RELIGIOUS leaders across the Philippines joined the global celebration for the 2024 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity through a series of ecumenical observations in regions and provinces from January 18 to 25, highlighting the call for all Christians “to love God and neighbor in the midst of crisis, as exemplified by the story of the Good Samaritan.”
“I am praying for peace in our country, our homes, in our hearts, and especially the South China Sea,” said Redemptorist priest Ferderiz Bacong Cantiller, CSsR.
Cantiller, who works for the vocation ministry at the Redemptorist headquarters in Cebu City, said he is getting anxious about the growing tension and the trading of accusations in the disputed territory.
On January 11 alone, the issue on the South China Sea made another headline as Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock came into defense of the Philippines while criticizing China’s alleged “risky maneuvers” of its coastguards.
In her joint conference with the Philippine foreign affairs secretary Enrique Manalo, the German foreign minister said the alleged risky activities of the Chinese “violate the rights and economic development opportunities of your country and other neighboring countries.
"For countries around the world, they call into question the freedom of the sea routes guaranteed under international law in an area through which a third of global maritime trade flows," Baerbock said in a report from Reuters.
In response to the German Foreign Minister’s remarks on the South China Sea, the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines released a statement on January 13, saying that “Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction with and resolute opposition to relevant disinformation, misrepresentation and distortion of truth.”
“At present, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable. There is never any issue with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The headwinds encountered by peace and stability in the South China Sea are indeed the deliberate intervention of external forces intending to sow discord among regional countries,” the Chinese embassy in the Philippines said.
Pastor Irma Mepico, program secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) program unit on Christian Unity and Ecumenical Relations, also shared her prayer about achieving “lasting peace” brought by the ongoing local armed conflict between the government and local communist groups.
“My prayer is about to make room for a return to peace talks to address the root of the armed conflict. In effect, the Filipino people will experience for generations the just and lasting peace for people and nature,” Mepico said in a report from Catholic news site UCA News.
On Nov. 22, 2023, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. issued Proclamations 403, 404, 405, and 406 for the granting of amnesty to rebels and insurgents to encourage them to return to the fold of the law, as part of the administration’s comprehensive peace initiatives, the Philippines News Agency reported.
Following the government’s anti-communist insurgency campaign, Marcos said on January 13 that “there is no active New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla front in the country as of December last year.”
Local rebels have been waging a Maoist-inspired guerilla war since the late 1960s.
In her prayer, Mepico emphasized “the end of the historical poverty of the Filipino people while only a few benefit from the country's wealth.”
In a joint statement issued by the NCCP and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on January 18, the two religious groups maintained that as they were “inspired by the example of God’s inclusive love, we will continue to seek lasting peace in our nation in every opportunity that may arise. “
“Thus, we convey high hopes that barriers to peace in our country be resolved through dialogues and negotiations. We also echo the words of Pope Francis ‘to leave behind our divisions and unite our forces’ in the midst of the climate crisis and environmental devastation in order to ‘turn our common future into the dawn of a new and radiant day,’” they said.
The joint statement, signed by NCCP acting general secretary Minnie Anne Mata-Calub and CBCP Episcopal Commission on Ecumenical Affairs chairperson Bishop Mel Rey Uy, said that in the week of prayer, all the people are urged “to look beyond our walls and comforts, and enlarge the space of our tent as a space of communion, a place of participation, and a foundation for ecumenical mission.”
“In times of fragmentation, it was often understood that the call to love and compassion applies only to one’s own particular faction or interest. The Samaritan in the gospel passage, however, showed that this love and compassion must be extended to all those in need, dismantling any form of barriers,” the two religious leaders said.
“In today’s time of fragmentations, wars, strife, and environmental destruction, this mandate is even extended to the whole created Earth,” they added. (SunStar Philippines)