Education for Peace
A substantial part of the Church’s efforts in educating for peace has been implemented by the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC). According to Brenda Fitzpatrick, these have included youth programs, an annual week of peace, region-wide activities, dialogue assemblies, and various ad hoc programs.
Below are excerpts of or draws from Brenda Fitzpatrick, The Mindanao Bishops-Ulama Conference, in Mark M. Rogers, Tom Bamat and Julie Ideh, eds. Pursuing Just Peace: An Overview and Case Studies for Faith-Based Peacebuilders. Baltimore: Catholic Relief Services, 2008, pp. 117-131.
In order to bring the message of the BUC to Mindanao youth, a youth formation program was created. The Mindanao Tripartite Youth Corps works closely with the Ustadz-Priests-Pastors- Imams Forum to implement peace education programs for young people, including a Peace Camp every second or third year. The Peace Camp provides five days of creative activities (singing, dancing, etc.) for Muslim, Christian and Indigenous youth.
Each BUC province/diocese/sectoral area has its own Mindanao Week of Peace Activities. A wide variety of creative and participatory activities— peace marches, caravans, torch parades, lighting of candles along the highway, peace prayers, Tri-partite Youth Summits and Peace Camps, films, poetry readings, essay, oratorical and poster contests, art and photography exhibits, peace awards, history and culture congress, story-telling, fast for peace, round table discussions on peace issues for media, and performance showcases — convey the message that mainstream communities want peace, and that the Mindanao conflict is not about religion. Participants in the Week of Peace include the public sector, educators, and businesspersons. In 2005, nearly 4,500 children participated in component activities of the Week of Peace.
More than ten years after the founding of the Bishops Ulama Forum, plenary Dialogue Assemblies continue to be the central activity of the BUC. All Catholic bishops, bishops of the NCCP, and members of the Ulama League of The Philippines (ULP) in Mindanao are invited. Sixty to 75 people, roughly equally distributed among the three parties typically attend these Assemblies, which take place two to four times per year, and last several days. Discussion centers around two general areas: the “spiritual dimensions of dialogue,” and “current concerns arising from the ongoing peace process.”
Resource people are often invited to lead seminars on topics such as the Islamic and Biblical foundations of dialogue, peace, and forgiveness as well as Peace and Development: Christian and Muslim Perspectives, Peace and the Family: A BUF Priority and Maryam in the Qur’an and Mary in the Bible. Topical issues discussed include the Organic Act for the New Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the place of indigenous peoples in the development process and their concerns regarding the peace process, and the report of the Organization of Islamic Countries Fact-finding Team on the implementation of the government-MNLF Peace Agreement.
Members of the BUC also participate in related inter-religious dialogue events, such as the Asia-Pacific Policy Forum on Interfaith Dialogue for Peace, and the National Interfaith Dialogue for a Culture of Peace. With the support of the Philippine government and Catholic organizations including CRS, in 2003 the BUC hosted The First Encounter of Muslim Ulama and Christian Bishops of Asia. Convened in response to curiosity abroad regarding the BUC’s activities, this conference brought 121 participants from 19 countries to a dialogue assembly on a larger scale, and resulted in a joint statement affirming religions of peace and condemning violence.
Ad Hoc Programs
As well as the regular Assemblies and Week of Peace Celebrations, the BUC from time to time organizes activities in response to specific perceived needs. For example, recognizing that “peace and development in the future depends on the formation of the youth now,” and the role of teachers in promoting peace, the BUC sponsored a seminar on Development of a Culture of Peace, where school superintendents and administrators drafted and commented on secondary school teaching modules. Since correcting the negative image of Muslims in the media is also a BUC priority, the BUC also held a seminar for journalists, examining the media’s coverage of the conflict and treatment of the parties.
Week of Peace
Initiated by Peace Advocates Zamboanga, the yearly Mindanao Week of Peace has been coordinated by the BUC in partnership with various Mindanao peace organizations since 1999. The Week of Peace, observed in late November/early December is a round of community activities, celebrations and advocacy for peace. Objectives focus on promoting unity-in-diversity, community involvement in local peace initiatives, the artistic and academic expression of peace aspirations, and providing a point of convergence for peace initiatives in Mindanao.
Note: Additional information on peace training and education conducted by the Mindanao Peace Institute, is provided in a Powerpoint presentation by Myla Laguro.