Religious conflict should not be used for terrorism
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2019 - 12:00am

It was a remarkable coincidence that when the Cathedral in Jolo was bombed and a mosque was hit in Zamboanga, Pope Francis should be holding a historic public mass for some 170,000 Catholics in a stadium in Abu Dhabi. It it was, I’d like to believe it was a God-ordained coincidence. After all, Abu Dhabi is thousands of miles away from Jolo and Zamboanga.

It was a first step to peace in our time purportedly motivated by a religious conflict fueled by a past of Christian-Muslim antagonism. But by no means should it be the last. It is particularly true of the Philippines where other factors encourage violence.

Nevertheless, we rejoice that the leaders of the two religions, Pope Francis for the Catholic Church and Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, struck a blow to those who would use religious conflict as the excuse for violence by terrorists.

The Philippines is at the center of the conflict being promoted as an excuse for terrorism for historical and geopolitical reasons. The historic visit to Abu Dhabi should be followed up by other measures by groups and individuals advocating for peace.

It was the first-ever papal visit to the Muslim Gulf and should be supported with a public statement from the Catholic bishops of the Philippines.

President Duterte has made efforts for peace in divided Mindanao by pushing for federalism to allow Christians and Muslims to live in peace.

If Pope Francis did not make the visit it would have encouraged the followers of the two religions to turn to terrorism as the political solution. I have friends who are ardent Catholics and they were dismayed that he should have done it.

Indeed a Catholic pope as head of the Church of the majority of Filipinos waved to a cheering crowd carrying Vatican flags and banners as he was driven into Zayed Sports City Stadium.

His Muslim hosts, on the other hand generously put up an altar with a large cross where he would say mass. The open air service with an altar and a large cross would not have been possible if an agreement was not reached by the two leaders. Where is the conflict?.

Worship for the Muslim communities or any other religion are required to be conducted indoors.

(Personally I am inclined toward a more private practice of religion and prefer the practice. I believe this is what President Duterte means when he says he does not believe in the public Catholic worship.)

Another coincidence is why it should be held in the United Arab Emirates? It dangerously borders Saudi Arabia which is the birthplace of Islam. The latter does not allow non-Muslim places of worship.

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi allows Christians among its large migrant workforce to practice their faith discreetly. By the way among the thousands must have been Filipinos.

“How beautiful it is for brothers to be joined under this sky,” said an MC in Arabic shortly after the pope’s arrival.

“Inside the stadium, 50,000 Catholics with tickets to the mass cheered the pope on, with one small group hoisting a pink poster board which read “We the Catholics of Yemen love you!”

Another 120,000 were gathered outside, watching via video link on large screens.

A choir sang hymns as the pope, joined by priests of different nationalities, began the service, broadcast live on Emirati television.

It must be noted that it was the initiative of UAE to invite the pope to visit as part of its 2019 “Year of Tolerance”which has its own designated ministry.

Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, greeted the crowd at the stadium before the pope’s arrival for mass.

Pope Francis’ trip has been warmly welcomed by Filipino and Indian Catholics among the UAE’s huge migrant workforce.

Asian nationals make up about 65 percent of the population and are crucial to all sectors in the Gulf state, from construction to services and hotels.

Pope Francis himself is a son of Italian immigrants and was raised in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio – or Pope Francis.

Filipino migrants in the UAE are numerous. More than 85 percent of the UAE population are expatriates, and about one million Catholics live in the country or about 10 percent of the population.

The pope used the public mass to call for an end in the troubled Middle East, including in Yemen and Syria. He met with a top sheikh and rabbi in the UAE.

The religious leaders pledged cooperation to make it a “duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word war,” at the interfaith meeting.

Looking at other troubled areas promoted by religious conflict the pope talked to his Muslim counterparts about Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

News reports quote the pope.

“Yemen is in the grip of what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a civil war between the government and Shiite Muslim rebels.

While the pope did not openly discuss politics, he called for “the full recognition” of the rights of people across the Middle East, a potential reference to communities including Shiites in Saudi Arabia, refugees and migrants, stateless peoples and other minorities.

I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed,” he said.

He also held talks in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb – imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning.

The two religious leaders signed a document on “human fraternity for world peace and living together,” described by the Vatican as an “important step forward in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims.”

It called for “freedom of belief,” the “promotion of a culture of tolerance,” the “protection of places of worship” and “full citizenship rights for minorities.”

The visit should be spread widely and written about extensively in media, both social and mainstream to cut out terrorists who use religious conflict as the reason for violence.

The pope has set an example for the bishops of the Philippines to support Duterte’s program for peace through federalism instead of fighting him.

Media is equipped with the means to change the public perception of those efforts. As scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute determined (2011), “10 percent of any given population can significantly influence a society; this is the tipping point where minority views can quickly become majority views.”

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