Asela shares, “once we gave a talk in a university with about 200 students and faculty members, about celebrating life across faiths and it left an impression that celebrating life calls for love, for dialogue.”
In that forum, Asela realized the importance of understanding our Muslim brethren from the perspective of their beliefs, to see things through their ideas and concepts, and to make themselves one with them. In that panel, there were three Muslims and two Roman Catholics.
“We were not aware of the speakers who were invited and we were surprised that at the time of the event, we already knew each other. Somebody made a comment how come we have such a good relationship? I suppose it was the way we treated each other. Then I realized what it was and told myself, this is real dialogue.”
Ted explains why this friendship has grown deeper: “We took advantage of all opportunities to develop relationships with our Muslims friends. We represent the Focolare in the many interreligious groups and activities. Through our involvement with the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines-episcopal Commission for Interreligious dialogue (CBCP-ECID), we had many annual events wherein we worked with the Catholic Church and Muslims, such as in the celebration of the day of Prayer of Assisi. For the initial Philippine Conference for New Evangelization (PCNE), we helped CBCP-ECID in the preparation of a one-hour segment. The highlight of our apostolate on interreligious dialogue was the theme Love and Forgiveness given by the Focolare members on the segment of Mini-Assisi Revisited at the Philippine Conference for New Evangelization. This was the first time that the Archdiocese of Manila had launched a big scale interreligious dialogue.
Many beautiful impressions were left by people. It turned out to be a plenary of about 6,000 participants where we prepared the program and the themes, invited keynote speakers, with most of the speakers from the different religions being our friends.”
Asela tells: “With CBCP spearheading the event, we also held an annual one-week celebration of the world
Interfaith Harmony week last February 1-7. Uni-Harmony partners in Manila composed of religious communities, interfaith organizations and peace advocates, come together and shared resources to celebrate the annual world Interfaith Harmony week. The Uni-Harmony week partners celebrate annually the aspirations and ideals of the united Nations general Assembly Resolution proclaiming world Interfaith Harmony week as an annual event to be observed every first week of February.
The uni-harmony Partners also meet every month, and thus we became a big family of different faiths. In one of the dinner events, a foreign Muslim who was the president of his group expressed his gratitude for having received much support from his uni-harmony Partners, hence, the problem of their stay in the Philippines was resolved.
In this Uni-Harmony week, there is usually a “Breakfast with the Cardinal (Cardinal Tagle)” on the first day and a culminating activity on the last day. A big number of guests attended who represented different religions, both government and private organizations, and the diplomatic corps.
Mariam or Mary: a point of convergence
Another beautiful point of convergence, Ted shares, was a joint symposium on Mary in the Bible. The theme of this symposium was “Mariam in Quran as a Woman of Love, Mercy and Compassion” by Pacific Dialogue Foundation, Religions for Peace Philippines, and the University of Santo tomas (UST). Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is a woman revered both in Islam and in Christianity. Ted expounds on this, “It was a collaboration of two religions in order to understand Mary and her representation in Christianity and Islam.” In this symposium, the interfaith community held a reflection on the role of Mary as a mother for all Christians and Muslims, through her virtues of love, mercy and compassion.
Ted adds, “As members of the Focolare, whose official name is the Work of Mary, we shared the spirituality of Unity and our foundress Chiara’s understanding of how to relive Mary as a model of someone who submitted herself perfectly to the will of God.”
Involvement of the youth
Asela shares about how young people are being involved in these activities: “In the Uni-Harmony week’s celebration, one afternoon, we organized a visit to the Housing Project of Focolare, Sulyap ng Pag-asa, in Quezon City. This visit served as an opportunity to introduce interreligious dialogue to 40 Christians and 47 Muslims children in the community. Focolare Youths facilitated the event. It was a fun and exciting afternoon with songs, dances, games, and snacks. The event helped enlighten the children about how to build fraternity despite our differences in culture and religion.”
She tells, “we involve Focolare Youths or GEN in these interreligious activities, like inviting them to join the Social Enterprise Muslim Youth Camp for 3 days. This was an opportunity to break down prejudice against other religions.”
The couple also collaborated with some Youth of other organizations involved in interreligious dialogue. With the help of Focolare youth, and other youth organizations, they initiated some activities for the underprivileged youth near the Quiapo mosque.
Asela shares: “We accepted an invitation to talk at the commencement exercises in a Muslim School, in Maharlika Village, Taguig. It’s on such occasions that our Muslim friends openly declare their gratitude to us for their encounter with our way of life, which according to them has helped them to become better Muslims.”
Also Asela and Ted along with Focolare friends have also been co-sponsoring annually Iftar dinners at the University of the Philippines (UP) at the Islamic Institute in UP where UP’s Muslim students take up their masteral degrees in Islamic studies.
This was an opportunity for them to meet these students, staff and faculty members. They were able also to present the message of the Pope for Ramadan, and also show some videos from the Focolare on Interreligious dialogue.
Last November 2016, they invited about 25 Muslim students and a professor from Al-Mustafa School and some friends to visit the Focolare center. Ted narrates, “We had a beautiful sharing of experiences and impressions. The Muslim youths shared about their experiencing much joy and the reality of a family.”
Videos were also presented on some meetings of Chiara Lubich with Muslims. Questions and answers followed and many concrete experiences with the Muslims were shared.
Here are some impressions of the Muslim Youths:
“There was great unity, friendship, love and a family atmosphere among us here.” “Through this kind of activity,
It would seem that there are no differences between Christians and Muslims.”
“We feel so much your personal love that we feel a push within us to also share this love with others.”
“It is a gift that you received directly this way of life from Chiara and from God, and we are happy that you are now sharing with us.” “We are very grateful for this gift.” “We learned so many things and we assure you that we will share what we have learned with others.” “We came from different tribes and now we’ve found unity.” “What I understood: I have to give my unconditional love to others, even if I am not loved.” “We would like to have
Again those meetings and again live this way of life.”
Asela concludes: “We were invited and we attended the Hijab day last February atthe University of the Philippines. What a pleasant opportunity to meet up with our Muslim friends, as well as an educational event, where we discussed celebrating women’s rights in the light of Islam. Ted adds: “for sure, we will continue to support this dialogue. The Holy Spirit definitely worked in each one who participated in the activities mentioned. This was much evident in the significant impressions and resolutions gathered after the events. They were fruitful events prompting the participants to want to know more about interreligious dialogue and giving them a push to get involved.”