Maryknoll and others.

Difficulties were alluded to. More than one Filipino referred to “imperial Manila.” Some decried the large presence of military on the island. They realized that globalization could damage some of their best efforts. There was little reference to the Communist element and the rebel New Peoples Army.

Despite the difficulties, the group operates with great conviction as well as deep practical sense of their peacemaking accomplishments. A woman from the village near Kidapawan told me simply how she and her neighbors were now free to come out of their homes in the evening.

One of the Notre Dame people described this project as “powerfully Catholic” with its clear directions from Scripture, the implications that flow from the dignity of the human person and the promise of forming community. I would add the teaching from the Second Vatican Council on the Church in the Modern World.

The problems of peace and disarmament are not to be left to a few people. Governments rely to a large extent on public opinion and public attitudes. The Council document states, “Those engaged in the work of education, especially education of youth, and the people who mold public opinion, should regard it as their most important task, to instill peaceful sentiments in people’s minds.” Mindanao is doing that.

Filipino Catholics find the roots of their social activism in prayer and Scripture.

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