UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME, INDIANA -- This week, I have managed to escape the heat of Manila made worse with the tensions rising over Sabah, heightened word wars between opposition and administration senators over the Sabah crisis, pork, corruption, marital problems, among others. I have escaped polluted Manila -- even if only for a few days -- to refresh my drooping spirits in a conference on peace here at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I arrived on the first official day of spring, only to be met by an unseasonable snowstorm. From Philippine summer to Midwest winter. Certainly bracing. 


I am participating in a major conference organized by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns on the 50th anniversary of "Pacem in Terris," a papal encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII. The last encyclical drafted by Pope John, it had radical impact on the Catholic Church’s view of the world. Pacem in Terris or Peace on Earth laid the foundations for the attainment of a just and lasting peace, to include respect for human rights and the role of women. It was the first encyclical addressed not just to the Catholic faithful, but to "all men of good will."

"Pacem in Terris" was a reaction to the tense global political situation during the cold war with the erection of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The encyclical established the relationship between individuals and humanity, discussing the issues of human rights as well as man’s obligations and moral duties. The document also detailed the relationship between man and state, particularly on the state’s responsibilities for its citizens given the authority wielded by the state. "Pacem in Terris" also establishes the need for equality among nations and the need for the state to be also governed by the rights and duties that the individual is subject to. Finally, the encyclical discusses the requisite of better relations between and among nations, with nations helping other nations. Pope John made a plea for the Catholic faithful to assist non-Christians and non-Catholics. The encyclical supported the objectives of the United Nations, as it promotes peace and protects human rights.

"Pacem in Terris" paved the way for strong involvement of the Catholic Church and faith-based organizations in the promotion of human rights, justice, peace building and peaceful resolution of conflicts. The Conference, according to the organizers, will "explore the thematic peace and justice issues that have been addressed by modern Catholic social thought, especially those within the encyclical such as human rights, political structures, ecumenism and environmentalism."

Dr. William Purcell, the center’s associate director, invited speakers, who have been involved in interfaith approaches to peacemaking and promotion of human rights, to share our thoughts on these topics which have profoundly affected Catholic teaching and practice. Today, I will be sharing the work done by Muslim and Christian religious in the peaceful resolution of conflict in Mindanao. Rev. James Channan, O.P. director of the Peace Center of the Dominican Order in Pakistan, will speak on "Pacem in Terris: Its Influences and Challenges to Catholics/Christians in an Islamic Context of Pakistan." While I share my experiences as a Muslim working in a Christian dominated country, Fr. Channan will be sharing his experiences as a Catholic priest in Muslim-dominated Pakistan.

Pope John believed that peace, real and long-lasting peace, is only possible if based on a foundation of truth, justice, respect for the rights of all men and freedom. Pope John reminded that there can be no peace amongst peoples unless there is peace within each individual. Decades later, this message of peace on earth has been echoed by "A Common Word," a document that emanated from leading religious scholars of the Islamic world.

On Oct. 11, 2007, a group of 138 Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals sent an open letter, entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," to then Pope Benedict XVI and the leaders of other Christian denominations. Led by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, "A Common Word" argued that "if Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace."

ACW called upon Muslims and Christians to start a process of historic reconciliation between the two communities. Driven by an agenda of peace, the letter noted that Muslims and Christians make up 45% of the world’s population and that there will be no peace in the world unless there is peace between the two communities. The Common Word document highlighted the two themes of love of God and love of neighbor as the foundation for serious dialog or engagement between Islam and Christianity. The two themes are also the two great commandments of Jesus Christ, binding Muslims and Christians together around a set of theological and ethical principles. 

The Holy Qur’an states:

Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (Aal ’Imran 3:64)

Rather than fight each other in conflicts where there can be no victor, the document urged Muslims and Christian to "vie with each other only in righteousness and good works." It asked both religions to be good neighbors "be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."

Since Wednesday evening, I have been re-reading "Pacem in Terris" and "A Common Word" while seated by the window, watching the snow fall outside. I have been musing about what Pope John said -- that avoiding war is one thing, but building peace is quite another. And realizing that what he had drafted over 50 years ago is even truer today, when more conflicts have arisen between nations and between peoples and states.

I have been thinking about the Sabah crisis and the topic of the conference: peace on earth. Pope John believed and stressed that international differences must be settled not by force but by diplomacy and peaceful resolution of conflicting positions and interests. Islam, while several Muslim dominant countries are engaged in civil wars these past few years, also is a religion that puts a premium on peace. "A Common Word" encapsulates that ideal.

It seems to me that we have chosen to forget what is moral or ethical and focus on what is legal. How then can religious leaders influence peoples and their political leaders that war is an evil that perpetuates itself? Perhaps, in the Philippines and Malaysia, our religious leaders and faith based organizations can issue a strong petition to both governments to take a step back and follow the path of peace, as encouraged by both Christianity and Islam. As it is, the leaders of both faiths have been rather silent. Civil society organizations have taken the lead in calling for dialogue and peaceful resolution of the conflict, in the interest of regional security, amity and peace.

At this point, we can only hope and pray for our leaders to return to the path leading to peace on earth. Pacem in Terris.



By the way, dear readers, I have good news to share. The international board of judges for the World Interfaith Harmony Week 2013 Prize have awarded two Philippine organizations: our Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy won the silver for our event "A Common Word Towards A Common Peace" and the Silsilah Movement of Mindanao was 2nd honorable mention. The grand prize and a gold medal will be awarded to the Interfaith Mediation Center, Kaduna for their event "Imam and Pastor from Vengeance to Forgiveness" in Nigeria. The bronze medal will be awarded to the Department of National Unity and Integration for their event "World Interfaith Harmony Week Malaysia 2013" in Malaysia. Awarding will be done in Jordan on April 25.

Kudos to all! 


Amina Rasul is the president of Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy. Surviel is her column in BusinessWorld. Follow her on Twitter @aminarasul.