ZAMBOANGA CITY – Over 30,000 people coming various sectors in the society renewed their commitment to lasting and just peace in Mindanao during a grand parade that marked the opening of this year’s Week of Peace celebrations last November 27.
Marchers carrying placards and streamers with peace messages marched across downtown from historic Pettit Barracks to the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex and there held an opening program.
In his speech, Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ) Rev. Fr. Angel C. Calvo, CMF, invited all sectors in the city to observe the weeklong activity by recognizing that “each one of us has the capability to contribute towards the attainment of peace in Mindanao.”
“People must believe that we can put together our minds and hearts to obtain the dream of peace in our land,” Fr. Calvo exhorted.
With this year’s theme of “Integrity of Mind and Heart: A way to Reconciliation and Peace,” the Nov. 27-Dec. 3 celebration aimed at integrating advocacy and peace-making efforts of stakeholders in Mindanao, Fr. Calvo said. The Week was also observed through different activities in various provinces and cities of southern Philippines.
“It is beautiful to see Muslim and Christians working together, it is a sign of hope and solidarity,” he said at the opening ceremonies.
Zamboanga Mayor Celso L. Lobregat urged the residents in this city to remain united as a step to achieve a peaceful society.
“If we wish real place here in Mindanao, let peace begin within ourselves. Peace involves stakeholders and consultation,” he said in his message to the paraders and guests.
Prof. Ali T. Yacub, Muslim convenor of the local Inter-Religious Solidarity Movement for Peace (IRMSP), who read the statement of the influential Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC), also urged city residents to strengthen the interfaith relationship.
“It is …imperative on the Abrahamic, Ebrihamic, and Indigenous communities of Christians, Muslims and Lumads, led by their respective religious leaders to bring about durable and lasting peace through the integrity of mind and heart, humbly expressed in the reconciling process of repentance and forgiveness,” he said as he read BUC’s statement, adding that “only this process, bolstered by socio-economic and political projects, can heal the wide wounds of the spirit.” The BUC annually spearheads the Week activities in Mindanao.
During the opening ceremony, school-based and community-based youths rendered colorful dances as they held up bold letters spelling peace in English and Muslim.
Some participants painted their bodies with colorful drawings to signify their particular advocacy for peace in Mindanao, reminiscent of lumad traditions.
Doves, which are a symbolic icon of peace, were also released at the close of the opening program.
Native Subanons who participated at the ceremony expressed their gratitude for giving them recognition as members of the tri-people of Mindanao.
Subanons in the region, who have been fighting for their ancestral land, also gave their traditional dance as sign of solidarity in the peace week celebration.
In addition, Protestant groups led by Pastor Pablo G. Palis called on citizens to give their whole heart, mind and even body to the cause of peace.
The week-long celebration was conceptualized in this city at the height of hostilities and Abu Sayyaf troubles in the southwestern part of Mindanao in 1997. This was eventually adopted by the influential religious group, the formerly named Bishop-Ulama Council, making the celebration not only exclusive to Zamboanga city but in the entire Mindanao.
At present, the celebration is recognized as the biggest peace festival in the country and is endorsed by Presidential Proclamation No. 207 issued by then President Joseph Estrada in 1999, while President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo later issued her own presidential proclamation enjoining all sectors to take part in its observance.
Many other activities were held in Zamboanga related to the Week, with Peace Advocates Zamboanga acting as main organizer.