The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) headed by its National Director, Bishop Noel Pantoja, together with a group of Evangelical theologians and professors had an interfaith dialogue with a group of Muslim religious leaders, professors, and Shari’a jurists headed by Ustadz Abdulkadir Abubakar. This was held last 24-25 October 2015 at the Southern Christian College in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
The sessions where actual dialogue were happening were facilitated by Joseph Ongkiko, Director of the Center for Transformational Development (CTD) of the Asian School of Development and Cross-cultural Studies and member of the PCEC Peace and Reconciliation Commission (PARCom). The group engaged in different activities, workshops and they even had a time to loosen up by some games and presentations.
The need for this inter-faith dialogue was conceptualized during a PARCom meeting last 22-26 June 2015 in Tagaytay City. In a telephone conversation between Dr. Aldrin Penamora (Manager of PCEC Christian-Muslim Research Center), Ustadz Abdulkadir Abubakar (Executive Director of the Bangsamoro Development Resource Center and a Strategic Consultant at PeaceBuilders Community), and Rev. Luis Daniel Alba Pantoja (Executive Director of PCEC PARCom and President of PeaceBuilders Community), there was a mutual realization —
- that there was a growing misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims due to the Mamasapano Incident where 44 government soldiers and 13 Moro fighters were killed in a clash during the early hours of 25 January 2015;
- that an on-going armed clashes between government troops and Moro fighters might escalate due to the calls of some hawkish groups, from both the Christian and Muslim camps, which were given prominence in the major media outlets;
- that a face-to-face dialogue between Christian and Muslim religious leaders would be critical to build understanding between the two conflicting groups of people; and,
- that through the spiritual influence of Christian and Muslim leaders, they would seek to help lower the psycho-social tension caused by the Mamasapano Incident among their respective communities.
Ustadz Abubakar and Dr. Penamora coordinated with each other in selecting key leaders from the two religious groups. Bishop Noel Pantoja led his PCEC team in pursuing the realization of this plan.
Wendy Kroeker, a Co-Director of the Canadian School of Peacebuilding and specializes in community conflict transformation processes together with her partner, Dr. Gordon Zerbe, the Academic Vice President of Canadian Mennonite University joined and participated the said dialogue. Zerbe and Kroeker were also involved in mentoring staff and volunteers at PeaceBuilders Community.
Participants from both religious groups highlighted the following after the event:
- Building significant relationships;
- Bridging understanding;
- Seeking common grounds and words;
- Learning and listening from one another;
- Sharing our stories and journeys;
- Following Jesus in the path of radical love, peace and reconciliation;
- Creating a culture of peace.
Both groups expressed that they will journey together and be catalysts for peace not only in Mindanao but to the whole Philippines.