Working For Peace

Memorial for PeaceThe commitment to the gospel challenge of loving your enemies is what Claretian Father Angel Calvo preaches at Mass in a poor squatter area of the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga. But he and his fellow peace workers are not in any way naive about the terror the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist separatist group, is wielding in the region. The Claretians themselves have been a repeat target of the group’s brutality.

In 1993 Claretian Father Bernardo Blanco was one of the first kidnapping victims of the group on the island of Basilan. In 1999 a jeep carrying six catechists from the Claretian parish of St. Vincent Ferrer in Tumahubong, Basilan was ambushed by still unidentified gunmen; five catechists were killed. And in the spring of 2000 an Abu Sayyaf commando kidnapped and abducted 52 students and teachers from Tumahubong—among them Claretian Father Rhoel Gallardo, principal Reynaldo Rubio, and three other teachers from the Claret School. In the course of the ordeal that for some of the hostages lasted four months, six of the hostages, including Gallardo, were killed.

KidsThe Claretians have been active on Basilan since 1950. One of our main ministries has been providing education to Christians and Muslims alike, and today we maintain four schools there. After several painful years of constant threats, kidnappings, and attacks, there is a relatively more peaceful situation in Basilan today. “The current relative calm counts for much for ordinary people here,” says Father Angel, who along with other local peace activists has been critical of the over reliance on military means. Still, he acknowledges that “peace is very complex in situations of violence, and along with cultural, political, economic, and religious components, there may also be a place for a military component.”

But Father Angel is skeptical about government claims that the Abu Sayyaf has been decisively weakened. “Few of the group’s leaders have been captured. They have chosen not to engage the overwhelming firepower of all those forces, but they may just be waiting for the next opportunity to strike again.”

Miriam Suacito is coordinator for interreligious dialogue for the Catholic Prelature of Isabela on Basilan and worked with Father Angel in Kapa-tagan 24 years ago. Since then she has dedicated her life’s work to community development on Basilan. “My hope is that as a community we will be able to grow in love, peace, and justice.” Suacito says, “This is a dream that continues to motivate us amidst all the struggles and difficulties on Basilan.”

All active news articles