Fostering interreligious work in the Philippines

CABANATUAN CITY, Philippines (UMNS) — During the Marcos years, Phebe Gamata Crismo, a young United Methodist deaconess in the Philippines, spent two years searching for her missing husband, Romy.

She also worked with many others whose family members had involuntary disappeared during the martial law regime to find justice, and, eventually they succeeded. A law against involuntary or enforced disappearance was signed in December 2012.

The still-active deaconess told her story as an example of an ecumenical faith journey during a May 28-30 training event for United Methodists at Wesley Divinity School of Wesleyan University-Philippines.

Learning to participate in ecumenical and interreligious relationships is a “manifestation of our quest for unity” and a way to address “a shattered society,” Manila Area Bishop Rodolfo Juan pointed out during the training.

Total registered attendance was 73, including resource persons, and some 60 received their certificates of completion from the United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training. The training was arranged in cooperation with theOffice of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relations for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and the Rev. Stephen Sidorak, top executive, was a presenter.

“World of glaring inequality”

Although few of the participants had previous ecumenical experience, The United Methodist Church and nine other denominations support the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, an ecumenical body.

Bishop Pedro Torio Jr., of the Baguio Area acknowledged how “we live in a world of glaring inequality between the rich and the poor” and connected ecumenical ministries with peace and holiness, adding “I like to think you came in the name of Christian holiness.”

He read a part of scripture in an unusual translation in Matthew, “Set your mind with God and his justice.” This uses justice in place of a related term in the Hebrew biblical term often read as “righteousness.”

The bishop said, “Christian unity and interreligious relations is a way of life.”

Elected to the episcopacy in December 2012, Torio was chair of the Regional Ecumenical Committee in the Cordillera and represented  First Baguio United Methodist Church in the Baguio Benguet Ecumenical Group when he was still pastor of that church.

The meaning of “The Quest for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations,” the gathering’s theme, is the breaking down of the barriers that divide us, he said, but emphasized, “Demands that we break down the barriers…does not mean that we surrender the unique truth claims of our biblical faith in Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Nathanael P. Lazaro, general superintendent of the Evangelical Methodist Church in the Philippine Islands, presented a paper on the country’s ecumenical and interfaith landscape.

“Return to the building blocks”

The Rev. Eleuterio J. Revollido of the Philippine Independent Church detailed how experience with early 20th century Protestant missionaries helped formulate ecumenical theology in the Philippines and spoke of the need to return to the building blocks of partnership and dialogue.

“For us in this gathering who are involved in ecumenical and interreligious ministries, the real challenge for us today is how to develop a life-centered understanding of ecumenism where the focus is not just on the traditional faith and human encounters but on the totality of the world, society, culture, people and all God’s creation,” Revollido wrote in his paper for the event.

Despite her ordeal during the oppressive years of martial rule, Crismo emerged with continuing faith and worked with friends to make responsible before Philippine law those atrocities of abusive state authorities.

“The ecumenical journey is a fellowship, a journey of friends,” she said. “We learned to adjust. We learned to tolerate. But first we learn to understand.”

*Canlas, a freelance writer in Manila, covered the interreligious training event for the United Methodist Church in the Philippines.

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