ZAMBOANGA CITY ¬–Different religious leaders here, Christian constituents and Muslim women leaders and peace advocates hailing from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao gathered together for an “Interfaith Harmony Solidarity Dinner” held at the Garden Orchid Hotel last Monday to observe the United Nations-declared “World Interfaith Harmony Week”. Amina Rasul-Bernardo, the lead convenor and president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), revealed that 2011 is the first celebration of World Interfaith Harmony Week, which takes place every first week of February, after the passage of a UN resolution in October last year sponsored by King Abdullah of Jordan.
She said there are over 40 events scheduled worldwide to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week. Ms. Rasul-Bernardo said interfaith dialogue is important to strengthen Muslim-Christian relations strained by persistent conflicts in Mindanao .
In his welcome message, Mayor Celso Lobregat of Zamboanga City thanked the organizers for choosing his city as the venue for the Interfaith Harmony Week celebration.
“Our population is a good mixture of Christians, Muslims and Lumads who co-exist with great respect and tolerance for one another despite religious differences,” Lobregat said.
He said his administration is actively initiating dialogues and activities that demonstrate respect for each other despite ethnic differences with the goal of promoting peace and harmony among residents, and even beyond.
The city government recently allotted half a million pesos worth of food and non-perishable items for the flood victims of Sulu that was shipped last Tuesday.
Dr. Aboulkhair Tarason, vice president of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines , encouraged fellow Muslims to emphasize that Islam is a “religion of peace, compassion, forgiveness, moderation and harmony, and not a religion of lawlessness, kidnapping, violence and terrorism.”
Zamboanga Archbishop Romulo Valles appreciated the initiative and was grateful for the many efforts of interfaith dialogues in the Philippines.
He pointed out that the Catholic church, at the end of the Vatican Council II in1965, came up with a declaration to pursue Interfaith Dialogue.
Keen with his intention to promote good relations in this multi-cultural and multi-religious city when he was assigned in this city a few years back, Valles invited the priests to be more active in promoting dialogue and peace, including playing an active role in commemorating the yearly celebration of Mindanao Week of Peace.
Rev. Ira Lee Rosalita, of the Zamboanga City Alliance Evangelical Church, said she feels at peace and secure in the company of Muslims and has never experienced being harassed while passing through Muslim communities in Lanao and Maguindanao.
Bartolome Madriaga, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, urged Zamboangueños to strengthen their individual resolve to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” when it comes to promoting peace and harmony in this city and beyond.
“We continue what our past traditional leaders have started – spearheading peace-building efforts to strengthen Muslim-Christian relations on which we enjoy the fruit,” said Prof. Ali Yacob, head of Golden Crescent Consortium of Peace Builders. He opined that the city, where Muslims and Christians have love and respect for one another, is relatively peaceful.