The priest is a peacemaker, par excellence. Through the Sacraments, and especially through the Eucharist, he enables us to engage in a personal relationship with God, a dialogue between the creature and his Creator.

For Father Sebastiano, the founder of the Silsilah movement on the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines, this relationship, this dialogue is the founding principle of his peace movement. ‘Dialogue begins with God and brings people back to God’, he says. He strives to pursue dialogue with all religious groups and especially with the Muslims. For ‘deep in the heart of every individual there is always a place of goodness.That is what we must reach.’

Unfortunately, radical Islamists cannot grasp this way of thinking, which is simply love of our neighbours and our enemies. Twice already Father Sebastiano has survived assassination attempts, and twice the centre of his movement, which has already won over many thousands of Christians and Muslims to the cause of dialogue and peace, has been attacked.

Unfortunately Mindanao is also home to the violent Islamist terrorist organisation, Abu Sayyaf. Its campaign of terror has gripped the city of Isabela, on the island of Basilan, and in particular Bishop Martin Jumoad and the 115,000 or so Catholics of the Catholic prelature of Isabela de Basilan. They make up a quarter of the population of the island; the rest are Muslims. The priests and religious live under constant threat; many have already been abducted, like Father Eduardo and Father Bernardo, while others, like Father Rhoel Gallardo and Father Rene Enriquez, were even tortured to death. Six years ago Islamists attacked one village, burning and killing. And in Isabela, the capital city of the island, a bomb destroyed the Cathedral of St. Isabela.

The goal of Abu Sayyaf is to kill or drive out all the Christians. Instead they are staying put and seeking dialogue with their neighbours. But they are poor, and can barely afford to support their 14 priests. So Bishop Martin is urgently seeking our help, in the form of Mass stipends for his priests, and above all our prayers that they stay strong in their mission and continue supporting the Catholic faithful on the island.

We are giving our support. He has no illusions, but agrees with Father Sebastiano: ‘I know the Lord is at work. I am just an instrument; may his will be done.’ Their message is clear: ‘Peace on earth to men of goodwill’ (Lk 2:14). ‘I do my best’, says Father Sebastiano, ‘but then I add, Lord, may you bring everything to perfect completion!’ This perfect completion is found above all in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Nowhere on earth is peace more perfectly present. So your help for priests, especially in crisis areas, is truly a work of peace, more extensive and enduring than anything we can otherwise achieve.


This article can be found in Mirror 0716.