ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Prayer, forgiveness, reconciliation in 20 years of Christian-Muslim dialogue in southern Philippines for Silsilah Movement founded by a Catholic missionary from Italy

Thursday, 13 May 2004

Zamboanga (Fides Service) - Twenty years ago it seemed a utopia, the idea of a visionary: today Silsilah Movement for Christian-Muslim dialogue is a splendid reality in Mindanao, where there is Muslim minority group of about 5 million.
It was an Italian missionary, Father Sebastiano D’Ambra a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions who got together 20 years ago with a few local Muslims to build Harmony Village in the outskirts of the city of Zamboanga where religious and lay persons and families, Christian and Muslim could live truly in harmony.
Today through their life style and witness the members of the community are dedicated to promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims and spreading a message of peace and tolerance. The Silsilah movement, which means chain in the local language, with its Cultural Institute has become a point of reference for the local people and many young people, students and families come to stay at the village for a while to live an experience of formation in dialogue and living in harmony, to discover common values and shared beliefs and how to build relations of reciprocal acceptance and respect and also discover the advantages of social and religious harmony.
On May 9 Silsilah celebrated its 20th anniversary. The movement has experienced times of crisis and doubt: for example the assassination of PIME Father Salvatore Carzedda, working with Silsilah, killed by an extremist in May 1992. But Father D’Ambra resisted, true to the Village’s motto Padayon meaning, “Take courage, do not give up”.
“Our secret - Father D’Ambra told Fides- is our faith in God, our faith in the power of prayer, forgiveness, reconciliation, our hope in Divine Providence. We are also helped by many friends who encourage us to continue along the path of dialogue which builds solidarity and peace. Today we are happy to look back and see the fruits of Silislah in 20 years of activity although we know the path ahead is still long”.
To mark the anniversary film director Marilou Diaz Abaya will present a 45 minute documentary film “The Silsilah, Movement for Dialogue, for the Peace of God”, offering an overall vision of the spirit and activity of the movement. In these twenty years more than 3,000 young Christians and Muslims have followed courses organised by Silsilah and many have started initiatives of Christian-Muslim dialogue in other parts of the Philippines and even in other countries.
Silsilah operates in the southern area of the south Philippines islands Mindanao where there is a large Muslim community and where armed separatist and such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are very active. Zamboanga overlooks the Sulu archipelago home-base of the Abu Syyaf terrorist group perpetrator of several kidnappings and attacks in recent years and which some observers say is linked with the Al Qaeda network. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/05/2004 Lines: 54 Words: 540)