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Father D’Ambra: a symbol of coexistence struck in Marawi

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Father D’Ambra: a symbol of coexistence struck in Marawi

A reflection on the attack on Sunday 3 December by Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME missionary in the Philippines since 1977 and founder of the Silsilah Movement. «Even today the local population continues to suffer the consequences of what happened six years ago with the siege of the city carried out by the Maute group», associated with the Islamic State. It is difficult to say now what “the possible consequences will be, even on the peace process”.

Zamboanga City (AsiaNews) – Yesterday’s bomb at mass in Marawi, in the Philippines, with its four dead and dozens injured claimed by ISIS, is linked to “recent clashes” between the military and groups linked to Daesh or allies. With this “indiscriminate” action, they would have taken revenge, also obtaining the visibility they were looking for”. This is underlined by Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, an 81-year-old PIME priest in the Philippines since 1977, active in interreligious dialogue and a profound expert on the Muslim groups (including armed ones) active in the south of the archipelago.

He spent much of his missionary life in Mindanao paying particular attention to dialogue with Muslims, serving as a peace negotiator and helping the Moro National Liberation Front (Mnlf). He studied Islam and Arabic at Pisai (Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies) in Rome, obtained a doctorate in Education and is the author of many books. Among the positions held: director of the new Emmaus College of Theology Major in Interreligious Dialogue in Zamboanga, coordinator of the World Week of Interreligious Harmony in the Philippines and executive secretary of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

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And precisely on the subject of interreligious dialogue, Father D’Ambra – historic collaborator of AsiaNews – founded 39 years ago in Zamboanga City the Silsilah movement (in Arabic: chain, bond – ndr). The group is a well-known presence of cultural awareness, training and sharing, whose objective is to bring Christians and Muslims together. Since 1984, the Silsilah Forum has tried to ease tensions and calm outbreaks of religious violence. A task which is rooted in the very name of the movement, derived from Sufi Islamic mysticism, which means “chain” or “bond” that unites man with God.
Here is the PIME missionary’s reflection:

How much happened yesterday in Marawi, the main Muslim city on the island of Mindanao is unfortunately not dissimilar to what happened six years ago with the siege of the city carried out by the Maute group, associated with ISIS here in Mindanao. An attempt to catalyze international attention on their claims, ended with the devastation of the city and hundreds of victims. Even today the population of Marawi – mostly Muslim but where coexistence with Christians is part of everyday life – continues to suffer the consequences.

In this city, the state university, the Mindanao State University, hit yesterday by the attack, where young Muslims and Christians from different provinces of the island study, is an example of coexistence.

What was told to me from various quarters, which I read and which was also reported to me during a conversation with the bishop of Marawi, Mgr. Edwin de la Peña, is that the action was due to ISIS. The reasons for this attack are probably in the recent clashes between soldiers and groups that refer to the self-proclaimed Islamic State or that are allied to it and who, with this indiscriminate action, would have taken revenge, also obtaining the visibility they were looking for.

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It is difficult to say now what the possible consequences will be, even on the peace process and coexistence. I would say that today the situation is tense, but it is a bit part of our experience of Mindanao.

As the Silsilah movement that we gave birth to 39 years ago, we have experienced various phases of hope, fear and tension in our commitment to dialogue. Overall I can say that there has been progress in the dialogue, even if it is difficult to have a direct relationship with these groups who continue to live their own reality and sometimes justify what they do with their way of thinking.

The ideological factor that provides the basis or justification for the actions of some of them is difficult to address. Added to this is that in the Marawi area conflict between families and clans is quite widespread, each trying to strengthen itself and gain advantages over the others. This ends up causing local interests to join forces with those of external groups, fueling a situation of tension in which it is difficult to intervene. However, we as Silsilah will continue our path of dialogue without preclusions.

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