Muslims, United Methodists Pledge to Work for Peace
by Kathy L. Gilbert
DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UMNS) - As news of the killings of 14 Philippine Marines was splashed across newspapers, a group of United Methodist Christians and Muslim religious leaders met to discuss how to build a peaceful community.
The killing of the marines and other violent events are part of a cycle of bloody conflicts that have been raging in Mindanao, an island in the Philippines, for decades, according to Rebecca Asedillo, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
"The ones who suffer the most are innocent civilians," she added.
The Muslim-Christian Peace Building Dialogue was held July 8-10 at the Marco Polo Hotel. The dialogue -- which included 20 delegates each from The United Methodist Church and from Muslim communities -- was sponsored by the denomination’s Davao Episcopal area and the General Board of Global Ministries.
Participants were invited from 10 areas around Mindanao where United Methodist churches are established, explained the Rev. Jonathan Ulanday, assistant to Bishop Leo Soriano, Davao area.
Ulanday and Aleem Mahmod Mala L. Adilao, regional chair of the Ulamas of Southern Mindanao, were co-conveners of the event, which was attended by all three United Methodist bishops in the Philippines: Soriano, Solito K. Toquero, Manila area; and Benjamin A. Justo, Baguio area.
"It is our hope that on this journey as children of one God we may realize genuine shalom," said Soriano.
Soriano added that the unstable peace in Mindanao is not a religious one. "But religion can be an important instrument," he said. "It is our hope our churches will be one of the pieces that leads to peace."
Christians and Muslims were placed together as roommates for the event and Ulanday joked, "Please don't change your room assignments. We are attempting to blend two cultures, two faiths. It is good to see sultans and bishops in the same room."
The Rev. R. Randy Day, top executive with the General Board of Global Ministries, told the participants, "the promotion of justice, peace and freedom is a primary goal of my organization. This includes the building of communities of peace involving people of different religious backgrounds."
Day told the gathering his understanding of God was strongly influenced by his experiences in the Philippines as a student at Silliman University, Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental.
"I am convinced that peace is contagious--that it can spread from small as well as large examples," he said. "I also believe that we who are religious people bear a major responsibility for setting the examples, the models, of peace."
The delegates worked together to create and sign a covenant pledging to act together to bring a peaceful end to human rights violations; to continue to hold peace dialogues; to education of members of local churches and masjids, especially children, about each other's faith; and to understand and respect each other's religious practices.
The covenant ends with: "We pray for grace and guidance as we spread the good news of peace, understanding, respect and appreciation between Muslims and Christians throughout Mindanao and the whole world."
"We need to start with our own people, our own faith communities of United Methodists," said Asedillo. "Our intent is to motivate them to extend a hand to their Muslim neighbors that together they may be enabled to hear each other's stories."
One conference won't answer all the misunderstandings between Christians and Muslims she said, but there is hope.
"Through many turbulent times, people of different faiths have come together, oftentimes against the tide of public opinion to dare to believe that dialogue can happen, and when it happens, it can open up spaces for relating genuinely with each other and working together in efforts that would benefit the communities and build trust."
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
Date posted: Jul 24, 2007