QUEZON CITY—The Philippine Conference on New Evangelization was held at Smart Araneta Center Coliseum last January 28-29, 2020, with the theme “Who, then, is my neighbor?” The Church, nowadays, is trying to make a step on how to achieve peace and unity amidst the challenge of differences and diversities of beliefs particularly in religion, culture and contextual lifestyle lived by indigenous people. This motive is not new as even Pope Francis told the missionaries to go beyond the boundaries and reach out to those who are in the peripheries. For this reason, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has advocated to make this calling be made realized through ‘Ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and indigenous peoples.’
Due to this, a two-day conference was conducted and led by His Eminence, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. This event evidently made the peoples’ hearts shout with joy and left them with inspiring and heart-warming experiences as they listen to the wonderful experiences shared by the key speakers who came from other Christian denominations and religious faith namely, Islam. The whole arena was full of lovely noises as the people expressed their faith and love to one another. There were so many things that every person can learn; nevertheless, one of the most important things that a person must ought to know is the importance of listening and paying attention to the voice of others. This was done in the activity itself particularly the ‘listening hearts’ where there were guests invited to share their experiences of their journey of faith.
All of the key speakers shared their inspirational stories of their lives. Perhaps, one of them is a businessman whose hobby was t-shirt designing and printing for the UAAP and NCAA. Along the way, he thought why not spread the faith through this hobby. And so, he did not only produce plain t-shirts with random prints on them, but with biblical lines and religious manifestations instead. I supposed many were touched by listening to his experiences with God as he lived his life as a businessman with a great faith in Him.
Succeedingly, a Muslim who studied in a Catholic School also shared her experience during the gathering. By only imagining at it, it is not easy to become one with others that in the first place, you are not familiar with as she belongs to another religion and she has her own beliefs and practices which she managed to live with them. This experience of her was a great gift that she received in her life because no one is perfect despite of being discriminated as she shared one unfortunate event in her life wherein her classmates made fun of her by pin-pointing that as a Muslim, they are known for selling pirated CDs and DvDs in local markets. Of course, these painful but she knows in herself that she is a great person fighting for peace and unity.
Furthermore, Mariel and Robin were also part of the guests of that event. They shared their experiences within the context of being a husband and wife. I, myself, was touched by their married life especially with the way they live even though they came from different religions. Mariel said that they respect one another and they never let religion become a reason for misunderstanding and miscommunication between her and her husband. Additionally, they practice their diverse religions with respect like how they celebrate Christmas and Ramadan in their own ways. Love knows no religion, Mariel said. Overall, there is no barrier in their home. But, what struck me was their knowledge of each other’s faith. Mariel jokingly said that Robin would remind her particularly in holy week not to post on social media because during that time, Christ is dead and Mariel would remind Robin as well if he forgets something. In summary, there were many good stories that other guest speakers have shared but these experiences have one common ground that is, their experience of God and how they lived their uniqueness of faith with understanding, unity, peace and respect.
Towards the last part of the event, Cardinal Tagle posed this question to everyone ‘are you a neighbor to others?’ This is the best expression to identify and to know the authentic experience of being a neighbor because we might not be aware that they are all our neighbors regardless of what denomination or religion they belong. Yet, the question is ‘are you a neighbor to your neighbor?’ This was the challenging one given to all the participants; to know your neighbor by identity and to know them by heart and intimate relationship. We must have a direct experience of how it is to live with your neighbor. And so, we ask these questions: how is it to listen to the voice of others? How is peace and unity concretely express in day to day living? As what Cardinal Tagle asked, what prejudices, biases, prejudgments do we have that hinder our capacity to dialogue with others especially to Non- Catholic Christians and from other religions? All these questions are part of the challenge of‘Ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and indigenous people.’ As what Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME said ‘Catholics are called to renew their faith, they are also invited to rediscover the importance to journey together in solidarity with people of different faiths, cultures and religions.’ Then again, for Christians, as I relate it to Mary when Jesus was told that his mother was there, Jesus responded “who is my mother but those who listen to the word of God?”.
In the same way to ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and indigenous people, who are our neighbors? Our neighbors are those who listen to the voice of God through the mouths of other Christian denominations, other religions and different indigenous people. They are our neighbors! This is a great challenge to the Church: how to battle against self-righteousness and pride so as to maintain unity, understanding among our neighbors. Start to discover the beauty of conversing, open our ears and listen to the voice of others, empty our hearts and fill it with their love.