by Ma. Teresa “Marites” Guingona-Africa, Ph.D.


Dec. 3, 2023, Sunday. ISIS forces detonated an explosive device on a large group of Christians attending Sunday Mass service at the gym of the Mindanao State University in Marawi. The explosion ripped through the assembly killing at least four people and injuring dozens of others. This act of violence hijacked the images of peace that were being projected to be “coming home” during the celebration of the 2023 Week of Peace in Mindanao.

It is uncanny how, without knowing that this year’s event would figure in another violent incident in Marawi, Abp. Emeritus Antonio Ledesma, SJ of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro addressed the theme PEACE IS COMING HOME for this year’s celebration.

He did so in reference to the internally displaced Muslim families in Marawi who continue to suffer the loss of their homes due to the 2017 siege of their Islamic city. Little did he know that the much-hoped-for “coming home” of peace would be hijacked by another act of terrorism that reignited fear and anger, and compounded the suffering in Marawi.

I was in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur– representing THE PEACEMAKERS’ CIRCLE– where I attended and offered a challenge (of finding peace in our home where our heart is) to the 850-strong audience during the Program Launching event at the Pagadian City Plaza (on Nov. 29). I was also there to conduct a workshop on CREATING SAFE SPACES FOR TRI-PEOPLES’ DIALOGUE IN PAGADIAN the next day (Nov. 30) for a group of Christians, Subanens, and Muslims.

The workshop was the first project of the fledgling INTERFAITH FORUM FOR SOLIDARITY AND PEACE (IFSP) in Pagadian. It was spearheaded by Fr. Felix Tigoy (RC Coordinator of IFSP, and Head of Secretariat), Timuay Jose Macarial (indigenous, Subanen) with Sr. Marjorie Guingona (Catholic Christian), and Bong Balimbingan, Jr. (Muslim) as members of the team of movers. I was privileged to be able to introduce to the team and their tri-people participants the essentials of interfaith peacebuilding.

This is of particular importance to me because the term “interfaith dialogue” has been bandied around by many as though it is simply all about getting groups of people of different religions and faith traditions together to “talk” or engage in high-profile activities. But there is more to interfaith dialogue than merely the exchange of words, or the photo ops!

While the endeavor has gained support among religious circles in the country these past two decades, it seems to me to have remained on the level of an ideal that well-intentioned and dedicated individuals and groups have attempted to translate into action through various projects and initiatives showing harmony and solidarity among them. But it has not yet become the transformative force for social change that we have hoped it would be.

As a practitioner of interfaith dialogue (through the work of THE PEACEMAKERS’ CIRCLE FOUNDATION, INC.) for over two decades, I must confess that I am rather frustrated by the fact that we seem to have made little progress in promoting true CONVERSION OF THE HEART in our attempts to build relationships of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation between and among diverse people. Wars have been waged involving religion throughout human history. Wars continue to wage involving religion today.

What good is our religion or our faith tradition if it cannot be a resource for peace instead of a source of conflict…if it cannot be a source of comfort to us and a healing force for our weary souls?

If we are to hope for true and lasting peace to become a reality in our midst, we must create safe spaces within and around us where our hearts and minds can respectfully meet amid our diversity, where we can respect our differences and relate with one another BEYOND TOLERANCE.

True conversion in interfaith dialogue is the conversion of the heart so that we can also see the presence of God in the “other.” This is what it means to dialogue beyond tolerance. But this can only be possible when we are able to bring the highest teachings and ideals of our respective religions and faith traditions to the fore not only through external actions, but most importantly through inner work (to address our own biases and prejudices), through our attitude toward “non-believers,” and through our humble ways of being fully present and heartfully listening to the “other” in our relationship with them.

CREATING SAFE SPACES FOR TRI-PEOPLES’ DIALOGUE IN MINDANAO is a workshop I designed and conducted as a project of The Peacemakers’ Circle, and I am glad that it was well received by participants in Pagadian. I look forward to the privilege of conducting the same for various groups of diverse people in Mindanao and elsewhere wherever this transformative workshop is needed and asked for.

Here are some images of the celebration of the 2023 Week of Peace in Mindanao:

About the Author:

MA. TERESA “MARITES” GUINGONA-AFRICA, Ph.D. been engaged in the field of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding since 1998. Since she founded The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc. (TPCFI) in March 2001 she has been actively promoting various forms of dialogue for different groups of people in grassroots communities, religious, and academic circles locally and internationally. She was Regional Coordinator for the United Religions Initiative (URI) in SEAPac from 1998 to 2008. In 2017, she published a book entitled: BREATH OF A STONE GOD, A Journey of Awakening in Faith to Interfaith Dialogue. For six years (until the pandemic) she served as a lecturer on Muslim-Christian Dialogue for Nation-Building and Conflict Transformation Among Religions at the Ateneo de Manila University.

About Peacemakers Circle Foundation, Inc.

  THE PEACEMAKERS’ CIRCLE FOUNDATION, INC. (TPCFI) is a non-profit Manila-based NGO established in March 2014. It is composed of members of diverse religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions who share the vision of a world where the teachings and ideals of their faith bring about the peace that they wish to see, and who are committed to promoting unity in diversity by building bridges of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation through various forms of dialogue.