MANILA, August 19, 2003  (STAR) FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas   - Today is the second of a three-day historic event. For the first time religious leaders of Islam and Christianity in Asia are meeting at the Westin Philippine Plaza – an unprecedented gathering in the region’s religious history.

Sixty nine Muslim ulama, 68 Catholic priests and 35 Protestant religious leaders are reflecting and talking about the conflicts affecting them as Christians and Muslims in Asia in order discern "the most effective ways" to respond to them from the standpoint of their respective faiths.

President Macapagal-Arroyo, recognizing the significance of the event, was scheduled last night to address the gathering of religious leaders. The keynote address is to be given by the Jesuit Provincial superior in the Philippines – Fr. Romeo J. Integan, S.J. The president of the World Mission Call Society, Dr. Mohammad Al Sharief of Libya, and Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will speak on Islam and Christianity as religions of peace, respectively.

The religious leaders come from the strife-torn countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and India, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, East Timor, Myanmar, Libya, Switzerland, United Kingdom, the United States, and the Vatican.

In workshops discussing global conflicts especially in Asia which affect Christian-Muslim relations, they will focus on the theme, "Seeking Peace and Development through an Authentic Christian-Muslim Dialogue of Life in Asia." Tomorrow, closing day, they will come up with a covenant of peace.

The event is sponsored by the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) of Mindanao in collaboration with the offices of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Presidential Adviser on Special Concerns.

The event is a high point in the existence of BUC, which was formed as the Bishops-Ulama Forum in November 1996, and has held dialogues among the Catholic Mindanao bishops, Muslim religious leaders or ulama, and Protestant bishops to affirm their common commitment to the peace process. Twenty such dialogues have been held in several places in Mindanao, led by the BUC officers, namely Catholic Archbishop Fernando R. Capalla of Davao; Dr. Mahid M. Mutilan, president of the Ulama League of the Philippines, Catholic Bishop Antonio J. Ledesma, and Bishop Hilario M. Gomez, former General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines who represents the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

At a press conference, Archbishop Capalla said the gathering this week is important in the healing of wounds among Muslims and Christians, particularly during these times when "some people" are "making reconciliation difficult" and using religion as a cover for their terrorist activities. He also quoted bishop Gomez, who was sitting on his left, as having said that the religious organizations "should not be sources of conflict, but sources of peace."

The archbishop, who is a government representative to the newly-formed Government of the Philippines (GRP)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel, said that a "solidarity group" that is hoped to be formed during the conference of Asian religious leaders aims to "intervene" in areas of conflict.

For his part, Bishop Gomez said that while economic assistance to Muslims is not enough to heal wounds that have festered for a long time. "They will still hate you," he said, adding that "there can be no peace in Mindanao without reconciliation." Defining the Christian message of healing as possible in "the fullness of time," he added that peace is "not merely the cessation of hostilities, it should be taken wholistically."

With the 20 dialogues held over seven years by religious leaders in Mindanao, some breakthroughs in warming up relations have been made. Archbishop Capalla said that after the dialogues began, for the first time bishops and ulama broke bread together – "something that did not happen before," and dialogues held among Christian and Muslim youths were held. Young people in Mindanao, he said, do not feel the wounds of their fathers and forefathers, and with education and information, they can become effective peacemakers.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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