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A war not so far

A war not so far

IT has been a cruel war by all accounts. And it is still raging, despite government’s assurances of finishing it in a matter of days. But who is to tell if it won’t last some days or weeks more? Who is to predict whether or not it won’t sprout again somewhere else in Mindanao or the archipelago? We see and hear reports from both visual and print media in details sometimes too graphic to watch or imagine. Marawi in some respects has become a heap of ruins, a phantom of Aleppo transported from Syria. When anyone is tempted to score the Marawi incident like a sports game by going to the casualty counts on each side, he suddenly realizes real lives have been either lost or suspended in a limbo of fear-filled uncertainty.

War is never a sport. It is a living horror; a piece of hell. All it takes is a little empathy to come to that realization. I have often imagined myself in the shoes of the hostages, not least Fr Chito and his companions, and other nameless, trapped civilians. And it isn’t too hard to guess the hope or horror they have been going through just by waiting–for rescue or death.

This war has brought out the worst in people as well as their best. Terrorists shooting people indiscriminately, desecrating and destroying religious images and articles at St Mary’s Cathedral, ordering non-Muslims to recite Muslim prayers before shooting them to death, using civilians and mosques as shields against military attacks reveal the cowardly inhumanity of the Maute groups and their foreign allies. But we cannot miss the Muslim individuals and families shielding, hiding and saving Christian friends and neighbors from exposure to the terrorists and death, at times risking their own lives to save others, Muslims and Christians jointly giving relief goods and services to war victims, civilian rescue teams braving sniper bullets or other life-threatening risks to locate and bring out helpless victims to safety–all these show that the forces of good are not allowing evil to have the last say. Such goodness can only point to the good God at work in people’s hearts and consciences.

It was especially both gut-wrenching and moving to hear stories of heroism and even martyrdom. A soldier, trapped and surrounded by terrorists, asking his commanding officer to bomb his location so the terrorists (his tormentors) could be stopped tugs at every patriot’s inner core. But a police officer’s last act struck me as perhaps a martyrdom as well. Surrounded with hooded men who ordered him to kneel and recite their approved prayers, he refused to do so, not giving up his Catholic faith. He was summarily shot but by then he was able to give the signal for his family and other potential victims to flee to safety. To me he should be recognized both as a hero for helping to save others and a voiceless martyr for holding on to his faith even at the cost of death.

We in Eastern Samar are not too far from Mindanao. The presence of Muslim communities who have fled Mindanao among us is proof of that. Inevitably the question is raised as to the possibility of a spillover of the Mindanao conflict into our shores. That fear has to be addressed by the government, the local Church and the concerned communities themselves. The horrors in one place should not be transported to another.

But whatever the future holds, one thing is beyond denying: There is a war not too far inside us. It is a war between good and evil. It is a war that involves all human beings regardless of religion, race or culture. Just as there are those who choose the side of evil even in the name of God, let us always be clear that the real God as taught by all religions cannot be but good and the source of all good. And we must extend our hands in solidarity to true believers who are genuine agents of good, not evil.

As Pope Francis urges those who face the specter of terrorism, we must “reject hatred and seek solidarity”.

This, I believe, is uncanny wisdom. We must seek solidarity with victims of terrorism; they need our compassion. We must also seek solidarity with all basically good members of the human family; all the good in the world is enough to defeat, with God’s help, evil in some.

And isn’t solidarity the secular face of Communion?