KASAMA Vol. 21 No. 1 / January-February-March 2007 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Dialogue Among Faiths and Civilizations in the Asia-Pacific Region: Hopeful Signs, Urgent Challenges


Panellists: Archbishop Fernando Capalla, Davao, Philippines
Professor Azyumardi Azra, Rector, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Indonesia
The Venerable Wu Shin, Vice President, Pure Land Learning College
and Ms. Glenine Hamlyn, Gen. Secretary, Qld Churches Together
Moderated by Dr. Rachael Kohn, Producer, The Spirit of Things, ABC Radio National
Chaired by Professor Toh Swee-Hin, Director, Multi-Faith Centre

On December 18, 2006 a panel of faith leaders and educators from diverse traditions shared their stories on how the dialogue among faiths and civilizations is helping to build peace and harmony in the Asia-Pacific region. The Forum was organised by the members of the Advisory Committee of the Multi-Faith Centre, Griffith University, Queensland. The following is a transcript of Dr. Rachel Kohn’s conversation with Archbishop Fernando Capalla from Davao, Mindanao in southern Philippines.

Archbishop Fernando Capalla Dr. Kohn: Many of us are aware that in the Philippines there has been quite a degree of conflict between Christians and Muslims. Some people have looked to the past and identified the origins of the conflict when the Spanish first arrived but clearly interfaith dialogue cannot undo history. So, may I ask you, what do you think interfaith dialogue can reasonably achieve in the Philippines today?

Archbishop Capalla: The achievements of interfaith dialogue in the Philippines especially in our region of Mindanao in southern Philippines is that first of all there is more and more interest on the part of Moslems in Christianity and on the part of Christians in Islam. Secondly, there is more tolerance between Christians and Moslems, in spite of the conflict, and there’s a lot of interest also in knowing what is dialogue, what’s the art of dialogue.

Dr. Kohn: Do you have a clear idea of what dialogue is?

Archbishop Capalla: For me, in the last analysis, dialogue is to be human, although it’s very risky and it’s disastrous for some people. But there’s no other way to solve conflicts except through respectful and human dialogue.

Dr. Kohn: Does that mean setting aside one’s doctrinal beliefs in order to maintain a conversation?

Archbishop Capalla: No, I think we have to be very clear about ourselves and about the truth that we stand for and not be afraid of telling the truth. And respect each others stand on faith matters, that’s to be human.

Dr. Kohn: What would you identify as really the source of the conflict currently in the south?

Archbishop Capalla: In the Philippines, the conflict is not about religion, it’s about land, about territory, what they call the ancestral domain of the natives, of the indigenous peoples which some Christians and some Moslems claim to be their own. This is the basis for conflict in our region.

Dr. Kohn: So it’s really a territorial and political conflict that has been sacrilized through religion. Does it find a vehicle through religion?

Archbishop Capalla: In some ways. I like your “sacrilized”, some people are using that word, also using religious motivations for the conflict. But basically it’s really land and economic issues.

Dr. Kohn: I have read about the Silsilah Dialogue Movement [SDM] in Mindanao and its particular work amongst youth. Can you talk about it and some of its achievements perhaps?

Archbishop Capalla: Briefly, Silsilah is an Arabic word for ‘change’. It was founded by a priest and there are Moslems and Christians on the Board. The activities of the SDM is to promote dialogue through teaching the art of dialogue, and also teaching the basic tenets of Islam and Christianity by offering Summer courses and exposing the participants to Christian and Moslem families. And it has been working for the past 15 years now and there’s a lot of friendships that have been forged between the participants, enduring friendships and collaboration.

Dr. Kohn: It sounds very encouraging. Did you mention how many people were involved in the SDM?

Archbishop Capalla: There’s a Board of 15 people and the staff is also composed of Moslems and Christians, mostly young people and they’re all from the region of Mindanao — Catholics, Protestants and Moslems. And the basic atmosphere is of friendship and trust being promoted. People pray together but the art of dialogue is the main purpose. They call themselves the Institute for Dialogue in Mindanao.

Dr. Kohn: And has that model been replicated in other places?

Archbishop Capalla: In other parts of Mindanao, yes. The graduates of SDM have asked for sub-centres in their own cities in other parts of Mindanao. So, the Director is following that up in short courses in different cities of Mindanao. Mindanao is an island of 16 million people.

Dr. Kohn: May I ask what you see as the really urgent challenges which Filipinos face in this area of Moslem-Christian relations?

Archbishop Capalla: One of the urgent challenges In Mindanao is to prevent the infiltration of Moslem communities by terrorists who can come disguised as Islamic preachers. And the second challenge is to heal the wounds created by the conflicts in Mindanao. Right now the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiating partners are working on the Peace Agreement. But to me if the Peace Agreement only consists of economic packages, we will not heal the wounds that are very deep and wide created by the war. So there’s a need for interfaith people to propose reconciliation through repentance and forgiveness. Otherwise there’s no future for our country if the hatred will still be there in the hearts of people.

Dr. Kohn: Thank you Archbishop for your reflections this morning.

Silsilah, a Movement for Muslims and Christians and people of other faiths
Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, Founder & President of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement

This extract is taken from Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra’s presentation to the International Symposium Cultivating Wisdom, Harvesting Peace held at the Multi-faith Centre in 2005.

“In Rome I studied Islam and Arabic in a university to deepen my knowledge and reflection on Muslim-Christian dialogue, with the hope to go back to the Philippines one day, and share with others my experience. This hope became a reality when in 1983 I was able to return in the Philippines as a Superior of the PIME missionaries [Pontifical Institute for Foreign Mission]. Guided by the background of my experience and my studies on Islam and Arabic, I shared my intention to promote dialogue to Muslim and Christian friends and in 1984 we started the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga City.”

“One of the first challenges… was to form an autonomous movement where Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths could feel at home. We found support in the Archbishop of Zamboanga City and the Grand Mufti, encouraging all to see Silsilah as a common house of the Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths.”

“Our vision: In the name of God, the fountain and source of dialogue, Silsilah envisions a life-in-dialogue for all Muslims, Christians and peoples of other living faiths in respect, trust and love for one and other, and moving together towards a common experience of harmony, solidarity and peace.”

“Our mission: As instruments of dialogue and peace, we, the members of Silsilah, commit ourselves: to live the essence of our respective faiths and bear witness to the values of our own religious traditions; to be in dialogue with all peoples, regardless of culture and faith, promoting the Culture of Dialogue with particular emphasis on spiritual values; and to be in solidarity with all peoples in the uplift of the less privileged, in the building up of a progressive, just, humane and ecologically sound society.”

Copies of the 2005 Symposium proceedings cost Aus$35 plus postage from the Multi-Faith Centre, Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan Qld 4111. Email: or phone +61(0)73735-7051/7052.

The multi-Faith Centre’s website: is at