[Address to the ADDU Muslim Community and the members of Salaam – reconstructed from my notes.]
After the wonderful “opening salvo” dance of the Ateneo Sidlak Performing Arts Collective (ASPAC), which I appreciated very much for its ethnic richness, I would like to express how happy I am to be here at this Iftar – the breaking of fast – after another long day of fasting during your Ramadan. With you I pray that all the graces of the Ramadan be yours, that through its fasting you be purified from your sins, that you identify more with your being Muslim, and that you find deeper joy in being part of your Umah. I pray this all the more as you celebrate Leilatul Qadr, the Night of Power, the sacred night during which you were blessed with the gift of God’s revelation, the gift of the noble Qur’an.
I pray for you despite the diversity of faiths in which we actually live. Religious diversity, I think, is one of God’s great mysteries. Allow me to tell you a very personal story. In my childhood there was a good Chinese lady from Hong Kong whom I called Ah Kui. I learned much from Ah Kui, who loved me very much. She taught me how to wash dishes, polish floors, and how to enjoy rice noodles. She also taught me much about prayer. She would get up every morning at 4:00 a.m., light a jaw stick, and pray to her God of Mercy, Kwan Yin.
As a young boy in our Catholic school run by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was taught in catechism class that the Catholic Church was the one true Church, and that those who did not belong to the Church would go to hell. The lesson made me fear for Ah Kui, whom I loved very much even though she was not a Catholic. One day, hoping to convert her to Catholicism, I told her of my concern. I told her that unless she would embrace Catholicism, she would end up in hell. Very gently, she replied: “Joel, you have your God, I have my God. You pray, serve, your God; I pray, serve, my God. In the end, same God!” I didn’t understand it then, and perhaps still do not understand it now, especially since it did not square with what the sisters were telling me in school. But, loving Ah Kui, I accepted it as true, feeling pain that what separated us could not be otherwise.
But, accepting it, I felt peace. This was not in my hands, but in God’s. As she was, Ah Kui was God’s gift.
It should be clear that religious diversity does not mean superficial religious relativism – which does not do justice to the religious experience. It is not the case that it really doesn’t matter what religion you have. It is not the case that you choose a religion as you choose between celphones in a mall or between cars in a display room. It does matter. Truth matters, even though in our human condition truth often escapes us. There is really but one God. There is only one God. But this God is always greater than our concepts of him; he is always more magnificent and more surprising than our attempts to reduce him to our limited understandings of him.
Religious diversity therefore is a matter of relgious mystery. For those who truly love and live their religion, there is pain in this diversity and regret that it cannot be otherwise. But there is also peace. Because this is a matter ultimately not in their hands. There is a mystery here greater than they.
We hold to religious freedom as is proclaimed by our faith and protected by our State. It is the freedom of each individual to choose his or her religion according to conscience. This is not arbitrariness, which is anchored neither in reason nor in insight into profound mystery. The is rather the religion through which one is led to God. Better, it is the religion through which God leads one to himself. It is less the religion which I choose in my freedom, but more the religion through which I am chosen by God in his freedom, and to which I freely commit myself in accepting his call.
Thus, knowing this is the one God’s action in our world, I don’t have to force the way God has chosen me (as Tboli, Teduray, Christian or Muslim) on others. For this is not my prerogative. I can freely accept that I am different from others, and they different from me. Knowing the one God calls all to himself in different ways, I can hope that God in in his compassion will lead us eventually together in unity and peace.
As President of this Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino university therefore, I invite the Muslim community to live its faith rooted in the divine revelation that you celebrate this Leilatul Qadr in diversty towards one God in peace – Salaam! This is not the peace of the graveyard, but the peace of mediated diversity. Rooted in your faith in Allah – in the radicality (rootedness) of your faith – share the implications of your faith with other Muslims (where diversity is too often tragically disrespected), non-Muslims (whose faiths your faith can enrich), the poor, the outcast, the excluded (on whom the Almighty looks with compassion), and the common good – the good which excludes no one and brings each and all to optimum human flourishing in a given historical situation. We share the common good with with the Lumad, the Muslims of differing receptions, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the agnostics, the atheists. Share with us and the Filipino community how Muslims are to live in freedom and peace with each other – despite diversty; how the Muslims are to live in Filipino communities with peoples of others faiths; how the historical injustices committed against the Muslim community in the Philippines are to be corrected; how the Muslims are to fight the lack of education in their communities; how the Muslims are to fight a traditionalism not essential to Islam that keeps the entrenched entrenched through holding others poor, uneducated and servile; how the Muslims are to protect and preserve the environment (as in our forests, minerals and Liguasan Marsh); how the Muslims are to contribute their shared genius to a common Philippine good.
Thank you for your faith in one God – that contrasts with others’ idolatry of power and money. Thank you for your purificative fasting – that contrast with the others’ complacency and sensuality. Thank you for your care for the poor – that contrasts with others’ exploitation of the poor. Thank you for your prigrimage to the center of your faith – that contrasts with the stubbornness of others to remain closed in on themselves. May the lived pillars of your faith lead you and others to peace!