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2020: The Year of Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue

2020: The Year of Ecumenical and  Interreligious Dialogue

In preparation for the celebration of the fifth centenary of Christianity in the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines wants the Church to focus its attention on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue starting the first Sunday of Advent this year and throughout 2020.

As we look at the 500 years of evangelization in the country, we bear in mind that it was only in the last 50 years that ecumenical and interreligious dialogue has taken place.  Thus, for over four and a half centuries there was a general animosity vis-à-vis other Christian denominations and religious like Islam. This is understandable when we take into consideration that when the Spanish missionaries came the Muslim Moors had just been driven out of Spain after eight centuries of occupation. The 16th century was also the period of Protestant Reformation. Under the Patronato Real, Catholicism was the official religion of the state which did not tolerate other Christian denominations and religions.

The efforts of Spanish conquistadores to subjugate the indigenous peoples of Mindanao many of whom were Muslims as well as the Moro raids on the Christian settlements in Mindanao and Visayas created a climate of enmity and distrust. The moro-moro play introduced by the Spanish missionaries further deepened the prejudice. With the withdrawal of Spain after three centuries of colonial rule and the American imperial rule for half a century the mistrust continued. The Aglipayan schism and the arrival of American protestant missionaries as well as the influx of Christian settlers in Mindanao did not make dialogue possible. Muslims regarded Christians as land-grabbers. Christians had a saying: “a good moro is a dead moro.

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue only started after Vatican II which provided a more positive outlook towards other Christian denominations and religions. Before the closing of Vatican II, Paul VI issued the apostolic exhortation Ecclesiam Suam which laid down the vision of the Church of Dialogue – dialogue with the world, dialogue with other Christian denominations, dialogue with other religions and dialogue within the Church. The Vatican II document Redentegratio  Unitatis focused on Ecumenical dialogue while Nostra Aetate promoted Interreligious dialogue. By the late 1970s, Christian-Muslim dialogue became the priority of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference with the introduction of Duyog Ramadan. Much later, the Bishops-Ulama Forum was formed composed of Catholic bishops, Muslim Ulamas and Protestant Religious leaders in Mindanao. The Imam-Priests-Pastors Forum was also organized. The Silsilah dialogue movement was launched as well as grassroots efforts in Christian-Muslim dialogue of life and faith. The focus of Ecumenical and Interreligious dialogue was the dialogue of life and faith which also integrated the dialogue of praxis that promoted collaboration in the work for justice, peace and integrity of creation. The Christian-Muslim dialogue of life and action continues in the program called Duyog Marawi which was formed in the wake of the destruction of Marawi as a result of the War between the Government Troops and Maute group.

The dialogue of praxis which characterizes ecumenism in the Philippines was carried out under Martial Law and in the post-Marcos era. It continues today with the promotion of peace process between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front by the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF) and the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP).

In 2012, the CBCP Pastoral Letter described what the year 2020 entails:

“This year will be devoted to exploring new ways of being community through ecumenical and inter-religious relationships and action. Caritas in veritate, open, honest, respectful—loving—dialogue of life, prayer and action is the only way towards community. At stake are the great values of peace and harmony, particularly in areas of armed conflict, solidarity in the struggle for social change, unity in healing social ills, integrity and social justice in our land.”

As the Church celebrates 2020 as the Year of Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue, there is a need to look back and seek forgiveness, reconciliation and healing for the wounds that resulted due to the absence of tolerance and dialogue. It is also important that we appreciate the achievements over the last 50 years and continue what has been started and search for new ways and form in carrying out the dialogue of life, prayer and action in our time and the decades to come.

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue requires building bridges rather than walls as we focus on what unites us rather than what divides us. This means recognizing that we are brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends, fellow Filipinos. This requires finding ways to carry forward the dialogue of life and faith as well as the dialogue of action. There are common issues that we need to address together: poverty, drug addiction, the armed conflict, human rights violations, extra-judicial killings, environmental destruction/climate change, natural calamities, etc. We look to the future with hope as we journey together to achieve harmony, peace and justice.