Even though the journey actually started when we left Manila, the inner journey began taking place upon arrival when I started meeting many people from various parts of the Philippines and from other countries as well. In fact most of us, the participants of Summer Course, did not know each other and we felt foreign to each other. Because of this condition, we could not avoid that in the beginning silence would prevail. WOW, suddenly, a strong voice broke through: “Buenas noches” and everybody looked at each other and smiled. From then on, the conference room for the everyday’s meeting no longer remained quiet. There was always full of sounds. Certain sounds I would never forget, one for instance was produced by a song. We sang it every time we started a lecture. It was the Harmony Prayer song. I think that all of us were able to memorize its lyrics. It was indeed not just a song, but it is something that inspires people to work for peace and harmony, especially in the midst of conflict and division.
I do believe that all of us want to experience peace and harmony in our midst. Though for some of us the experience of peace seems to be like a dream because of biases, prejudices, stereotypes of the others, we have a strong hope and believe that one day different religious practitioners will live together side by side peacefully and harmoniously. For this reason we went to Zamboanga to learn about how to build up a culture of dialogue. It was Fr. Sebastian D’Ambra, PIME who always reminded us that the culture of dialogue has to be done, first and foremost, in ourselves not in the society. That’s why in Silsilah Village, we are led to the culture of dialogue by having conversation and collaboration with our brothers and sisters from different religious backgrounds. Fr. D’ Ambra said that “even though, the fruit of our dialogue seems to be not so significant in our society, but if we start this spirit and culture of dialogue from ourselves, I believe that one day we will reap what we have sowed already”. What Fr. D’ambra said gave a meaningful insight to us. It does not matter of how hard our effort to build a new era of the culture of dialogue is, but if we start it from ourselves, “unti-unti” (tagalog speakers said), little by little we spread positive energy and the good “virus” to others in our societies and we will create a new society. I realize that it is not an easy task for us, since we have already biases, prejudices, and stereotypes of the others. From our personal histories and stories, we also have experienced something traumatic and bad from other religious believers. But, it is not impossible to start something new and to create a new culture in our society, which is the culture of dialogue. That’s why we needed to leave the beautiful village in Silsilah to do our real mission in our respective places so that many people will experience peace and harmony as we experienced it in Silsilah.
Actually, from Harmony Village, we have started already the spirit and the culture of dialogue. During the Summer Course, we were not living in our own world. We built a solid group that consisted of 31 persons from different backgrounds and beliefs. Every day, we prepared some activities such as energizers before the lectures, Morning Prayer from each religion, giving a brief summary of the lecture of the day before, singing Harmony Song Prayer. Our meal and free time were opportunities to have meaningful conversations about our experiences, lives, cultures, concerns, difficulties, joys, hopes, etc. This experience helped us to acknowledge the presence of the others not as threats, but as persons like us who want to build the culture of dialogue and to cultivate the spirituality of dialogue in their lives.
To conclude my experience, I would like to tell a story about a Jewish rabbi. One day the rabbi asked his disciples, “How do you know that the night has been over and the day is approaching”? One disciple answered, “from my experience, I know that the night is fading away and the day is blossoming when I see an animal from distance and I am able to recognize that it is a sheep not a wolf.” Another disciple replied, “It is easy rabbi, I know the night has gone and the day has been coming when I see a tree from a far and I can identify that it is a coconut tree not a palm tree”. The rabbi said, “you will not know when the night has gone and the day is coming unless when you see a woman or a man and you can realize that she is your sister and he is your brother. If you cannot realize that he is your brother and she is your sister, it does not matter what time it is, it is still dark.”