“Peace be with you!” This was the greeting of the Risen Christ to his community of disciples. It announced the breaking down of barriers between God and humanity, among all peoples, because of his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Peace is at the very heart of the Christian message.

“Assalamu alaikum!” This is the greeting of the people of the Qur’an. It is a greeting that connotes harmony, tranquility, and the absence of barriers of the heart between peoples.

Today the war in Mindanao has made the two greetings hollow.

1. The Gospel Basis of Our Appeal for Peace.

As religious leaders, we the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines appeal to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.

We are clearly aware that our words for peace run against the prevailing opinion, including that of our own flock. We might even be misinterpreted as against the government.

But we must be faithful to the Gospel that we teach. Our stand is not political but evangelical, based as it is on the gospel teachings of Our Lord Jesus and the social teachings of the Church. For we follow the words of Jesus to us: “Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be called children of God!” (Mt. 5:9).

We also follow the words of Pope John Paul II, who calls the Church “to be deeply involved in international and interreligious efforts to bring about peace, justice and reconciliation.” The Church must “insist on the negotiated and non-military resolution of conflicts,” because “dialogue is the only just and noble path to agreement and reconciliation” (See Ecclesia in Asia, 1999, no. 38).

We as Pastors daily celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist where we relive the saving act of Jesus, an act of Peace, Love and Reconciliation. Hence, the Eucharist impulses to speak of the peace of the Lord, the peace of the Gospel of Jesus, the peace of the Kingdom of God. On this we stand. Especially is this so in the context of the great physical and spiritual tragedies of the war in Mindanao.

2. Our Concern for Unity.

We desire deeply to preserve the unity of the Filipino people. We are against any dismemberment of the nation by any group and by any force. But we believe that the war in Mindanao is intensifying and hardening the divisions between Christians and Muslims, creating anger and bitter resentment, and educating children in the destructive ways of war. From a political as well as from our own pastoral view, the task of building national unity out of bitterly divided and resentful hearts is well nigh impossible. But our hope in God’s grace of unity is unflagging.

3. Our Concern for Evacuees.

The war has mercilessly displaced more than two hundred thousand people. And the number grows as the war rages on. Living in great misery in many evacuation centers with inadequate basic facilities, the poor evacuees lack food, medicines, clothing, and shelter. Many of the children have died. But the evacuees refuse to return home. The limited resources of our government, of NGOs, and of the churches, cannot adequately cope with the needs of evacuees, amounting to millions of pesos daily. The psychological ravages of war are incalculable. Destruction of property and loss of lives continue. Only the end of hostilities would ensure the safe return and rehabilitation of evacuees.

We thank the hundred of kind donors who continue to assist the evacuees.

4. The Call for an Immediate Cessation of Hostilities

We, therefore, appeal to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and to our government to end all armed hostilities immediately and return to the negotiating table. Both must begin trusting each other and seek a political solution to the problem.

We unequivocally condemn all terroristic activities and violations of human rights and these have to be investigated.

To begin rebuilding the trust that has been destroyed, both groups have to cooperate in ensuring the safe and speedy return of all evacuees to their places, their secure rehabilitation, and the safety of all highways and roads.

Both groups have to begin implementing what is immediately doable in the substantive agreements already made at the level of technical panels and fast-track the rehabilitation and development of all areas affected by the war, especially of the most depressed areas of ARMM.

Trust, respect for cultural and religious differences, and understanding are the building blocks of a just and lasting peace.

To achieve this goal, we appeal to every Filipino, Muslim, Christian, Lumad to offer prayers and sacrifices. For God is the Giver of Peace.

5. Our Own Pledge of Action.

We observe the trauma, the bitterness, prejudices and biases, resentment and even hatred that are building up among our people because of the war. We, therefore, pledge that the pastoral programs of the Church shall assist in healing the psychological wounds and hurts of people, in reconciling conflicting groups, and in building a culture of peace in our country, especially in Mindanao.

Trusting completely in the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom both Christians and Muslims honor, we humbly call on her to guide us toward peace.

Only through establishing peace by way of peace could the massive human tragedy, created by war, be resolved and the greetings of “Peace be with you,” “ Assalamu alaikum” become once more pleasing to our common God of Peace.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
July 6, 2000