Convergence of the Cross and the Crescent
Just like to share this reflection forwarded to us below from a participant of the Young Leaders Program and his insights on his interfaith youth encounter.
Infinite success sa ating mga upcoming projects!
Kapayapaan Nawa’y Manaig sa Daigdig!
May Peace Prevail on Earth!
Convergence of the Cross and the Crescent
By Manuel Jeffrey “Jepoi” Ordaniel Sistoso
The Young Leaders Program (YLP 2008) of the Australian Embassy and the National Defense College of the Philippines last June 17-24 gave me a unique opportunity to establish networks and friendships with young Muslims and visit Mindanao for the first time. For a Christian like me who was raised in a strictly devout Catholic family, dealing with Muslims for eight straight days is close to impossible.
YLP 2008 was a national gathering of thirty young leaders from Christians, Muslims and Indigenous Peoples (IP) groups. I was lucky enough to have been chosen as one of the pioneering participants this year.
I would call it an adventure that I started to feel when the organizers emailed me the names of my co-participants including short information on where they’re from, their respective religions, affiliations, ethnicities and contact details. Twelve were Muslims, mind you. Also along with that email were the names of our roommates for the first leg of the program which would be held in Quezon City . I must admit, my Mom got worried, to the point a bit hysterical, when she found out that the person I would be sharing a room with is a Muslim. I just couldn’t blame her for having such a response. For majority of people in our hometown, the only things that come to mind about Islam and Muslims are violence, terrorism and women selling pirated DVDs downtown.
I know from that point, I had a mission.
It was 17th of June when the program officially kicked-off at a 5-star hotel in Ortigas. The first one from among the 30 participants to approach me was Abul, a young Muslim leader from the Islamic City of Marawi. He was friendly, jolly, witty and talkative. Our first conversation that morning was no different. I mean talking to him never put a bar in our midst and never showed that our religions should matter in our unfolding friendship. Our religious labels that he is a Muslim and I am a Christian did not even come out as big deals in choosing topics in our succeeding conversations.
When the opening ceremony began, we started to introduce ourselves to each other and had some getting-to-know- you initiatives. At that point, I just couldn’t describe it more than thinking that it was a perfect example of how Muslims and Christians could actually spark the flame of lasting friendships.
Then there was Chuy, my roommate. He is the Student Government President of Mindanao State University in Marawi. He had a little mustache but he did not look like someone mothers should be hysterical about. Actually, he even looked better than some college students in Manila and he can sing really well in videoke. Like any student leader, he resists tuition fee increases, wants to eradicate campus crimes in his university and pushes for a higher level of student politics. The only thing maybe that sets him apart from other high caliber student leaders in the country is his religion.
Then I met Rock (MSU’s Student Regent), Matz (a volunteer of Balay, a Manila-based human rights agency), Sham, the young mayor of the municipality of Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao, Almoney Abubacar (President of the Lanao Youth Consultancy) , Naomeh (Bantay Ceasefire Volunteer), Chix Lao (MSU Alumna), Huzzein (young gov’t employee), Camal (MSU Center for Islamic Studies member), Doy (Panday Kalinaw Peace Builder) and Zaid (young educator). All of them are idealistic young Filipino leaders in the south. All of them are Muslims and now I am honored to call them my great friends.
Our first four days were spent in Manila . Discussions on national security and the peace process in Southern Philippines , the indigenous people’s rights, the economy, the education system and youth empowerment happened. We were actually talking about the future of the Philippines .
During breaks, we were talking about anything under the sun, no holds barred. We exchanged ideas on so many subjects, from as complex as GRP-MILF Peace Talks to as simple as the best night out spots nearby so we could sneak out at night and have fun together.
In Mindanao , we visited the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in Cagayan de Oro and stayed in Marawi for four days where sessions on interfaith dialogue, the contribution of the Philippines to the world, and workshops on enhancing national security took place.
All of us, including the Manila-based organizers were so impressed by the beauty and the wonders of Marawi, perhaps the only Philippine City that is figuratively air-conditioned all over. The Islamic Capital of the country was facing the majestic Lake Lanao , the deepest in the archipelago. Marawi was a perfect venue for us to talk about the future of Mindanao and think about our respective contributions to nation-building. Our last session there was actually our expression of commitment to the Philippines and to Peace as Filipino young leaders through our presentation of our respective projects.
Our graduation from the program came. We all did not want to bring it to a close. I must say, in eight days, I fell in love with the Muslims and with Mindanao .
Everything happened like a dream. Until suddenly I realized that in those past eight days, we were actually laughing, thinking, expressing and committing TOGETHER, regardless of where we came from and our varying religious labels.
With all these we knew, we were impressed by the humility and greatness of ideas of the different resource speakers and of each others. We were enlightened about the realities of the conflicts in Mindanao . We appreciated each others’ unique characters and diversities. We were made to commit to build a great Philippines , together.
My amazing experiences with the Muslims inspired me to think about the ideas of National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, one of our resource speakers. He asked questions about why we (GRP) were negotiating and talking about the future of Bangsamoro with people who cling to guns and did not even finish basic formal education when we could talk on top of a peaceful, no-tension negotiating table with Muslims in the academe and Bangsamoro professionals who don’t resort to violence and who don’t hold guns but great, unselfish ideas.
I have fulfilled my mission. I have reiterated to myself that in this world, all human beings are the same in so many aspects regardless of cultures, religions and upbringing and the key to peace and friendship is mutual respect and open-mindedness. For the Christians and the Muslims who are Filipinos, despite our different beliefs on the Cross and the Crescent, I now know our similarities outnumber our differences.
Manuel Jeffrey “Jepoi” Ordaniel Sistoso is a 20-year old Lasallian exchange student to South Korea . He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.