Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, Archbishop-Emeritus of Cagayan de Oro
Pax Christi International Board Member
Keynote address at the NCCP assembly for the Mindanao Week of Peace
November 28, 2020, Gaston Park, Cagayan de Oro City
As we celebrate the Mindanao Week of Peace, let me first recount the tragic news of un-peace that happened recently. I am referring to the death on Nov. 13 of Leonido Nabong in a firefight between his armed group and the military in Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte. Nido, as he was known by his classmates, was a graduate, magna cum laude, of the College of Agriculture of Xavier University in 1976 at the height of martial law. He came from Tagoloan and was looked up to as a natural leader by his contemporaries.
However, after a short period at UP, Los Banos after graduation and employment with a company hiring banana workers in Davao, Nido went underground. Over the next four decades, very little news was heard about him. He did come out to represent his armed group during the short-lived peace negotiations right after the EDSA People Power Revolution. Nido, aka Ka Charo, was active in the eastern front of the New People’s Army before he was transferred to the western front and became Deputy Secretary of the CPP Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee.
As his body was brought back to his hometown with the help of Governor Bambi Emano (who mentioned to me that Nido was his uncle), a number of town mates and classmates discreetly went to the wake to pay their last respect. A tribute from a classmate perhaps best sums up the sentiments of many: “To lay down one’s life for one’s principles and for the least of God’s brothers and sisters…only a giant would be capable of such an act. The Xavier/Ateneo community should honor him. Salamat kaayo, Ka Charo.”
This then is the challenge we face: how do we prevent future young men like Nido, with all his talents and ideals, from resorting to what would be termed “rebellion” in order to bring about social justice for the poor and the oppressed? One message comes to mind: the joint statement in Abu Dhabi in 2019, issued by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, speaking for both Christians and Muslims. The joint statement is entitled, “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”
Both religious leaders call for “the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.” But how do we bring these about?
A “culture of dialogue as the path” means that we are ready to listen intently to what the other side is saying. We engage in dialogue in a spirit of humility, not superiority. And we are ready to share our own values and identity, while respecting the other’s values and identity. Indeed, through dialogue, we can discover common values that bring us together rather than tear us apart.
“Mutual cooperation as the code of conduct” means that we engage in a dialogue of common action and of living together. Three general areas call for the common action of all of us today: care for the environment; attending to the Covid-19 pandemic as one sign of virtual — and actual — globalization; and peace-building through the resumption of peace talks (a form of dialogue in the political life of a nation).
“Reciprocal understanding as the method” means that we act with sincerity and commitment as we strive to discover common values. We may then begin to realize that we have more in common than the differences that seem to divide us. Thus, the search for Truth and Justice and Freedom and other transcendent values can actually unite us rather than bring about division.
What then is the role of religions as we journey towards a more fraternal world? In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship, Pope Francis outlines three key principles. First, is for all religious communities to uphold the transcendent dignity of the human person. This is rooted in our faith experience of one God, Father of all, and in Jesus Christ who exemplified in his own life the special care for the poor, the disabled, and the outcast in society.
Secondly, for all religious communities as well as nation-states to uphold religious freedom for all believers. The dignity of conscience of every human person should be respected. Pope Francis comments: “As children of one God, we are all brothers and sisters.” He further reminds Christians that “the Church is a house with open doors” — without coercion, and without exclusion.
Thirdly, authentic religion has no room for violence to further its cause. There is no basis for violence in our religious convictions. Despite the phenomenon of armed conflict in our midst, Christians are constantly challenged to emulate Gospel nonviolence as we strive to become artisans of a just peace.
Ka Charo laid down his life for a cause premised on love of the downtrodden neighbor. The tragedy was that his society was not able to provide sufficient avenues for a culture of dialogue, mutual cooperation and reciprocal understanding. Our religious communities are asked to show the way. May this Mindanao Week of Peace be a continuation of our pilgrimage towards fraternal humanity in our land, and our world.