September 25, 2023

Happy Easter Season to all. I wish to share the beautiful message of Prime Bishop Brent Alawas during the Solemn Ecumenical Service for Peace organized by the Leng-ag Religious Organization held at the Cathedral of All Saints, Bontoc, Mountain Province on April 11.
I would like to start my message by greeting you all with the Hebrew words, “Shalom beharim,” which is our diocesan motto. In English, it means “Peace upon the mountains,” which is a very appropriate greeting for our solemn ecumenical prayer for peace.
This call to prayer for peace was issued by Leng-Ag amidst the violent conflict in eastern Europe caused by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia last February, to the current conflict between Betwagan and the communities in the Butbut area in Tinglayan, Kalinga; the unending Covid-19 pandemic, the recent surge in the cost of food and other necessities, and other situations that are causing the turmoil that threaten the peace upon our mountains or shalom beharim. It will be amidst this turmoil that we will be holding the national elections on May 9.
The concept of shalom in the Old Testament is a state of well-being and wholeness of life that embraces harmony with one’s neighbors, with nature and creation, with oneself, and with the Creator. The attainment of shalom is a continuation of Christ’s earthly mission which is best summarized in Isaiah’s prophesy that Jesus proclaimed: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”Isaiah 61:1
As Christian churches, we are called to continue Christ’s earthly mission of attaining shalom in our time – of building a culture of peace in this world. In fact, building a culture of peace is what our Christian churches have been doing since they started establishing missions in our province more than a century ago.
We have to admit that before the early missionaries came, headhunting and inter-village conflicts were part of the culture or way of life of our ancestors. The challenge to the missionaries was how to change this culture of fear and violence into a culture of peace and understanding. The missionaries worked hard to spread the gospel of love and peace through evangelization, preaching, teaching, and introducing new products and livelihood skills to our forebears.
Today, we can see the fruits of the missionary endeavors. Headhunting as a way of life has disappeared while cases of conflicts among people from ethnic groups which were rampant then have become rare. In other words, the culture of fear and violence in the distant past has been transformed into a culture of peace and understanding among our people as result of the collective work of our churches as instruments of peace.
Unfortunately, conflicts between some communities sometimes erupt as in the case of the neighboring communities of Betwagan and the Butbut people in Kalinga. Efforts done by our churches and the government have not succeeded and there is no settlement up to now.
So, the conflicting communities are still on war and violence can happen anytime. Both communities need our prayers, and also the people and agencies involved in trying to come up with a peaceful settlement so that violence will be avoided and there will be free movement among the people in both communities without fear of being harmed.
We are not only concerned with peace in our province or nation but also with peace in other parts of the world. As we speak, war is raging in eastern Europe between Russia and Ukraine.
The attack on Ukraine by Russia started last February and has been intensifying despite the efforts of the international community for an amicable settlement.
The latest breaking news from the United Nations Children’s Fund is that fighting has escalated inside Ukraine and many families, mothers and their children are fleeing the violence, leaving their homes and crossing the borders to neighboring countries. (To be continued)