An interfaith worship service on the one-year anniversary of a bloody attack on farmers in the Philippines was organized by the United Methodist bishop’s office in the Davao area.
A morning liturgy for the 2016 Kidapawan incident was held April 1 at Spottswood Methodist Center with the theme “A Journey to the Fullness of Life.” Many of those attacked were from an indigenous group called the Lumads.
The bloody dispersal on April 1, 2016 had evoked a range of reactions, thoughts and feelings among the people. The Spottswood compound gave sanctuary to 4,000 farmers and indigenous people after a protest for food relief turned deadly.
Three protesters were killed and more than 100 injured when security forces fired on the crowd blocking a major highway. Protesters poured into the Spottswood center for refuge, which was then surrounded by police.
Last May, indigenous leaders from the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines visited United Methodist General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon, to seek solidarity with and support from United Methodists.
Daniel Ela, executive assistant to Bishop Rodolfo Juan, said that Davao area upholds the aspiration and vision to pursue and attain peace and fullness of life.
Those at the liturgy expressed a willingness to participate in principled and unifying engagements and dialogue between and among each other, he said.
"One highlight was the forming of a peace altar from symbolic stones or small rocks or other materials that representatives of participating organizations and churches offered during the liturgy," he noted.
"The altar, which was initially formed in front of Spottswood Methodist Center, will eventually be transferred to a fitting spot inside the center and will become a permanent symbol of the commitment for peace and the fullness of life," Ela said.
The Rev. Jeric Cortado, a United Methodist and acting dean from the College of Theology of the Southern Philippines Methodist Colleges Inc., believes that “for the church and the government to collaborate and combine their efforts towards peace building and reconciliation is really possible."
Cortado emphasized that he is not saying that strife has ended. But, he added, "the fact that they would meet, all of the representatives from the government and the church, would see each other and meet on a common ground is a space that signifies a common table to start the conversation."
Besides church members, the event was attended by representatives from the government, the army and police.
Framer Cristy Mella, president of the Southern Philippines Methodist Colleges Inc. called the service “an initial step for the church and the people to offer a venue for engaging contending parties and various stakeholders with different interests and frameworks to achieve the common good which is the fullness of life."
Cortado and Mella were among the team members tapped by the bishop to plan the interfaith service.
In the celebration of life, Bishop Rodolfo Juan referenced biblical passages to expound on the turning of swords into plowshares.
"Isaiah writes when the Messiah comes and sets up His kingdom church on this earth, He shall judge between the nations and rebuke many people,” the bishop said. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks."
"This time, we will turn the tools used for violence into tools for peace."
The bishop challenged those at the service by inviting them to make a personal commitment to nonviolence; help the troubled, the lost and confused; speak out against prejudice and discrimination and regard every person as part of the community.
"Sisters and brothers, bishops, priests and pastors, soldiers and police officers, our government officials, Lumads and our beloved farmers, let us work together for lasting peace here in Mindanao.
"Hand in hand, let us journey together towards the fullness of life,” Juan said. “Let us make sure that a ‘Kidapawan massacre’ will not happen again.”
Mangiduyos is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service.