The history of Mindanao has been marred, over the years, by divisions and conflicts between Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples. The annual World Interfaith Harmony Week celebration from February 1 to 7 is a wonderful opportunity for people of the different faith traditions- Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples – to gather together in a show of solidarity and respect and to pray together for lasting peace for all in Mindanao.
Higaonons (the local indigenous ethno-religious community), Muslims and Christians all have very different ways of praying and this difference needs to be fully respected. Otherwise there is a tendency for the Christian majority here to unconsciously ‘impose’ the Christian form and understanding of prayer and worship on the non- Christian participants. In order to preserve the integrity and the uniqueness of these different expressions of prayer and worship and in order to encourage everyone to have a deeper understanding and respect for these differences, we have three distinct prayer services during the World Interfaith Harmony Week:
- The Ecumenical Christian Prayers for Peace in one of the city’s Christian churches
- The Muslim Prayers for Peace in one of the city’s mosques
- The Higaonon (Indigenous) Prayers for Peace, in their sacred space in the mountains.
Muslims pray at 5 different set times during the day. They pray in Arabic and they prefer to do so in the local mosque. Higaonons pray in designated sacred open spaces, using very particular ritual practices and in their own language. Christians of all denominations pray in churches using the dominant local language (Binisaya). All these differences need to be taken seriously. Otherwise the majority group (in our case, the Christians) may end up imposing their own ideas about prayer and worship, while unintentionally offending the non-Christians. That is why we have three separate celebrations during the World Interfaith Harmony Week, presided over by the Christians, Muslims and Higaonons respectively. However, it is important for us the Christians, Muslims and Higaonons attend all three services as a sign of solidarity and respect. These three prayer services help to break down misunderstanding and misconceptions about each other’s belief and practices. They are a wonderful public witness to interfaith unity and solidarity in the midst of divisions and misunderstanding.
Ecumenical (Christian) Prayers for Peace:
When it is carefully planned together by the different Christian leaders, it is quite possible for Catholics, main-stream Protestants and Evangelicals to pray together for peace – using hymns, scripture readings, psalms, prayers of intercession and the ‘Our Father’. Christians have a common basic understanding of prayer and worship. Each year the Ecumenical (Christian) prayer service is hosted by one of the main Christian Churches in the city. In 2015 it was held in San Agustin Roman Catholic Cathedral.
Muslim Prayers for Peace:
This usually takes the form of the Friday Congregational Prayer at about 12 noon in one of the city mosques. The form of worship is standard, but the Imam preaches about tolerance and respect between Muslims, Christians and the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao. The Christian and Higaonon guests are accommodated in a designated space in order to observe the prayer and to listen to the sermon. They are given a formal welcome by the Imam during the sermon and after the prayer service. In 2015 Imam Aliasa Alinog’s sermon (in Meranao) reminded the congregation that if they do not show the same respect to non-Muslims as they show to fellow Muslims, they are not really true Muslims.
Higaonon Prayers for Peace and Care for the Earth:
During the first full moon of March, the Higaonons perform a solemn ceremony of thanksgiving and petition to Magbabaya (Creator God) and to the Holy Spirits that dwell in the Cagayan de Oro River. They believe that it is only when we show gratitude and respect for the gift of water that the balance of nature is maintained and we are protected from calamities such as severe flooding and typhoons. This solemn ceremony, known as ‘Pamulalakaw’, involves the ritual slaughter and offering of chickens and goats to Magbabaya and the Spirits who protect the watershed.
This prayer needs to be performed by the Higaonons, with faithful adherence to their beliefs and traditions. Therefore, out of respect for them, our World Interfaith Harmony Week celebrations normally extend until the first March full moon, in order to include the Pamulalakaw. The Christian and Muslim religious leaders and congregations, including our Catholic archbishop and the Imam of the city’s Central Mosque, join the ceremony and bring their chickens and goats to be offered by the Higaonon Baylans (priests) as a gesture of support and solidarity with the people who have been tasked by Our Creator (Magbabaya) with preserving the Cagayan de Oro River Watershed and its environs.
Archbishop Ledesma (Roman Catholic), Bishop Calang (Philippine Independent Church) & Bishop Petallo (Reformed Evangelical) with Higaonon (Indigenous Peoples) Muslim and Christian leaders at the World Interfaith Harmony Week celebration at San Agustin Roman Catholic Cathedral, 4 February 2015