ALABEL, Sarangani (UCAN / 24 Aug) Bishops and Islamic scholars from Indonesia and the southern Philippines have agreed to collaborate to build peace in their region.
Peace building was the focus of the First Indonesia-Mindanao Bishops-Ulama (Islamic scholar) Network (IMBUN) preparatory meeting last week in Alabel town in Sarangani province in the southern Philippines, 1,045 kilometers southeast of Manila.
The delegation from Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, comprised three Catholic bishops, three Islamic scholars, a Protestant theologian and a Protestant pastor. The southern Philippines was represented by seven Catholic and Protestant bishops, three Islamic scholars and a Protestant laywoman.
The Philippines, which has the largest Christian population in Asia, also has a Muslim minority concentrated in Mindanao. Participants from each country met first in separate groups of Catholics, Protestants and ulama. Next the delegates from both countries joined together in these same three groupings. All then came together for a plenary session.
Asked to discuss "key trends" in their countries, they examined social justice, failure of democracy, religious fanaticism and failure of governments to take care of the poor. They also shared experiences of how "outdated" constitutions in their countries lead to government restrictions and how multinational ventures with "elite" in their countries cause problems.
Philippine Catholic bishops described Basic Ecclesial Community programs aimed at forming Church members to help uplift their communities. Archbishop Aloysius Sudarso of Palembang, South Sumatra, reported on a parallel program in Indonesia to form Basic Human Communities that involve and serve Muslims and Christians.
During the plenary, Shari'a (Islamic law) judge Ali Alonto of Marawi City, north of Sarangani, reported that the ulama group spent most of its time discussing causes of poverty and the need for continuing dialogue between Ulama League of the Philippines and its counterpart, Majelis Ulama Indonesia.
He said the ulama agreed to explore how to develop commerce between their two countries and would look into including Muslim women in dialogues with businessmen in both countries.
Bishop Emeritus Hilario Gomez of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, reported that discussions of the Protestant leaders stressed the role of education in eradicating poverty and building peace. He said Christian leaders proposed to seek funds for media productions promoting the ideals of peace, reconciliation and development in the two countries.
The leaders believe new approaches to education are needed to demolish "old stereotypes that cause hatred and hurt" among people of various religions, Bishop Gomez explained.
Aside from Archbishop Sudarso, the Indonesian Catholic delegation comprised Archbishop Johannes Liku-Ada of Makassar and Sacred Heart Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina (Ambon).
Islamic scholars from Indonesia included Nur Fahdil Lubis, H. Muhammad Mgoddas and Atho Mohamad Mudzar. Indonesian Protestant theologian Robinson Radjagukguk of Sekolah Tinggi Theologi Jakarta, who is teaching in Silliman University in the central Philippines, attended the meeting with Reverend Krise Golsal of the Evangelical Church in North Sulawesi, the lone female Indonesian delegate.
Philippine Catholic delegates included Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) convener Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines vice president Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, and Bishops Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel and Edwin de la Pena of Marawi.
Aside from Bishop Gomez, Protestant convener of the BUC, Bishops Danilo Bustamante of the Philippine Episcopal Church and Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church in Davao City, represented southern Philippine Protestants, along with Purita Bahande from the UCCP in Lanao del Sur province.
Local Islamic scholars included Mahid Mutilan, president of the Ulama League of the Philippines, who led the local ulama delegation, which included Alonto and Professor Shariff Jullabi, of Zamboanga City.
"We are for peace and we are building hope for everybody. Peace is important to everyone and without peace there will be no harmony and unity," Jullabi told the online newspaper the Mindanao Examiner.
The delegates also toured spots in Marbel diocese, which covers General Santos City, all of southern Cotabato province and Sarangani, as well as parts of Sultan Kudarat Province. Archbishop Liku-Ada told UCA News he was impressed most by the visit to Archbishop Capalla's residence in Davao City.
"I saw people of all faiths not only sitting and eating together, but they also stayed overnight in the bishop's house," the archbishop of Makassar said. "You would never see that in Indonesia," the prelate remarked. "It was wonderful."
After the IMBUN meeting, the Indonesians stayed as observers at the Aug. 18-19 BUC General Assembly in General Santos City. Archbishop Ledesma, who chairs the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue, told reporters at the end of the assembly that the Philippine bishops and ulama at the meeting planned for the annual Mindanao Week of Peace and Youth Camp held the last week of November.
He reported that the BUC invited Indonesian bishops to send six youths each from Christian and Muslim groups to this year's commemoration. The prelate explained that the religious leaders agree "there is a need to work with and prepare young leaders" for peace movements in Indonesia and the Philippines.
The archbishop said a second IMBUN meeting has been set for February 2007.The U.S. Church's Catholic Relief Services and The Asia Foundation sponsored the meeting as a follow up to recommendations of the 2003 Asian Gathering of Muslim Ulama and Christian Bishops. That gathering in Manila resolved to work on developing a region-wide forum for interreligious dialogue.
The Asia Foundation, an NGO based in San Francisco, California, says it promotes the development of peace and justice in the Asia-Pacific Region.According to Islamicwebsite.com, Indonesia is home to more than 182 million Muslims, 88 percent of its 207-million population. The 2000 census in the Philippines recorded 70.4 million Christians living in the country. (With a report from Mark Navales)