Would Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines this week (January 15-19) endorse the ongoing hot-topic Mindanao peace process, particularly the passage of a new organic law for a Bangsamoro autonomy? This is not too remote a possibility since surely he comes equipped with a Jesuitly-thorough staff work on the issues, challenges and problems facing the nation and a now famous extraordinary capacity to discern clearly and act courageously. He has often shown his concern about the pan-Islamic ferment and its violent upheavals in more than half of the world’s regions, and the Bangsamoro issue is a thread in that phenomenon. His visit offers him a chance for concrete rather than symbolic action. “Mercy and Compassion”, the theme of his visit, requires hard action.
That he has invited two Muslim leaders to an interfaith dialogue on January 18 is in itself praiseworthy, an indication of his visit’s agenda. On the hand, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has reportedly sent him, through Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, an invitation to visit its camp as a side trip. Prof. Ali Yacub, the Muslim convenor of Zamboanga City’s Interreligious Solidarity for Peace, called the invitation “a true Muslim act of brotherhood”.
In a statement regarding the Pope’s visit, Office of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process undersecretary Atty. Jose Yusuf Lorena said: “The visit of the Pope here would definitely boost our search for lasting peace. The Pope in many occasions has always worked for the strengthening interfaith dialogue. In fact, he earlier visited the Kingdom of Jordan because it traces its roots to Prophet Mohammad, and even made pronouncements that despite the terroristic actions of ISIS not all Muslims should be branded as terrorists. This would serve us as a guide to the leadership here and Catholics in the country to positively respond to that statement and therefore that would bridge interfaith understanding, harmony and peace
“With the prejudice more or less negated by the pronouncement of the Pope with respect to all Muslims, the Christians communities may be more open to the organization of the Bangsamoro government in the autonomous region in Mindanao and will therefore lead them to possible support of the passage of of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.”
Other than the Bangsamoro question, no other local issue – not for lack of them – that could relate to the papal visit has been raised before the public. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines had declared 2015 as the Year of the Poor. Economic poverty and oppression is the Pope’s top priority, too. Will his visit leave behind Filipinos richer not only in spirit but also in new life?