A Peacemaker’s Decalogue of Interfaith Dialogue

Muslim-Christian Dialogue Circle in Quiapo, Manila

Muslim-Christian Dialogue Circle in Quiapo, Manila

1.   Check your heart. Ask yourself why you wish to engage in dialogue with people of other faiths. If your intent is not to convert them to your faith but to build mutually respectful and harmonious relationships with them, then your heart is in the right place.

2.   Disarm, and make room within. Be aware of your prejudices, fears and apprehensions about relating with those who do not share your faith. Disarm yourself by making an effort to understand and accept those prejudices and fears, while also reaching out beyond your comfort zone to overcome them.  Learn about the beliefs and practices of those whom you wish to engage in dialogue with, and find something in them that is good and admirable.

3.    Prepare a common ground.  Reflect on hopes, dreams and aspirations that you might have in common with those of other faiths whom you wish to engage in dialogue. Listen to your common humanity; underneath your unique identities, personalities, interests, and values, there are basic human needs that you share. Prepare to meet each other there.

4.   Respect diversity, honor differences. Diversity is in the divine scheme of things. It is evident in nature all around us. There are trees that grow tall, shrubs that remain low, birds that fly and snakes that slitter, mountains that are high and low-lying meadows. Diversity is evident among people, too. They come from different backgrounds, races, cultures, beliefs, etc. Respect and honor those differences. They are what make our lives challenging and meaningful, our relationships enriching, and our world wonderful.

5.   Invite and be graciousReach out beyond your comfort zone to people of other faiths and invite them to dialogue. Graciously and humbly share with them your hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better community, a better world. Invite and encourage them to share theirs with you, too.

6.   Create safe spaces and build trust.  Provide a “safe space” where people can feel assured that you accept them for who they are, and not for what you wish them to be.

  • Prepare a neutral place to meet where no symbols or articles of your faith might be perceived as imposing or threatening.
  • Sit everyone in a circle, leaving an open space at the middle. The circle enables everyone to see and relate with each other better with no hierarchy of status or rank getting in the way between you and them
  • Be modestly garbed and respectful that your ways of being and your manner of speaking are sensitive to the culture and ways of your dialogue partners (e.g. their ways of worship and prayer, of relating with women and with each other, their manner of greeting, the food that they eat or do not eat, etc.)
  • If possible, provide separate serving tables for the different dietary preferences (e.g. vegetarian, halal food, etc) during meals
  • When engaging in dialogue with Muslims, it would be good if you remember to provide them with a place for ablution and a separate area for their prayers.

7.   Listen deeply. Make time to be fully present and hear “the other” speak. Be in the moment, and hold no fears from the past or anxieties about the future. Be here-now. Focus your attention away from yourself and fully on “the other” by silencing your mind and engaging your entire being in deep listening. Be sensitive to the “other,” not only to the words that are being said, but also to the silences beneath those words. Humility, patience, and loving kindness are essential to dialogue. Though these attitudes of heart do not come naturally to some of us, these can be developed in time when one maintains the practice of listening deeply.

8.   Speak humbly. Respond without haste from the silence of your mind and the listening of your heart. The heart is a place beyond words where oneness with the “other” can awaken us to love truly without fear, where compassion for our shared human condition can be experienced, and where deep respect and appreciation for the beauty and uniqueness of God’s creation can be beheld in each other with awe and reverence.

9.   Appreciate uniquenessThere is beauty, divinity, and a sense of excitement and adventure in our human existence. Each relationship is unique just as each person in the relationship is unique. Building relationships with people who are different from our selves brings with it the challenge of inner growth and self-transformation. Learning to accept and appreciate our differences is a difficult process of “dying unto ourselves” so that “the other can be”. But to persevere in the endeavor strengthens organs of the soul that enable us to bear the gift of friendship and love for “the other” who may be different from our selves but with whom we share a common origin and destiny in God.

10. Inspire co-creative actionInterfaith dialogue is about relationship-building. Good and steadfast relationships are built on the foundation of trust. When we trust that we can be ourselves and not be expected to be like the other, when we can accept our differences and be mutually respectful and appreciative of each other’s uniqueness, then our journey together will lead us to places in our hearts where we can be one. We can unite in our efforts to find co-creative ways of bringing about a peaceful, harmonious and better world for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

Awakening Peace

October 13, 2013

How could I have known, by his smile,
that he was the enemy? The kindness in his
eyes as he said goodbye stirred something
within me of which I had no memory.

It was familiar, though, the silence where
we met; the sacrosanct space where
demons of the past could no longer speak,
tamed as they have become by that in me,
and that in him, that nestled in the quiet
of a dimly beheld longing to be set free.

It was there, waiting, in the breath of the
stone god of my childhood as I reveled in the
awakening of Christ’s I AM in me.  It was there,
in the peace of Allah that shined through from
his heart as he turned to meet me.

It is here, in our shared sanctuary of hope
where promises of tomorrow stirs awake in
the quiet ache of our wounded history.
It was familiar, though, the silence where
we met; the sacrosanct space where
demons of the past could no longer speak,
tamed as they have become by that in me,
and that in him, that nestled in the quiet
of a dimly beheld longing to be set free.

It was there, waiting, in the breath of the
stone god of my childhood as I reveled in the
awakening of Christ’s I AM in me.  It was there,
in the peace of Allah that shined through from
his heart as he turned to meet me.

It is here, in our shared sanctuary of hope
where promises of tomorrow stirs awake in
the quiet ache of our wounded history.

milf-chairman-bacron-july-26-2013

Bapa Bacron, a respected leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Aleosan, North Cotabato (Mindanao, Philippines). July 26, 2013

Attitude of heart

October 27, 2013What does it mean to be Christian among friends who are followers of other religions? What attitude of heart do I bring to our friendship? How do I see myself in my relationship with them who are believers of other faiths?

These are the questions that I ask myself as I reflect on this Gospel according to Luke (18:9-14).  I realize that having been born and raised a Catholic in this predominantly Catholic Christian country I have always taken for granted that everyone I met was Catholic.

But I was struck one day when I saw an image of the globe surrounded by the symbols of the different religions of the world printed on a friend’s t-shirt.  It awakened me to an awareness of and appreciation for diversity. It is evident everywhere in God’s creation. It is in the divine scheme of things. The human race is a rainbow of diversity—people the world over are different in their ways, their views, preferences, beliefs, etc.–and this makes our journey through life exciting, and our relationships with fellow human beings opportunities for growing together in the fullness of God.

This is a humbling thought that gives me pause. Rather than be self-righteous about being a Catholic in this predominantly Catholic country, I am humbled by the thought of Christ Jesus’ message here.  He did not speak of the righteousness of this world, or of how we must strive–like good students earning merit points for heaven–to observe the thou shall’s and thou shall not’s of our faith. It is the attitude of our heart and how we LOVE that matters in Christ. This is what is universal about our being Catholics, for Love is not exclusive to the domain of Christians.

As we live in this world among peoples of diverse cultures and beliefs, to be Christian is to embody the love of Christ in our ways. This love is an attitude of heart  that glorifies the grandeur and majesty of God as we grope for wholeness and healing while moving together with “others” in the ever unfolding of our shared destiny in the Oneness of God.

Being change

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

Dialogue with Muslims at Salam Compound in Culiat, Quezon City, Metro Manila

(First published on September 21, 2010)

     Perhaps it is true that the only constant in life is change. People, relationships among people, their circumstances, and just about everything that we can think of, do change! Some changes are for the better, while others leave us with only a deeper yearning for what we desire and hope for.

     But, change comes slowly, unfolding ever so subtly on various levels in our midst that, more often than not, we hardly even notice it happening.

     For those expecting swift and discernible outcomes, patience tends to wear out easily and the easiest way of coping with frustration is to complain, criticize, blame, protest against, renounce, or even remove those whom they perceive to be obstacles to change, or are faulty instruments of it. Few are wont to see themselves as part of the big picture of change unfolding, or being involved in the process and therefore partly responsible and accountable for its outcomes.

     For those expecting little or nothing, everything or nothing may come as a surprise, and life goes on, as always, perhaps either happily or helplessly, whatever their disposition and circumstances may be.

     But, for those who have committed to be instruments of change (no matter what their culture or beliefs may be), there is the challenge of “active waiting” to face, and the aspiration of “being the change” that they “wish to see” to live up to and realize.

     My interfaith peacebuilding work these past twelve years has been inspired by the desire to respond to the need to bring about change for the better in the relationships among people of diverse cultures and beliefs. The compelling words of Mahatma Gandhi–Be the change that you wish to see in the world!–fueled my endeavors with the conviction that I, too, can be part of the movement for a better world.

     However, in my endeavors, I have experienced a tendency, even among esteemed colleagues committed to change, to focus largely on peacemaking as a means to an end rather than also as an end in itself, on the goal rather than on the process. Though we speak of wanting to bring about peace, justice and healing in our midst, our ways of being–of thinking, feeling, and acting—towards one another remain wanting of change.

     We expend much of our time and energies trying to level the playing field searching for similarities among us that, in the process, we fail to listen to, respect and appreciate those whose views or ways of being differ from our own. It is ironic that, in our desire for peace to happen, we deal with those whom we perceive to be obstacles to it in ways that belie the very principles and essence of peace. It is easier to demonize, exclude, and even remove them from our organizations, institutions, communities, etc., rather than to recognize and respect their position, interests, values and needs and make room for our differences to enrich our relationships and move our shared endeavors forward.

     Indeed, listening to each other with the heart rightly and creating safe spaces for our differences to be heard, respected, and even appreciated takes too much time and energy. True heart listening involves the disarmament of the heart that is possible only when we make ourselves vulnerable to the “other” in the spirit of humility, openness, and willingness to allow the other to “live in me.” Even for many of us who are not new to peacemaking, this is a noble ideal requiring painstaking and tedious inner work to realize. More often than not, this way of being is forsaken in relationship-building.

     But, what then is the point? Why engage in dialogue and peacemaking if our efforts cannot bring about change for the better in people’s relationships despite their differences? Why call ourselves peacemakers if our ways of being cannot help bring about peace, unity and harmony in our midst?

     Being a “peacemaker” is an ideal that many aspire for but fail to live up to. Those of us committed to peacemaking as a way of bringing about social change will find that there is a need to cultivate at least three essential capacities within ourselves that must be realized in our relationships with others. These are: the capacity to see with the heart rightly, the capacity to seek for answers to questions that liberate the human spirit from the bondage of fear, and the capacity to be with others (even our “enemies”) in the endeavor of bringing about the change that we wish to see. Simply put, we need clarity of visiondepth of conviction, andintegrity of co-creative action.

     In interfaith dialogue and relationship-building, clarity of vision in the light of faith allows us to see through the darkness of our fears and anxieties and find our way to that sacred place within us—that common ground–where we can truly meet the “other” in the spirit of oneness despite our differences, and where our silences can speak and our hearts can truly listen. This is where moral imagination is awakened and transformative action is inspired.

     Moral imagination, as defined by John Paul Lederach (renowned lecturer and trainer on Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding) is “the capacity to imagine something while rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.”  Seeing with the heart rightly is essential to the moral imagination, as is the ability to create something new–new ways of attaining and realizing our highest collective human potentials for good—while being rooted in the difficult realities of our physical world.

     Clarity of vision inspires conviction, fuels passion, and gives a sense of direction to our actions. What we see with our hearts rightly gives rise to questions within us that compel us to seek for answers. And answers may come sooner or later with the awakening of those whose minds are open and hearts are listening, and whose actions are in harmony with the divine scheme of things that are ever unfolding.

Assisi revisited

Assisi Revisited-collage

    On October 18 (Friday), The Peacemakers’ Circle, together with the Focolare Movement and Sanghabi, helped Rev. Fr. Carlos Reyes organize an interfaith gathering on LOVE & FORGIVENESS for the Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue (ECID) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It was a culminating activity of the 3-day Church Conference on New Evangelization, and this was attended by about five thousand Catholics from around the country. We at The Peacemakers’ Circle (led by Orlan de Guzman, Jr. and Sanghabi) were privileged to have been part of the opening prayer ritual of the interfaith program. Later, in his testimonial, Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, asked for forgiveness (for the sins of the Church) from the leaders and members of the different religions and faith traditions who were present. He was well applauded, and some of the members of the assembly were visibly moved.

    Congratulations Fr. Caloy, Ted and Asela Arago, Fr. Richard Babao, Val Brillo, Bong Baybado, Orlan, Leo, Reimon, Jackie of Sanghabi, Sharon, Shakun, Tomomi, Norio, Imam Moxsir, Aleem Said Basher, Tet Gallardo, Lama Damdul, Sister Becky, our friends from Ananda Marga, Venerable Miao Jin, Dada Premanayanda, and all our friends in the interfaith community who were there to help make the event memorable!