Christians dispossessed and silenced in Mindanao

» 09/29/2011 12:46
PHILIPPINES

In Jolo, Marawi and Basilan, Christians are afraid to express their faith. Because of constant attacks and kidnappings, the churches can only be entered through a side door, guarded 24hrs. The experience of Muslim-Christian dialogue proposed by Silsilah.

Manila (AsiaNews) – In Jolo, Marawi, Basilan and other areas of Mindanao, the Christian minority is suffering harassment and pressure from the Muslim population, AsiaNews’ sources in Mindanao say. Government officials are forcing Christians to sell their land to make room for Chinese industries.

According to sources, the climate of impunity, the abductions, the continuing clashes between the army and extremist Islamic groups and the economic crisis have created an unbearable atmosphere for the Christian population, who are afraid to express their faith in public.

“Jolo Cathedral”, they explain, “is located at the center of the city, and has always been a symbol of unity and friendship between Muslims and Christians. Until a few years ago, the main door was open at all hours, but due to the continuous episodes of vandalism, the Cathedral can now be accessed only through the side entrance. The churchyard is guarded day and night by military and police.”

Sources say that the situation is the same in Basilan and Cotabato. Here in recent weeks both churches were hit with paper bombs that damaged the part of the walls and windows. These acts provide publicity for the young extremists, who learn intolerance against Christians from unscrupulous preachers, often funded by foreign countries, who aim to spread a restrictive and fundamentalist vision of Islam. “The situation is very difficult”, AsiaNews sources explain, “Christians are not permitted to react. The only alternative to escape is to suffer these abuses in silence.”

For Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME missionary in Zamboanga and founder of Silsilah (“chain”), a movement for interreligious dialogue, there are nevertheless some signs of hope that could change the future situation of these provinces, considered the most dangerous on the entire archipelago. “In Basilan”, he says, “we have organized a series of meetings with Muslim and Christian leaders where we recounted our experience of interreligious dialogue made in other cities and listened to the problems experienced by the local population. This has sparked a relationship among the various local religious leaders, including the bishop and high Islamic authorities, who for several months have been collaborating to address the problems of the two communities.”

From this experience of dialogue was born the Interfaith Council of Leaders, which aims to get Christians and Muslims to meet to discuss concrete facts and not theoretical problems. For example, the priest explains that Basilan’s population has no access to electricity. To solicit the government, representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities wrote a manifesto of protest, with some concrete proposals useful in addressing the problem.

“What we propose”, said Fr. D’Ambra, “is a spirit of dialogue that touches on all aspects, not only matters of religion. Our task is not simply to speak of dialogue, but to respond in a concrete way to the reality that surrounds us.”

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