Mission World - January/February 2022

A pitch for lasting peace

Bringing peace to turbulent regions has proven an elusive challenge. Military intervention has been a popular go to tactic, but tends to become more part of the problem than the solution.

While politics, both national and local, as well as government programmes are important in addressing tensions in society, they are most powerful when built from the bottom up. Peace-making is very much the business of people-to-people relationships and community-based projects that promote understanding ahead of prejudice and ignorance.

Italian missionary, Fr Sebastiano D’Ambra, says that conflict in the southern province of Mindanao in the Philippines has deep roots in its violent colonial history, which has resulted in a lot of victims, prejudice and hatred between Christians and Muslims, as well as poverty. It is within this context he was inspired to found the Silsilah (Life in Dialogue) Dialogue Movement in 1984, with the specific purpose of building peace from a spiritual starting point based on love and dialogue.

As a newly ordained Columban, Fr Paul Glynn joined the initiative when he arrived in Mindanao in the mid-1990s. Fr Glynn says Fr D’Ambra understands that every time a Christian parent or grandparent tells a child, ‘the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim’, or a Muslim instructs a child not to make friends with Christians, ‘because they have bad morals’, the walls of hate, fear and prejudice grow even higher, and the prospect of peace more elusive.

Fr Glynn describes overcoming these obstacles as a long-term project and believes the main reason for mistrust between these two groups is ignorance of each other’s beliefs and cultures. “That is why Silsilah devotes so much of its energy and creativity to inviting Muslims and Christians to come together to talk and listen to each other’s stories; to share faith and listen to each other’s languages and cultural practices,” Fr Glynn says.

This is done through regular visits to each other’s places of worship and joining in each other’s festivals and religious celebrations, as well as jointly sponsoring social and poverty relief programmes. “One of the greatest enemies of peace in Mindanao is disinformation… around practices like prayer and fasting,” he said, adding that another area is care for creation, as each group has different ways of going about this, leading to conflict rather than cooperation. Fr Glynn explains that together with the many volunteers working with Silsilah he has visited countless parishes, mosques, schools and civic organisations in this search for a better, mutual understanding, as well as conducting in-depth workshops in some 15 conflict areas.

“We have trained catechists to promote a culture of respect and understanding for differing religions and cultures in schools through puppetry, and Muslim members of the team have taken these to madrassas and schools in their own areas of contact.” The work of the Silsilah has been expanding since its foundation in 1984 and recognised internationally with the awarding of the World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize sponsored by the king of Jordan. The United Nations has also given recognition and the Japanese Goi Peace Foundation described Silsilah as not only advancing lasting peace, but inspiring many people around the world with an example of true dialogue based on spirituality.

This article was written on behalf of St Columbans Mission Society.

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Mission Intention for January/February 2022

January - For true human fraternity: We pray for all those suffering from religious discrimination and persecution; may their own rights and dignity, which originate from being brothers and sisters in the human family be recognised.

February - For religious sisters and consecrated women: We pray for religious sisters and consecrated women; thanking them for their mission and their courage; may they continue to find new responses to the challenges of our times.

We ask your prayers:

The prayers of our readers are requested for the repose of the souls of friends and benefactors of the Missionary Society of St Columban who died recently and for the spiritual and the temporal welfare of all our readers, their families and friends.

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