“PAZSALAM” is a coined, conjoined word that still articulates for local residents – as it did more loudly and passionately in certain recent years – the interfaith and multi-culture focus of peace advocacy in Zamboanga City. The word evokes images of Christian and Muslim leaders sitting around a conference table to discuss the day’s community concerns, or of youths and students from both faiths going off to a peace camp to become friends and simply have a good time, or of hardened soldiers and former rebels listening to lectures on the transcendental power of peace-making, or of urban poor and other people with other disabilities joining workers and policemen and sundry in downtown parades to denounce the many faces and forms of violence – other than war – that drown their victims in seas of quiet pain and desperation.

The flagship program of this local peace advocacy, which is the annual celebration of the “Week of Peace”, will mark a milestone 10th anniversary this November. (This year’s Week will be on November 29 – December 5.) It was particularly this Week’s past celebrations’ of parades, outreach assemblies, games and contests that popularized the word “PAZSALAM”, emblazoned as it was on t-shirts, streamers, placards, literary pieces and hopefully, through some magic, in the hearts of those who – aha! – discerned.

Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) president Fr. Angel Calvo, one of the “founding fathers” (with the “mothers”, yes) of the Week, loves to frame the Week as a parable. As a parable by definition is an ordinary story that dramatizes a significant lesson, the Weeks would plant the seed of hope, the most important virtue for the besieged and so-called less fortunate.

Since its inception in 1994, PAZ has consistently attempted to sow this seed of hope – on common as well as alien grounds – through its threefold thrusts of “culture of peace” education (e.g., seminars, peace camps), inter-religious solidarity (e.g., PAZSALAM networking and nowadays the Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace), and the grand Week of Peace. The Week rounds up each year’s various peace-building and -making activities into one entertaining yet enlightening zesty festival. Most times, PAZ uses mass media, too, (like this publication) to disseminate the message or parable.

Three years after it was started in Zamboanga City, the Bishops-Ulama Forum (now Bishops-Ulama Council) adopted the Week for observance throughout Mindanao – as it has since. Two presidential proclamations further strengthened and propagated the movement from just a civil society activism to a multisectoral paradigm. Because of these activities particularly amid the internationalized war in Mindanao, promoting the virtues of interfaith solidarity became a plank of the Philippines’ foreign policy. In the context of latter-day, fundamentalist-driven global terrorism, it makes perfect sense and timing. Though it still raises more questions than provide neat answers, Mindanao’s interfaith movement is the subject of a great many peace studies around the world today.

Therein lies the future challenges of the Week of Peace in particular and peace-building in Mindanao in general.

Historically, social or communal peace had been attained in brief shining moments via seemingly random or accidental fashion, from the Pax Romana to the Industrial Revolution, when greater majorities of people began to experience lasting economic freedom and welfare and civil and human rights. But one particular example and lesson in the practicality and wisdom of interfaith harmony was a 300-hundred period, from circa 700 to 1000 A.D., in Spain’s history while, ironically, it was under the rule of the Islamic Moors from North Africa and Arabia. Because of the caliphs’ extraordinary tolerance towards the practice of Christianity and Judaism among the Castillian natives, the resulting inter-cultural solidarity promoted peace and cooperation, which in turn unleashed talents and permitted the flourishing of great schools, profitable export industries, and a civilization that later became a world power, militarily and culturally. (When the caliphs in old Spain later on started to quarrel among themselves, the natives quickly booted them out and Catholicism was re-established as the national religion.)

Today, however, peace-making is rapidly responding to the techniques and technology of education and social engineering such that it can produce predetermined benefits for individuals as well as societies, with the European Union being an example. Peace-making is unique in its imperative and ability to merge the disciplines of faith and reason, creeds and science to bring about some fundamental order and meaning to life. Its path inevitably leads through the proverbial eye of the needle, where the passwords are love and respect, but it stops short of ever-tragic messianism, and therein lays some hope for postmodern humanity.

Happy 10th Week of Peace celebration! PAZSALAM to All!

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