The Mindanao Week of Peace this year, starting on November 30, adopted the theme, “Peace is Coming Home through Harmony and Solidarity.”
It reflected the aspirations of Muslim households to return to their homes after the siege of Marawi in 2017.
In Cotabato City on the following day, Dec. 1, I joined Archbishop Angelito Lampon and Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi in meeting with members of the Darul Ifta of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.
We agreed on the need to continue the dialogue among religious leaders to work for peace and development in Mindanao.
Indeed on the following day, Dec. 2, I joined two groups of students and educators in their assemblies celebrating the Mindanao Week of Peace.
Sadly, this common resolve has been overtaken by the bombing incident during the Catholic Mass in the Mindanao State University gymnasium on Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent.
On the next day, Dec. 4, together with Bishop Jose Rapadas of Iligan and other peace advocates from Cagayan de Oro, we visited Bishop Edwin in his temporary quarters in Baloi, on the way to Marawi.
We also met six of his parish priests who had come for a meeting, including Fr. Jun Flores, the Mass celebrant during the bombing incident.
Despite the anxieties expressed by everyone, it was heart-warming to hear the resolve of the priests to stay with their communities.
We heard Fr. Jerome share the sorrow of the family of Janine Arenas, one of the student fatalities, when her body was brought back to her hometown in Balabagan.
On our way back, we also said a funeral Mass in Iligan City for another victim, Evangeline Aromin, a lecturer at MSU-IIT.
The other fatalities were Junerey Barbante, a graduate student, and Riza Daniel, a storekeeper.
We thus express our condolence and shared grief with the victims and families of those affected by the bombing.
But for me, the most heartening account was the description of how many Maranao students immediately took measures to help the victims of the bombing and to protect their Christian schoolmates from any further harm.
May this gesture of solidarity not only affirm the spirit of MSU as an inclusive institution for higher learning but also symbolize the ongoing aspirations for the tri-people of Mindanao to come home through solidarity and harmony.
Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, is the retired prelate of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro in the southern Philippines. He is co-President of Pax-Christi-Pilipinas. Ledesma supported efforts to resolve Mindanao’s protracted struggle with the Moro liberation groups. He led the Catholic bishops’ conference’s Episcopal Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue in 2019 and has convened local religious leaders in inter-religious dialogue on different social issues.