UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter


MANILA, PHILIPPINES-- The Peacemakers' Circle CC, with the help of its network of partners in SOWING PEACE FOR MINDANAO (SPM), the U.S. Embassy in Manila, and the Mindanao Peoples' Caucus, successfully followed up the series of projects and activities they conducted (from August to October) with a dialogue workshop-forum last October 23, 2008. This was entitled: IN SEARCH FOR PEACE IN MINDANAO: Engaging the Moral Imagination in Community Dialogue and Relationship- Building (a leaders' dialogue workshop-forum).

The forum was inspired by the two-year training that some members of The Peacemakers' Circle underwent as representatives of the Philippine Team to the Peacebuilding Training Program of the United Religions Initiative (URI). The training was designed and conducted by Dr. John Paul Lederach and Dr. Herm Weaver. Dr. Lederach was the author of the book (entitled, "Moral Imagination: Art and Soul of Building Peace") that inspired the two-year training under him. He is one of the world's foremost experts on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding, and he pioneered the Conflict Transformation Program of the Eastern Mennonite University.

The October 23 workshop-forum was held at the Hotel Rembrandt in Quezon City and was hosted by Jasmin N. Galace of the Center for Peace Education of Miriam College. Over one hundred representatives of organizations from various sectors of society--government, media, civil society, academe, religious and interfaith institutions, and the diplomatic community-- attended.

It started with a solemn interfaith opening prayer ritual led by Orlan de Guzman, Jr (indigenous tradition), Shakuntala Vaswani (Hindu), Fr. Leonardo Mercado, SVD (Catholic Christian), Aleem Said Basher (Muslim), and visiting Australian Jessiee Kaur Singh (Sikh).

Welcome remarks were given by Marites Africa, followed by an introduction to Dr. John Paul Lederach's book on the Moral Imagination by Dr. Abdulhusin "Jo" Kashim.

The workshop-forum aimed to help participants awaken to and engage the moral imagination in the endeavor of building lasting peace in Mindanao. It was emphasized that the moral imagination focuses on the centrality of relationships, and these relationships can be built through deep dialogue and heart listening.

Marites Africa gave an introduction to interfaith dialogue, and guidelines to heart listening (based on the book of Kay Lindhal). This was in preparation for the Listening Circle with Atty. Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao Peoples' Caucus, Musa Sanguila of Pakidgait in Kauswagan (Lanao del Norte), and three evacuees--Samira Usman (Pikit), Mashod Salik (Datu Piang), and Brenda Alvarico (Midsayap)--sharing their experiences of the war in Mindanao. Angelina Herrera of the Binhi ng Kapayapaan, Inc. facilitated the circle.

The stories shared by the Mindanaoans were heart-rending and the reflections and responses that followed affirmed the difficulties of their plight, and reiterated the general concern to help address the challenges to peace in Mindanao.

The afternoon session brought groups of people sitting around the table together to share their thoughts and reflections on what struck them most from the sharings, and about ways to collectively respond to the challenges and contribute towards peace in Mindanao.

After Dr. Kashim synthesized the presentations made by each group, Sr. Arnold Maria Noel of (Balay Rehabilitation Center) and Djalia Hataman (Anak Mindanao) of the Sowing Peace for Mindanao network presented to the assembly the SPM contributions to the endeavor of promoting ways forward for peace in Mindanao.
Before the afternoon ended, a brief inspirational message from Dr. John Paul Lederach himself (who flew in earlier from Nepal for a brief visit to the Philippines) energized the assembly.
It was a moment of heartwarming synchronicity for the Peacemakers' Circle and this augured well for the training workshops on ENGAGING THE MORAL IMAGINATION IN GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY DIALOGUE AND PEACEBUILDING that the Peacemakers' Circle is hoping to conduct for various communities in Mindanao (and elsewhere in the country) in its effort to help bring forth a transformative cultural force for lasting peace in the country.

A Million Signatures for "Yes! We Unite in Sowing Peace for Mindanao"

We, people for peace of diverse cultures and beliefs from different walks of life in the Philippines, unite in the endeavor to support our brothers and sisters who are being adversely affected by the escalation of conflict in Mindanao.

We unite because we are concerned that the renewed fighting between the renegade factions of the MILF and government troops is awakening old fears and attitudes of mistrust, and fomenting division among peace-loving Muslims, Christians and Lumads in the war-torn grassroots communities in central Mindanao. This is polarizing our people and creating huge obstacles to our path to peace.

We unite in the belief that peace is possible. But peace can only come about if we look at one another anew as brothers and sisters and see the same hopes, dreams and aspirations reflected in each other's eyes; and if we begin to listen more deeply to each other and hear our pain echoed in each other's heart.

We unite in our appeal to all those who are concerned for the peace and wellbeing of our country—our leaders of government, the military and armed forces, the rebel groups, and the various sectors of our society including the media, and the religious and academic institutions—to join us in sowing peace for Mindanao.

We unite in the endeavor to sow the seeds of peace, justice, and healing for our ailing brothers and sisters in Mindanao and to tend to the wounds that are alienating us from each other in our country.

We unite with all individuals, groups and organizations in the country whose efforts for peace are in keeping with the spirit of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation…

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URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.